Five-year old N, two-year old L, and one-year old J were all under the
jurisdiction of the Los Angeles County Juvenile Court because of their
mother’s drug-abuse problem and J’s toxicology findings at
his birth. The court granted Father custody of the children on the condition
that he agree to drug testing upon suspicion of use. Father lived with
his parents in their home.
Shortly after obtaining custody, the Los Angeles County Department of Children
and Family Services (Department) investigated a report that J suffered
second-degree burns from an iron Father had left unattended. When a Department
social worker went to investigate the report, she found L and J at home
without adult supervision. Grandmother’s 14-year old daughter was
home; however, she was asleep. After waiting at the family home for 40
minutes, Grandmother returned. She informed the social worker that Father
had gone to Las Vegas with friends, and she went to the store leaving
the L and J with her daughter, even though daughter was sleeping.
After Father’s return from Las Vegas, he met with Department to address
concerns regarding the children’s safety and well-being. Father
agreed that it was wrong to the leave the children without adult supervision
and promised he would never do so again. He also admitted that he smoked
marijuana while in Las Vegas, and he agreed to remain drug-free. He also
agreed to submit to six drug tests when requested by Department.
Less than three weeks after the meeting, Grandmother contacted Department
informing them that Father had left L and J alone. She stated that she
had taken her children and N to a Halloween party leaving L and J with
Father, but when she returned, Father was not there and L and J were alone.
Two Department social workers investigated Grandmother’s information.
Their investigation concluded: Father neglected his children by leaving
them alone for long periods of time; and he was a “… a current
abuser of marijuana…” making him incapable of caring for
Department made many attempts to work with Father to get him to address
his drug problem, including providing him with drug rehabilitation programs,
but Father failed to attend any of them. Eventually, Grandmother expelled
him from her home because of his drug use, and Father, who was jobless,
was now homeless as well. Father also failed to appear for his drug tests.
Department returned to Juvenile Court to remove custody of the children
from Father based on his drug abuse. Father’s attorney argued that
Department could only show one instance of drug use – and that was
when Father admitted to having smoked marijuana in Las Vegas. There was
no direct evidence to show that Father used drugs around his children,
nor that the safety of the children was in danger based on the alleged
use of drugs. The Juvenile Court disagreed with Father’s attorney
and determined that Father’s past drug use and his failure to take
agreed-upon drug tests, was sufficient evidence to determine current drug
abuse. That drug abuse affected his ability to care for his children.
The Appellate Court agreed with the Juvenile Court stating that Father’s
past abuse of drugs, his current refusal to attend drug rehabilitation
programs, and his continual failure to submit to drug testing, was sufficient
evidence to remove custody from Father.
It is the Juvenile Court’s duty to determine what would be in the
best interests of the children, and unless the Juvenile Court abused that
duty based on the evidence submitted, the Appellate Court would not overrule it.