Tuesday, November 29, 2016
FAMILY LAW - MENTAL ILLNESS AND REMOVAL OF CHILD
MATTER OF GAVIN S., 2016 NY Slip Op 51234 - NY: Family Court 2016:
"FCA §1027 provides that if, after a hearing, "the court finds that removal is necessary to avoid imminent risk to the child's life or health, it shall remove or continue the removal of the child." FCA § 1028, provides that, upon the application of a parent for the return of his or her child who has been removed from his or her care, and following a hearing, "the court shall grant the application unless it finds that the return presents an imminent risk to the child's life or health." In either case, the court must determine if the child's "life or health" would be at "imminent risk" of harm in the respondent's custody and, additionally, whether remaining in or returning to the home would be contrary to the child's best interests (FCA§1027(a)(I); FCA§1028(b); Nicholson v. Scoppetta, 3 NY3d 357, 377 ).
"In order to justify a finding of imminent risk to life or health ... an agency need not prove that the child has suffered actual injury. Rather, a court engages in a fact-intensive inquiry to determine whether the child's [physical or] emotional health is at risk" (Nicholson, 3 NY3d at 377). In reaching its determination, the "court must weigh, in the factual setting before it, whether the imminent risk to the child can be mitigated by reasonable efforts to avoid removal; [i]t must balance [the risk to the child's life or health] against the harm removal might bring; and it must determine factually which course is in the child's best interests" (id. at 378); see also Matter of DeAndre S. (Latoya F. S.), 92 AD3d 888 [2d Dept. 2012]). The language and legislative history of the statute establish that "a blanket presumption favoring removal was never intended" (Nicholson, 3 NY3d at 378; see also Matter of Jesse J. v. Joann K., 64 AD3d 598, 599 [2d Dept 2009]). The Legislature placed "increased emphasis on preventive services designed to maintain family relationships rather than responding to children and families in trouble only by removing the child from the family" (Mark G. v Sabol, 93 NY2d 710, 719 ; see also Nicholson, 3 NY3d at 374).
A mental illness that causes a parent to act in a way that presents an imminent risk to his or her child's life or health may support a removal of the child from the parent's care under FCA §1027, just as a finding of neglect under FCA §1012 may be predicated "upon proof that a child's physical, mental, or emotional condition was impaired or was placed in imminent danger of becoming impaired as a result of a parent's mental illness" (see, e.g., Matter of Soma H., 306 AD2d 531[ 2d Dept 2003]). However, just as "proof of mental illness alone will not support a finding of neglect" (Matter of Joseph A. [Fausat O.], 91 AD3d 638, 640, [2d Dept 2012]), neither will it support a removal of the child from the parent's care in the absence of evidence that the parent's illness creates an imminent risk to the child's life or health. As the Court of Appeals cautioned in Nicholson, "[t]he plain language of [FCA§1027] and the legislative history supporting it establish that a blanket presumption favoring removal was never intended. The court must do more than identify the existence of a risk of serious harm." (3 NY3d at 378 [emphasis in original]). There must be proof of an identifiable, specific, serious and imminent risk to the life or health of the child (see Nicholson, 3 NY3d at 377 [the court must engage "in a fact-intensive inquiry" to determine whether the child's life or health is at risk]) caused by the parent's mental illness. In determining whether removal is necessary to avoid imminent risk to the child's life or health, the statute also requires the court to consider "whether continuation in the child's home would be contrary to the best interests of the child and where appropriate, whether reasonable efforts were made ... to prevent or eliminate the need for removal...." (FCA§1027(b)(ii)). In sum, if the court determines that an imminent risk to the child's life or health exists, it "must weigh, in the factual setting before it, whether the ... risk to the child can be mitigated by reasonable efforts to avoid removal, ... balance that risk against the harm removal might bring, and ... determine factually which course is in the child's best interests" (Nicholson, 3 NY3d at 378; see also Matter of Baby Boy D. (Adanna C.), 127 AD3d 1079 [2d Dept. 2015]).The Court in Nicholson also stressed that "imminent" means "near or impending, not merely possible" (3 NY3d at 369; see also Baby Boy D., 127 AD3d at 1080 ("imminent" risk must be shown to justify removal).
As previously noted, a parent's mental illness, standing alone, is not a basis for a neglect finding (Matter of Joseph A., supra, 91 AD3d at 640). A fortiori, it does not justify removal of a child from his parent's care in the absence of evidence that the child's life or health is in imminent risk of harm as a result of that illness (cf. Nicholson, 3 NY3d at 375 (exposure of a child to domestic violence is not presumptively neglectful, so "a fortiori, [it] is not presumptively ground for removal, and in many instances removal may do more harm to the child than good"). Where no such imminent risk has been shown, a removed child must be returned to the parent (see, e.g., In the Matter of Jeremiah L., 45 AD3d 771 [2d Dept. 2007]; FCA§1028(a) ("court shall grant the application [for return of a child], unless it finds that the return presents an imminent risk to the child's life or health") [emphasis added]). ACS's speculative concern that Ms. S might have be hospitalized again for her mental illness cannot serve as a basis for a finding of "imminent risk" (see Baby Boy D., 127 AD3d at 1080 [speculation that the mother might not enforce an order of protection against the father could not support a finding of imminent risk to the child's life or health]), particularly when she has been consistent with all aspects of her mental health treatment and has cooperated with the services that were put in place for her and Gavin.
As ACS failed to establish that Gavin's life or health were ever placed in imminent risk as a result of Ms. S's mental illness, ACS's application under FCA§1027 must be denied, and Gavin must be returned to his mother....."