Parent Mental Illness During Reunification Period in California

In In re Elizabeth R. (1995) 35 Cal.App.4th 1774, the mother was hospitalized due to her mental illness during most of the 18 months of the reunification phase. (In re Elizabeth R., supra, 35 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1778-1782.) Despite her hospitalization, the mother substantially complied with the reunification plan and her record of visitation with her children was exemplary. (Id. at pp. 1783-1784.) After her hospitalization, however, the department of social services sought to restrict visitation. (Id. at p. 1785.) The Court of Appeal held that, under the circumstances, the mother was entitled to visitation and an ongoing relationship with her children and a continuance of reunification services beyond the 18-month period. (Id. at pp. 1790-1796.) In In re Elizabeth R. (1995) the mother had serious mental health problems that required her to voluntarily admit herself in a hospital at times. (Elizabeth, supra, 35 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1778-1780.) Although the mother had an "impeccable record of visitation and efforts to comply with the reunification plan," she was unable to fully participate in reunification services due to her hospitalizations. (Id. at pp. 1777-1778) In Elizabeth R., supra, 35 Cal.App.4th at pages 1778-1779, the court held that Welfare and Institutions Code section 352 provides "an emergency escape valve in those rare instances" in which the juvenile court determines the best interests of the child would be served by a continuance of a review hearing beyond the statutorily permissible time limit. In that case, the mother had an "impeccable record of visitation and efforts to comply with the reunification plan" but her efforts were unsuccessful because she was hospitalized for all but five months of the reunification phase of the dependency proceedings. (Id. at pp. 1777-1778.) The court concluded that these "unusual facts . . . required exigent judicial intervention." (Id. at p. 1799.) In sum, the mother was hospitalized to treat her mental illness during most of the reunification period. (Id., at p. 1787.) At the 18-month review, the juvenile court terminated services and ordered a permanency planning hearing, believing it was required to either reunify the family or terminate services at that point in the proceedings. The court of appeal reversed, holding that the juvenile court erred in believing it had no discretion to extend the reunification period despite mother's substantial compliance with her case plan. The appellate court faulted the social services agency for failing to accommodate mother by providing her with visitation during her hospitalization notwithstanding her attendance at every visit she was permitted and her persistent efforts to increase visitation with her three children. (Id., at pp. 1790-1792, 1799.)