CSAC Bulletin Article

Governor Newsom unveils “CARE Courts” framework

The Governor unveiled his “CARE Courts” framework today to assist those living with psychotic or severe substance use disorders via the civil court system. CARE stands for Community Assistance, Recovery, and Empowerment.

“We’ve been asking the wrong questions – trying to reform a broken system,” said Governor Newsom at a press conference today in Santa Clara County. “We need to treat brain health early rather than punish it later.”

The proposal would rest on the civil courts which would direct an individual referred to the program by family members, counties, or first responders to develop a treatment plan. The individual would be assigned a “Supporter” and public defender to implement the Shared Decision Making model with the person in the development of the plan.

“We have to unlock a different set of tools and take this upstream to prevent the sickest of the sick,” said California Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mark Ghaly. “Today we start an invitation to decide how to do this the best we can with care and compassion. This is a new way of doing business around mental illness.” 

The Governor’s team reached out to CSAC on the framework and indicated that the primary mandate for this structure would rest on the courts, but significant collaboration with county behavioral health and social services would be required. 

The proposal, which is in the conceptual stage, could be fleshed out in the coming months and become part of the Governor’s May Revision budget. According to the Governor’s staff, the CARE Courts proposal represents the fulfillment of the Governor’s commitment to “conservatorship reform” this year and could be approved and implemented via budget trailer bill.

Counties need to learn more about the county role and any new mandates, requirements, or sanctions associated with the proposal. Requiring county services to engage with an entirely new court model – even if the participant is already a client of county services or eligible for such services – represents new additional workload when county departments are already stretched thin by vacancies and increasing demand for intensive behavioral health services. 

Besides touching county behavioral health and social services, county Public Guardians and Conservators as well as Probation could potentially be involved depending on the treatment plan approved by the new court.

Read the Governor’s press release on CARE Courts here. https://www.gov.ca.gov/2022/03/03/governor-newsom-launches-new-plan-to-help-californians-struggling-with-mental-health-challenges-homelessness/

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