To Get Children Back, Father Must Get Counseling to “Address His Use of Sexist and Racist Language”

So holds In re G.G. (Cal. Ct. App. June 29, 2010), by a 2-1 vote. (The court order said that “Father to be in individual counseling to address issues with a male therapist regarding father‘s racist and sexist views,” but the appellate opinion seems to treat the counseling as focused solely on the father’s use of “sexist and racist remarks” and “repeated angry use of racial, ethnic and gender epithets.”)

This isn’t a divorce case; the father was a single father of twins who were born using an “anonymous egg donor” and a “surrogate mother.” The children were placed in foster care on the grounds that the father had “used inappropriate discipline,” one of the children “has exhibited explosive, aggressive, uncontrollable behavior requiring therapeutic, psychiatric intervention, and the father failed to obtain timely, necessary therapeutic, psychiatric intervention for the child despite numerous recommendations for treatment,” and the father “has provided a chaotic home environment including regular and consistent confrontational behavior with the children‘s school and in the community.” One of the conditions imposed for the father to get his children back was that he get counseling related to his sexist and racist statements.

Here’s the majority’s justification for its upholding the condition:

There is substantial evidence the father was angry on many of the occasions upon which he used racist, ethnic and sexist epithets. In other words, the use of racist, ethnic and sexist epithets often arose in the context of anger management issues. For example, as noted, during the interview with a social worker, Ms. Mostowfi, the father while speaking loudly and belligerently, stated: ‘“[Y]ou have an attitude. You have an accent. You don’t understand English. You Iranian, you want me to kiss your ass, go back home.”” According to a supplemental report prepared by Ms. Rytterager, during the conversation with Ms. Mostowfi, the father made “numerous” racial slurs. Also, the father called Ms. Mostowfi a “bitch woman.” Further, he said Ms. Mostowfi could not “speak” English. When asked whether the twins had any food allergies, the father said to Ms. Mostowfi, ‘“Yeah, they’re allergic to Iranian food and Iranian incense.” When advised Ms. Juhasz was assigned the twins’ case, the father loudly and belligerently told her, “‘[Y]ou send a bitchwoman to get me, a single father?’” Throughout the conversation with Ms. Mostowfi, he was verbally abusive as he made derogative references to her culture, called her a “bitch” and hung up on her. In the Information For Court Officer, Ms. Gadson reported the father “displays extremely uncontrolled and violent behaviors with adults in a professional setting” and said to a social worker, ‘“[F]uck you’ and ‘mother fuck you, go back to Africa ….’”

Further, the father used racist, ethnic and sexist epithets while angrily interacting with school staff. For example, Ms. Komlos, the school principal, had to have “School Resource Officer Navarro” intervene when the father’s temper began to escalate. The father made fun of Officer Navarro’s accent. In January 2009, Ms. Komlos had to summon the police because the father was angrily yelling at an African-American man. Also, the father called Ms. Simon a ‘“black crow’” because she was an African-American.

The circumstances which led to the jurisdictional order involved in material part the father’s angry response to G.G.’s failure to keep her room clean and his chaotic rage when interacting with the twins’ teachers and other school staff. The juvenile court could reasonably conclude that the father’s use of racist and sexual epithets, often under circumstances where he was angry, was but part of his broader anger management problem. The challenged aspect of the reunification order responds to the circumstances of this case.

Further, the department is legally obligated to carry out the reunification program….

The juvenile court could reasonably conclude that for the reunification plan to achieve its mandated goal — resolving the problems that gave rise to dependency jurisdiction — social workers must be able to effectively work with the father. The department is statutorily obligated to provide reunification services. We need not reiterate the father’s habitual use of insulting racial and gender epithets uttered when he is angry or in a calmer state of mind to the child care professionals in this case. It is difficult for social workers to provide those services when they are consistently subjected to racist, ethnic and sexist epithets. The ability of the father to work with social workers and school personnel and thereby achieve the results of the reunification plan will be enhanced if he understands, which counseling on the subject can help him comprehend, that in a diverse culture such as in Los Angeles County, he cannot consistently insult women and all persons who are different from him who are working with him to reunify the family. The juvenile court has discretion to design a reunification plan that hopefully will work and take reasonable steps to make it achieve the desired result.

The father argues that since the jurisdictional findings do not explicitly speak to his use of racial, ethnic and gender invective, the reunification plan could not address that issue. As noted, there is substantial evidence the father, when angry, regularly uses racist, ethnic and sexist epithets. And, the juvenile court could reasonably find the father’s repeated use of racist, ethnic and sexist epithets whether while he is angry or calm interferes with the implementation of the legally mandated reunification plan. There is no statutory requirement a jurisdictional finding recite every aspect of parental unfitness that will eventually constitute the specifics of the reunification program. The reunification plan must be designed to resolve the conditions which led to the jurisdictional finding. Here, the juvenile court recognized the father’s use of racial, ethnic and gender epithets is part of his cycle of anger and interferes with the implementation of the reunification program. By addressing this matter in counseling, the juvenile court reasonably could find the other issues of excessive discipline, a chaotic home environment and angry interactions with school personnel could be resolvable, all of which is in the twins’ best interests.

The dissent thought that the non-epithet related allegations against the father were generally not well-founded, and continued:

It is apparent that dependency jurisdiction was asserted on this ground because of Father’s argumentative and confrontational attitude, and his racist and sexist comments to social workers and others. Like the majority, I find his comments deplorable, but there is no evidence that Father’s bad temper or deplorable remarks created a risk of serious physical harm to these children. Nor do I see anything in the dependency law which says that parents and children can be separated because a parent has deplorable beliefs — and it is easy to see the great harm which would ensue if it did.

It is obvious, then, that I do not believe that the dependency court could order Father into counseling to address his racist and sexist remarks. The juvenile court has broad discretion to fashion a dispositional order in accord with this discretion, but the discretion is not unlimited. “The program in which a parent or guardian is required to participate shall be designed to eliminate those conditions that led to the court’s finding that the child is a person described by Section 300.” I would reverse the “chaotic home environment” finding which is the only jurisdictional finding which can be construed to refer to Father’s racist and sexist remarks. In my view, such statements cannot be the basis for assertion of dependency jurisdiction, no matter who they are made to. Thus, a parent may not be ordered to go into counseling concerning such statements, as part of a reunification plan.