California Moves Toward Giving Therapists Unconditional Power To 'Emancipate' 12 Year Olds From Their Parents

(Scott Olson/Getty Images)
June 22, 2023

California Democrats on Tuesday advanced legislation to let mental health professionals remove children from their homes and place them in state custody without parental consent.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Assembly Bill 665 on a party-line vote. The bill would allow poor children as young as age 12 to check into state-run youth shelters on the unconditional say-so of a therapist or counselor.

Ahead of the vote, dozens of Californians passionately testified against the bill, variously condemning it as "emancipation of 12 year olds," "heinous," and "dangerous." But the bill's authors dismissed the concerns as "misinformation" and "lies."

The bill's advance is the latest victory in a campaign by California Democrats to roll back parental rights, often in the name of allowing minors to choose their own gender. Other legislation making its way through the legislature would punish parents and foster parents who do not "affirm" children's transgender identity.

Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo (D.) and state senator Scott Wiener (D.), the co-authors of the bill, reiterated on Tuesday that they simply seek to give all children equal access to mental health services, as privately insured minors from age 12 can already receive outpatient therapy without parental consent. The bill would only apply to kids on Medi-Cal, the state Medicaid program that provides health coverage to eligible low-income residents.

"This bill protects children. It makes children safer. It makes children healthier," said Wiener. "It’s unfortunate that this bill, like so many, has been caught up in this right-wing outrage machine."

"We would never move a piece of policy that takes away parental discretion, to allow children to not have access to their parents," Carrillo assured the assembled parents, drawing audible scoffs from the room. "There’s been a lot of misinformation and lies about this bill to the point that it has national and international attention as to how we treat mental health services for young people in the United States and California."

But the bill would leap beyond the autonomy granted to children under existing law. There would be no obligation, as there is for minors on private insurance, for therapists or counselors to show that a 12-year-old patient is mature enough or in a dangerous situation before transferal to a "residential shelter." Whether or not to inform the parents of the move would also be left to the discretion of the mental health professional, who could be an intern or trainee.

"Have each of you used your elected platforms and networks to inform and speak with the people of California?" Los Angeles mother Wendy Minas asked the Senate panel during her testimony against the bill. "It doesn’t seem so, because when I talk to my community, no one knows about it. And when they hear about it, they are shocked and angry that you would consider passing an extreme bill that would break apart families during a child’s most difficult and challenging years."

Critics have warned that if the bill becomes law, troubled children will exploit its provisions to run away from home. Transgender kids, in particular, could try to negate their parents' veto over sex-change treatments, including by accusing them of abuse.

"The authors want to change the law to let a 12 year old opt out of their home on a whim, invoking parental separation and emancipation of minors without any claim of danger or parental consent," Nicole Pearson, an attorney, said in her testimony against the bill. "This is child emancipation."

Pearson noted that if lawmakers only wanted to remove the parental consent requirement for minors on Medi-Cal to receive mental health services, they could simply tweak the state's welfare code. That would leave the rules for entering residential shelters unchanged.

When Republican state senator Scott Wilk asked about Pearson's alternative during the hearing, Taylor Chambers, an attorney at the National Center for Youth Law, a cosponsor of the bill, responded that changing the welfare code would create billing confusion for doctors and counselors—and therefore wouldn't be equitable.

Other supporters of the bill, who testified before the panel in much smaller numbers than opponents, include children's mental health clinics, insurers, psychiatrists, and psychiatric associations. Conservative advocacy groups, parents’ rights groups, and California Nurses United, a progressive nurses union, have opposed the measure.

While the bill does not mention gender identity, the track record of one of its authors has fueled suspicions. Wiener, who recently honored anti-Catholic drag nuns at the California legislature, is also pushing a bill that would require California foster parents to "affirm" the transgender identities of foster children. Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced another bill that Wiener co-authored to make parents' non-affirmation of their child's transgender identity grounds for revoking or limiting custody. Last year, a law that Wiener authored went into effect, empowering California courts to take temporary jurisdiction of kids who come to California from out of state in search of hormone therapy or other transition treatment.