CARE courts, aimed at helping people struggling with mental health challenges, to open in OC

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Saturday, September 9, 2023
CARE courts, aimed at addressing mental health issues, to open in OC
Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment Act (CARE) courts, aimed at helping Californians struggling with mental health challenges and homelessness, are scheduled to open in Orange County in early October.

Elaine Huber's love for her family has no limit.

She said watching her son struggle with bipolar disorder since graduating high school has been difficult.

"He was very popular. He was an athlete," Huber said. "He pretty much was the kid that every parent would want. I mean, he was the kid that we want."

The Irvine mother is committed to making sure her now 27 year old son, whose identity we are keeping private at her request, gets the help he needs.

"When they have these symptoms they are unable to make reasonable decisions about their health," Huber said.

Orange County is one of seven counties rolling out a new program called CARE Court under the Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment Act.

It was designed to help people suffering from mental illness as well as substance use challenges and may often be experiencing homelessness.

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Whether it's anxiety or depression, one out of every five Americans suffers from some type of mental health issue. In Los Angeles County alone, that's two million people.

Steve Pitman, president of the Orange County board of the National Alliance on Mental Illness said, "The mistake is to think that it's going to fix all the problems. It's not. What I'd like to say it's another arrow in the quiver and it's a necessary one."

It allows people, including family, to petition a civil court to intervene. A judge can then order them to take part in community-based services and treatment.

Pitman said the court-ordered care plan can last up to 24 months.

"We don't know exactly how it's going to work but certainly there's the belief that it's going to help some people solve some problems," Pitman said.

However, he said CARE Court is voluntary which can be frustrating for families wanting to help their loved ones.

Pitman said, "There's a desire on our parts to force treatment on somebody but in the long term if it's not voluntary it's not going to work."

For Huber, the program will hopefully be another tool to help her son.

She said, "This illness requires somebody to advocate for you. My son would not be where he's at today if, like I said, I wasn't aggressively advocating for him."

CARE Court in Orange County is set to start accepting petition on Oct. 2. Los Angeles County and the rest of the state will have until the end of next year to launch their programs.