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CARE Court program opens in California's largest county

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Wednesday, December 6, 2023   

The state's largest county has just opened the new CARE Court system, designed to get help for severely mentally ill people in Los Angeles.

CARE stands for "Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment," a court where families, roommates, social workers, first responders and clinicians can petition a judge to get people the assistance they need.

Samantha P. Jessner, presiding judge of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, said a person must be 18 or older, and participation is voluntary.

"They must be diagnosed within the 'schizophrenia and others' psychotic disorders class," Jessner outlined. "They must be unlikely to survive safely in the community without support. Participation in a CARE plan must be the least restrictive alternative."

The National Alliance on Mental Illness in California supports the CARE Courts, noting people suffering from schizophrenia are sometimes unable to recognize their diagnosis, are resistant to treatment, and too often end up homeless and fighting addiction. Some disability rights groups have expressed concern people could be forced into treatment.

Janice Hahn, chair of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, explained the motivation behind the program.

"Families are at the end of their ropes, and communities are frustrated," Hahn observed. "Leaders up and down the state have felt like our hands have been tied. It's a tool we will use to get people the care that they so desperately need."

People can contact their county CARE Court to start the process. CARE Courts are also now open in Glenn, Orange, Riverside, San Diego, Stanislaus, San Francisco, and Tuolumne counties. All counties are required to participate by the end of next year.

Lisa Pion-Berlin, president and CEO of Parents Anonymous, which runs the California Parent and Youth Helpline, added her organization is available to help.

"We are here to support people to deal with their underlying issue," Pion-Berlin emphasized. "There's a lot of fear of this idea of this new process called CARE Court. Will it be caring; will it be empathetic? Will they reject it? Is it punitive? Is it going to be helpful?"

People can contact the California Parent and Youth Helpline online or call or text 855-427-2736.


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