Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Juvenile Court May Order Drug Testing of Dependent Children—C.A.
By TINA BAY, Staff Writer
A narrowly-tailored drug test order does not violate a dependent child’s privacy right under the state Constitution, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
Div. Seven declined to issue a writ of mandate sought by a teenager identified as Carmen M., who disputed a juvenile court order requiring her to submit to on-demand drug testing by group home staff.
Carmen entered The David & Margaret Home’s residential drug treatment program in April 2005 upon the recommendation of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, after the department found—while investigating an incident of physical abuse by her mother—that the then-16 year-old had been consuming alcohol and marijuana, expressing suicidal thoughts, and was failing out of school.
Following unsuccessful initial attempts to help Carmen, the department and Carmen’s mother, who remained unable to meet her daughter’s needs, agreed in July 2005 to place the teen in the La Verne-based group home as part of a six-month family reunification plan.
Although Carmen demonstrated drastic improvement through the program, producing clean drug tests, performing well in school, and even serving as a positive role model for her peers, the department said, both the teenager and her mother at the end of the six months sought the department’s continued help for the girl’s drug problem.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge S. Patricia Spear granted the department’s January 2006 petition to declare Carmen a dependent child of the court, and in February held a case management meeting at which the department’s social worker, the case manager at the group home, and Carmen’s residential life therapist all opined that random drug screening would assist in Carmen’s ongoing recovery.
Spear then ordered Carmen to submit to drug tests demanded by group home staff whenever they had reason to believe she was under the influence.
Spear rejected objections by Carmen’s counsel, Children’s Law Center attorney Martha A Matthews, who argued on appeal that Spear’s order lacked a statutory basis and violated the state constitutional right of privacy.
The appellate panel affirmed Spear’s order, concluding it was clearly authorized by Welfare and Institutions Code Sections 362(a) and 202(a), which empower courts to make a wide variety of orders to protect dependent children’s well-being and safety.
Writing for the panel, Presiding Justice Dennis M. Perluss said:
“[I]t is difficult to conjure any reason why an order requiring a dependent child to attend weekly psychotherapy sessions would be authorized by these provisions…and an order to drug test would not. Certainly safeguarding a dependent child’s physical health is no less significant a concern for the juvenile court than protecting his or her mental health.”
The justices also held that Spear’s drug order was narrowly tailored enough to avoid a constitutional violation.
Because Carmen was a dependent of the court, the court assumed from her mother the responsibility to provide for her welfare and the authority to limit her freedom of action, Perluss wrote.
Moreover, he explained, Spear’s order rested on specific documentation showing Carmen had a recent history of drug abuse, had responded well to a rehabilitation program that included drug testing, and was likely to benefit from continued testing.
“In view of the specific and documented justification for the order for continued drug testing and the express condition that testing occur only if there is a reasonable suspicion Carmen has been using drugs, we are persuaded the juvenile court’s legitimate interest in closely monitoring Carmen M.’s recovery fully supports the order’s limited intrusion on Carmen M.’s right to privacy.”
The case is In re Carmen M., B189792.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company