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CARE Courts are now open in several counties

California's largest county has just opened the new CARE Court system — designed to get help for severely mentally ill people in Los Angeles. Suzanne Potter of California News Service has more.

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. LA County Superior Court Presiding Judge Samantha Jessner says a person must be 18 or older, and participation is voluntary.

"They must be diagnosed within the 'schizophrenia and others' psychotic disorders class. 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 that 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 that people could be forced into treatment.

Janice Hahn is chair of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

"Families are at the end of their ropes, and communities are frustrated. And 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.

Dr. Lisa Pion-Berlin is president of Parents Anonymous, which runs the California Parent and Youth Helpline.

"We are here to support people to deal with their underlying issue. 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 helpline on the website, 'CAparentyouthhelpline.org,' or call or text them at 855-427-2736.

Suzanne Potter is a journalist with 30 years of experience as a reporter for TV, radio and print news. She spent 15 years as a local TV news reporter in Palm Springs, CA and Providence, RI. She earned a B.A. in Mass Communications from UC Berkeley and spent a year at the Sorbonne in Paris. She lives in Palm Desert, CA, is married with four children and is a longtime leader with the Boy Scouts of America.