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CARE Court will begin operating within County


For homeless suffering from mental illness

CARE Court, a state-approved program that allows individuals to petition a court to order treatment and housing for people suffering from severe mental illness, has begun operating in Los Angeles County, joining seven other California counties.

The Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment Act program is being implemented one year ahead of the original schedule, with county officials calling it a “valuable tool” for advancing treatment of people with schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders–particularly those living on the streets.

“I talk to too many families who have struggled to get help for their loved ones with severe mental illness and we see too many people with schizophrenia on the streets,” county Supervisor Janice Hahn said on Nov. 30. “CARE Court is a tool we have been missing in L.A. County. Through CARE Court, we will now be better able to support people suffering from untreated schizophrenia and their families who have historically had nowhere else to go.”

The CARE Court program was approved by the state Legislature last year. It allows eligible people–including relatives, first responders, health care providers and mental health experts–to petition a court to order care services and housing for individuals suffering from mental health issues.

To be eligible for the CARE Court, a person must be:

—   Eighteen years of age or older;

—   Diagnosed with a disorder within the “schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders” class of disorders and currently experiencing symptoms;

—   Not clinically stabilized in ongoing treatment; and

—   The individual’s mental health is substantially deteriorating, and they are unlikely to survive safely in the community without supervision and/or they need services and support to prevent relapse and deterioration.

People who enter the CARE Court system can eventually receive services such as mental health care, housing and other support for a maximum of two years, with periodic review hearings scheduled to go over the case.

The subjects of the petitions will be provided with legal representation. County officials stressed that the CARE program is “strictly voluntary.”

“Participants cannot be forced to participate in services–including taking medication–against their will and can leave the program at any time,” according to county and court officials. “There are no civil or criminal penalties for choosing not to participate in the CARE process or programs.”

Some critics of the program have noted that it carries a potential hammer of placing unwilling or unsuccessful participants into conservatorships. But proponents contend the alternative is for people to sink deeper into mental illness and potentially die living on the streets.

In early November, Los Angeles Superior Court officials unveiled a website providing information and details on the CARE Court program. The website––outlines how the program works, eligibility requirements and details on how and where people can petition to seek care for people suffering with mental illness.

“CARE Court provides the largest trial court in the nation with an opportunity to maximize the expertise of judicial officers who are dedicated to providing support to individuals suffering from mental health disorders with a forum in which they will feel empowered to succeed and pave the way to leading healthy and stable lives,” Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge Samantha P. Jessner said in a statement.

Los Angeles Superior Court will initially hold CARE Court proceedings at the Norwalk Courthouse, but the operation is expected to eventually move to a more centralized location.