Articles Posted in Child Protective Services

California Attorney Lauren K Johnson Interviewed On HuffPost Live About Medical Marijuana Law And Keeping Kids Safe From Accidental Ingestion

Criminal Defense Attorney Lauren K. Johnson Provides Expert Legal Analysis Regarding Medical Marijuana And Child Welfare Law
Irvine, Calif., May 31, 2013 — Lauren K. Johnson, a criminal defense attorney with law offices in Irvine, California was interviewed on a panel on HuffPost Live the topic of medical marijuana and the accidental ingestion of medical marijuana products by children. Lauren K Johnson discussed the distinction between legal and illegal drugs and parental responsibility to keep kids safe from accidental ingestion.

A recent Colorado study looked at 14 incidences between 2009 and 2011 in which children were brought to a Denver-area hospital for accidental ingestion of medical marijuana. No previous incidences had been reported. These 14 cases followed a federal policy change in which the federal government declined to prosecute medical marijuana patients in states that have made medical marijuana possession legal. The study questions the implications of increased access of medical marijuana and children’s safety.

Lauren K Johnson discussed the importance of parents keeping all lawful drugs out of the reach and away from children. Ms. Johnson discussed her favor for increased warnings to parents about children gaining unintended access to medical marijuana and the need for child-safety caps and other measures to prevent access. Ms. Johnson discussed the importance of keeping keeps safe as there is an increase in medical marijuana use by lawful patients in California and other states.

Lauren K Johnson addressed the issues from a child welfare perspective and the specific factors a court might look for in determining whether parents were negligent. For example, a court would likely consider whether the marijuana was obtained and possessed illegally or as legal medicine, what kind of access and opportunity a child has or had to ingest it, the home conditions and the age of a child.

Other panelists discussed the comparisons and differences between medical marijuana ingestion, other legal and illegal drugs, and alcohol. While current case law in California addresses the ingestion by children of illegal drugs, with the increased use of medical marijuana, courts are bound to address accidental ingestion of medical marijuana due to its continued stigma.

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According to an article in The New York Times, in 2003 researchers analyzed the Medicaid records of 637,924 minors who were either in foster care, receiving disability benefits for a diagnosis of severe autism or bipolar disorder, and some were also in a social services program known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The researchers found that 16,969, or about 3 percent of the total, had received at least one prescription for an antipsychotic drug.

The foster children were the ones who most often got more than one such prescription at the same time – 9.2%, versus 6.8% for children on disability and 2.5% for children in the TANF program.

A new study published in the journal Pediatrics reveals a concerning new trend for children in foster care and the regular prescription of antipsychotic drugs like Risperdal and Seroquel. These powerful drugs are commonly used in adults to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. According to a 2009 Times article, the side effects of a medication like Risperdal can be profound and include rapid weight gain, which can lead to other health problems like hypertension and diabetes, also very common in adults taking these same drugs.

There has been an approximate 4,000 percent increase in children being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and the use of antipsychotics since 1998, and many were being prescribed drugs, that in some cases had only been tested on adults.

Susan dosReis, an associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy and the lead author of the report, said “The kids in foster care may come from bad homes, but they do not have the sort of complex medical issues that those in the disabled population do.”

The implication, Dr. dosReis and other experts said: Doctors are treating foster children’s behavioral problems with the same powerful drugs given to people with schizophrenia and severe bipolar disorder. “We simply don’t have evidence to support this kind of use, especially in young children,” Dr. dosReis said.

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Dec10 Press Release Law Office of Lauren K Johnson CA Pot Case.pdf

California Appeals Court Rules In Favor Of Parent Who Uses Medical Marijuana, Reversing Order For DCFS Intervention
Defense Attorney Lauren K. Johnson Prevails in State Appellate Court Case Setting Limits on Laws Separating Children From Their Parents That Use Marijuana for Medical Reasons
Irvine, Calif., December 11, 2012 — Lauren K. Johnson, an attorney with law offices in Irvine, California today announced a hard-fought appeals court victory regarding parenting and medical marijuana use. In the case of Drake M. (case # B236769), Division Three of the Second Appellate District, California Court of Appeal ruled on December 5, 2012 that while parents who abuse drugs can lose custody of their children, a parent who uses marijuana for medical reasons, with a doctor’s approval, isn’t necessarily a drug abuser.

Being hailed as precedent-setting, the Appellate Court’s ruling further clarifies child welfare law as applied in such cases, and represents a very significant victory for both the appellant and his legal counsel.

“The ruling illustrates a growing recognition of the legitimate use of medical marijuana in this state and other states,” says Johnson. “We want kids to be safe, but we also want parents to be able to use legally prescribed medications when children appear not to be at demonstrated risk of harm.”

In overturning a Los Angeles Superior Court ruling against the plaintiff, Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, the Appellate Court said the “mere usage of drugs,” including marijuana, is not the same as substance abuse that can affect child custody, as alleged in this case by the lower court. The court held that substance must either be diagnosed by a doctor or show up in a person’s behavior, such as absences or poor performance at work or at school, driving under the influence, or recurrent social or interpersonal problems. The Appellate Court emphasized that none of that happened in this case.

The father had testified that he uses medical marijuana for arthritis about four times a week, and does not use it in front of his child or care for the child while under the influence. He has been employed for many years and is capable of supporting his child, the court found.

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Today, an LA Times story reported that, during a hearing to consider financial sanctions against the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, Superior Court Judge Amy Pellman reprimanded department social workers for their handling of a juvenile dependency case.

The story describes a family consisting of two parents and eight children struggling with homelessness, financial difficulty, and, in the case of the father, alcoholism leading to domestic violence. The Department initially removed the children based upon these issues; however, what happened afterward is what drew Judge Pellman’s ire.

In November of last year things began looking up, with the mother reunited with the children after procuring an apartment and the father receiving counseling for his alcoholism. During his therapy, the father was ordered to stay away from the children, but was willing to live in his car to save money to pay the rent. The children were getting straight-A’s in school and participated in sports and dance.

However, the two social workers handling the case reported the family to the landlord for the apartment building, alleging the family was violating the lease by having too many people living in a single apartment. Based upon this report, the landlord evicted the family. Following the eviction, the workers contacted one of the children’s schools to report that she no longer lived within the school district. The family narrowly avoided the child’s expulsion by obtaining a waiver allowing her to remain in the school.

During the hearing, Pellman addressed social worker Eleanor Clements and case supervisor Juliet Macias, stating, “You are there to support this family, not harass them. If a parent is being nasty or obnoxious or disrespectful then you are the professionals, right? You are not to respond in kind, OK?” Pellman continued, concluding that the workers acted out of “bad blood” in an effort to stifle the family’s progress. Ultimately, however, Pellman concluded that she did not have the authority to impose sanctions against the department because the workers’ actions did not violate a court order.

The sanctions process stems from a judge’s inherent power to punish individuals or entities that the judge deems to have violated the Court’s authority. The imposition of such sanctions against the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services have risen substantially over the last few years, nearly doubling from $25,000 to $48,000 between 2010 and 2011.

As evidenced by this story, the Department of Children and Family Services wields a significant amount of authority and has the ability to impose considerable restrictions upon parents it deems unfit. To make matters worse, Courts often rely too much on reports prepared by social workers to make decisions regarding the children at issue.

Thankfully, stories like this are coming to the public’s attention. Finally the public can see what it only had heard anecdotally from parents caught in the nightmare that is dependency court. Social worker sometimes abuse their power and act out of malice when they don’t like the parents or don’t want them to succeed. A push for open courts is one solution to bring transparency to the system. Lauren K Johnson has written and spoken on this topic to the community. See her article in the CADC journal here and news about L.A.’s open courts here.

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Most residents never imagine it could happen to them: they are accused of child abuse. Unfortunately, there is often a misguided assumption that all those accused of abuse are guilty, because no one who provided proper care for their children would ever arose suspicion of mistreatment. Reality is much different. There are countless reasons why one might be wrongly accused of hurting a child. In some cases those children are actually taken out of the home and families are forced to engage in legal battles for reunification.

The false alarms take many forms, with mistakes rooted in the most unlikely places.

Soap & Marijuana
For example, last week MSNBC shared the details of a new study which found that a range of soaps used to wash babies shortly after birth may unintentionally result in false positive readings on drug screening tests. The soaps themselves do not have any adverse effect on the newborns, and so the safety of the product is not at issue. Instead, the concern is the effect that the false positive has on accusations of marijuana exposure directed at the mother.

The testing itself is done is usually done on newborns whose mothers are deemed “high risk,” meaning that there may already be presumptions against these families which the false test results just exacerbate. It is not uncommon for social service departments to get involved following the test results. If allegations of abuse are made, an unsuspecting mother might be forced to engage in legal wrangling in order to prove her innocence and get her child back.

The Research
The findings were made by a group of researchers at a North Carolina hospital and published in this month’s issues of the journal Clinical Biochemistry. The study itself was undertaken after nurses at a nearby hospital reported a mysterious increase in newborns testing positive for marijuana. Fortunately, the medical professionals realized that the test results seemed out of place; they guessed that another explanation was likely
The researchers examined urine samples from infants. They looked at samples which contained small, even minute, traces of five leading infant soaps–Johnson & Johnson’s Head-to-Toe Baby Wash, J&J Bedtime Bath, CVS Night-Time Baby Bath, Aveeno Soothing Relief Creamy Wash, and Aveeno Wash Shampoo. They discovered that the soap in the urine sample translated into positive readings for the active ingredient in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Correcting the Problem
The researchers noted that the study is confirmation that nurses need to consider alternatives to ensure mothers are not falsely accused of drug use. If a drug test comes back positive at a hospital that is usually end of the analysis. The results are not sent to a laboratory for confirmation. That makes it even more important for hospital tests to be accurate. Researchers are not exactly sure why the soap causes the false reading in the traditional screening test. However, more sensitive tests are available which return accurate results without the soap-use distortion.

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The Pasadena Star News took advantage of the new open juvenile court rule in L.A. last week and described what they saw in Rare look at children’s court finds tension runs high.

For private attorneys like me who practice in the juvenile courts and have been pushing for an open courts system through legislation or mandate, what the press found was no surprise. One court-appointed attorney was woefully unaware that his client was sitting right next to him. That same attorney was later reprimanded for not having a client’s file in court. “You’ve got to pull it together,” the judge told him before taking him in the back.

The same judge later ordered a social worker to attend a sanction meeting after the worker failed to file paperwork on time for a hearing. While the social worker claimed the delay was due to a “family emergency,” the judge didn’t seem to believe her. The department faces sanctions at a future hearing.

The court heard 24 cases that day. The attorneys in court seemed extremely nervous to have the press reporting. According the the article, the attorneys appointed to these juvenile cases only receive $680 per case. This is not adequate funding to handle the most important type of legal proceedings a family can ever face. But lawyers in this system don’t complain about pay. According to LADL supervising attorney Marlene Furth, “The one thing they say, the one thing, is that they don’t have time to talk with their clients.”

I worked as a Deputy Public Defender for 5 years, 1 1/2 of those years representing parents in juvenile dependency court. If I did not have adequate time to talk to my client, I did not go forward in a court hearing. If I needed more time, I told the court I needed more time. I would not represent a client if I was not prepared, under any circumstance. No attorney should be bullied for any reason to commit malpractice because s/he is not adequately prepared and every client deserves to have an attorney who knows who they are, has spent adequate time with them, and who zealously advocates for them. That is what the profession demands. Anything less is unacceptable.

I am so glad that the courts are open in L.A. and I hope the press will continue to report on these issues. This reporter did not have to go from court room to court room looking for problems to report. All he had to do is go sit in any court room and WATCH. Some court- appointed attorneys do an outstanding job for their clients. But sadly, many court-appointed lawyers don’t know who their clients are, are not prepared, or just don’t have time to do the job competently.

These types of reports are long overdue and are likely just the tip of the iceberg. The public needs to know what is happening for there to be change. And if you were wondering why the parents’ attorneys in L.A. were so adamantly against opening the juvenile courts, now you know for sure.

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As he had promised, Presiding Judge Michael Nash has ordered the Juvenile Courts opened for Los Angeles, California’s juvenile courts, according to the L.A. Times’ L.A. judge orders Juvenile Court opened to press. The move has not gone without criticism and now the Children’s Law Center has filed a law suit over it according to the L.A. Times’ Group sues over L.A. judge’s decision to open juvenile courts.

I believe reasonable people can disagree on where the balance should tip in favor of the public’s right to know about what happens in juvenile court and foster youth’s desire to have their cases heard confidentially. However, the forces behind the movement to keep the juvenile courts closed- – held in secret outside the purview of the press and the public – - are not solely interested in protecting kids’ privacy
In the United States, there is no fundamental right of anyone to have their court case heard in secret. Some people may believe that they should advocate for confidentiality for foster youth in these cases because of a desire to protect children. This comes from an altruistic place, however, the juvenile courts have tried this experiment. The result has led to adult actors in the juvenile courts- – social workers, attorneys and judges- – becoming the true beneficiaries of the benefits of secrecy. The belief that confidentiality benefits children starts with the premise that the system and its adult participants are serving children well behind closed doors. This is the first problem.

Parents don’t believe the system is working to protect their kids and reunify their families. Parents’ attorneys don’t believe the system is working. Bench officers like Judge Nash do not believe the system is working as is. Youth die in foster care and fall through the cracks, and parents don’t reunify with their kids no matter how many hoops they jump through. Social workers mistake illness and accidents for abuse or lie to courts to obtain outcomes they want. As a result, tax payers in California have paid huge judgments against their counties in civil rights and civil liability law suits (See County loses $4.9 million lawsuit challenge over lying social workers.) The system is broken.

If you start from that point of view that this system is not best serving children and families, you believe something has to change. I practice regularly in the juvenile courts. I put on a suit and go to work and fight for my clients. I know my clients, prepare them for court, prepare my cases, subpoena witnesses, investigate claims, and work with experts in preparing my clients’ cases. I file motions, call witnesses, and advocate on my clients’ behalf. I have nothing to hide if the court system was open and, even though my clients are sometimes embarrassed and sad that they are part of this system, they would rather have an open court that treats them fairly and in the eye of the public rather than in secret. When you believe that open juvenile courts can lead to change in the way adult professionals conduct themselves in this system – - requiring attorneys to actually met their clients, being prepared, and advocating competently, social workers to do their jobs and tell the truth, judges to act fairly and impartially while exercising independent judgment of the case before them – - the issue is a no-brainer.

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By Guest Blogger, Allison Gamble
Childhood is supposed to be one of the happiest times of life. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for all children. For some, these good times are cut short when children leave their families for whatever reason and lose everything familiar to them. Ideally one would never need to look at a child from the perspective of forensic psychology to understand his mental disposition, but sadly events like these take place every day for one reason or another.

Parental bonding is one of the most important elements in the development of a child. Children are dependent upon their parents for emotional and physical care, from feeding to nurturing to mobility. Naturally, children come to expect this relationship to continue through life, but when they are removed from this atmosphere of reliability and comfort, things can fall apart.

A child taken from its parents will likely experience several psychological consequences of the separation. These can include depression, behavior disorders, separation anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Depression alone includes a wide range of damaging effects, including loss of interest in things children would normally enjoy, anger or irritability, sleep deprivation, and changes in personality.

Behavior disorders are all too common in children separated from their families. It can be difficult for new caregivers to establish a truly authoritative role in children’s lives. They may become defiant of authority, challenge or question set rules, and argue with adults around them. Sometimes a simple time-out can resolve such behaviors, but punishment often fails to eliminate many of these problems, and may add further resentment towards new caregivers.

Meanwhile, separation anxiety occurs mildly when an infant is separated from its parents for a brief time, but can be much more severe when children old enough to understand what’s happening are taken away from their parents. Children with serious separation anxiety may be unable to attach themselves to new environments or caregivers. They may be prone to cry often, become very nervous, and can carry the disorder over into later development, causing further problems.

According to The United Nations Children’s Fund, children taken from home or separated from their parents are more likely to be sexually abused or be victims of physical violence. Such abuse typically causes many psychology problems lasting throughout the victims’ lives. These situations also inhibit children’s emotional and social development, making children more likely to become introverted and avoid reliance on others for support during childhood and later in life.

The psychological effects of separating children from their parents can have a dramatic impact on their childhood, adolescence, and adult life. Children separated from their mothers especially are likely to encounter problems bonding with others, developing long-term relationships, and adjusting socially. In any situation where the question of taking a child away from its parents arises, the gravity of that decision and the weight of its consequences must never be underestimated.

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Any sociologist worth her weight could tell you that there is a link between poverty and involvement of families in systems like the child welfare system (in addition to other systems like the criminal justice system). New Information from Partners For Our Children, a collaborative effort of the University of Washington School of Social Work, Washington State Department of Social and Health Services and private funders, reaffirms what child welfare attorneys and practitioners already know anecdotally about families in our care.

In a new online piece, Poverty and Housing Instability: The Implications for Families Involved in the Child Welfare System, researchers claim strong correlations between housing instability and involvement in child welfare cases. Affordable housing has always been an issue in America but families are increasingly challenged to obtain affordable housing in light of ecomic factors across every state.

The reality is that there is no state in this county in which an individual can afford a two-bedroom apartment working a full-time minimum wage job. Yet stable housing provides the critical foundation that children need. Without stable and safe housing, children are challenged to thrive in other areas including education.

Homelessness is not always as it seems. Homeless families may not stand on street corners– they may share housing with other families in unstable arrangements or move from shelter to shelter. Yet in a political climate in which it is suddenly acceptable to shift the burden of balancing government’s budgets onto the poor and working poor, resources are even more scarce for the families who need the most help. Housing resources have become extremely limited as funding is cut to programs that help keep kids and families off the streets and out of shelters.

Ultimately, homeless families are at greatest risk of being caught in the web of child protective services intervention. The most common reason children enter foster care is “general neglect” or inadequate food, clothing, and shelter. “Research has shown a link between poverty, homelessness or substandard housing and child welfare involvement; in fact, housing instability is often the reason families come to the attention of child welfare in the first place and, in some cases, housing issues hinder family reunification efforts.” Approximately 30% of children in foster care are there primarily as a result of a lack of housing. These children are disproportionately children of color.

While some states have barred removal of children due to poverty-related conditions, these factors remain strong predictors of whether a child ends up in this system. Ultimately, the burden falls back onto social workers and other government actors to help connect families to the scarce community resources that are available to help provide stable housing.

Political discourse around these issues fails to address the human realities of drastic cuts to social welfare programs in the United States. Ultimately, if we fail to provide help to children and families who need it most, we fuel cycles of povery and state-custody or intervention. These are real families and children’s lives, not talking points for the 2012 election.

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