Confidentiality of Court Ordered Psychiatric Evaluation to Determine Mothers Capability of Caring for Their Children

In In the Matter of T.R., J.M., C.R. and C.R., 557 Pa. 99, 731 A.2d 1276 (1999) the mother was ordered by the trial court to undergo a psychological evaluation to determine if she was capable of caring for her children. The trial court ruled that the results of the examination would be "released . . . to the parties in order to effect the proper placement of the child and to keep the families together." 731 A.2d at 1278. This court affirmed, but our supreme court reversed. It concluded that the mother's state constitutional privacy interest in her psychiatric records was paramount to the state's interest, particularly because there was "an abundance of information in the case about whether the children were . . . being cared for properly and whether the mother was a fit parent." 731 A.2d at 1281. Recognizing that the mother's exercise of her rights may work to her detriment, the court observed: The real issue in the case, then, is not so much whether the children should be removed, as whether the mother should be protected from her own assertion of a constitutional right because the assertion of that right may impede the efforts of the courts to return the children to her care. . . . the mother, alas, may be her own worst enemy and her shortcomings as a parent may result in the permanent removal of her children; nonetheless, the mother remains a free person, and her power to assert her constitutional right to privacy is not diminished merely because the representatives of the state think it is ill advised. Id. It is clear that the T.R. court was concerned about privacy considerations, the compulsory nature of the court's order for a psychiatric evaluation, and particularly, the release of the results. The court indeed held that the order was improper, but it did not hold that the privacy interests at issue were absolute. In T.R., the state interest in mandating the evaluation was insufficient to overcome the mother's constitutional privacy rights. Id. The court pointed out that removal of the children was indicated from the record evidence and therefore the state's need for psychiatric evaluation was not crucial.