Mother (M) and Father (F) are the parents of two children, Daughter (D)
and Son (S).
In July of 2015, at about 2:30a.m., a California Highway patrol officer
noticed a car being driven erratically on the freeway. The car also was
speeding at 83 mph. The officer pulled the driver over, and observed D
(age four years) and S (age seven months) sleeping in the car and improperly
restrained in the back seat. He also smelled alcohol on the driver’s
breath. The driver was M (age 21 years). F (age 24 years) was in the front
The officer gave M a field sobriety test, and she failed miserably. Her
breathalyzer test presented at .14 percent – almost twice the legal
limit in California. He arrested her for driving under the influence of
alcohol and released the children to F.
The following week the officer contacted the Department of Children and
Family Services (DCFS) of M’s arrest. DCFS investigated.
During the initial interview, M told DCFS that her alcohol drinking was
a mistake. She was upset because a family member had recently died. She
also said the children were not restrained because they had unbuckled
the seat belts of their car seats. F told DCFS that he let M drive because
she had less to drink than he did. By the end of the first interview,
both M and F agreed to cooperate with DCFS to prevent the removal of their children.
DCFS continued to investigate after the initial interview. DCFS discovered
that M and F had been involved in a domestic dispute where F had struck
M twice with his fist. Both M and F had been drinking alcohol during the
After further investigation, DCFS filed its preliminary report with the
juvenile dependency court stating, “… [M]...placed [D and
S] in a detrimental and endangering situation by driving a vehicle in
excess of eighty miles per hour, while under the influence of alcohol,
while the children were passengers in the vehicle. [F]...failed to protect
the children when [F] knew of the [M]’s alcohol intake and allowed
[M] to drive the children while under the influence of alcohol…Such
a detrimental and endangering situation established for the children by
[M and F]’s failure to protect the children endanger the children’s
physical health and safety and place the children at risk of serious physical
harm, damage, danger, and failure to protect.” DCFS also reported
that the children were not properly secured in age-appropriate child seats.
The juvenile court returned the children to M and F, but maintained jurisdiction
over the children. DCFS continued to investigate the parents.
During DCFS’s continued investigation M and F continued to deny that
M had been drunk. They also argued that they did not need DCFS intervention
or the services of drug/alcohol counseling. M was also drug/alcohol tested
three on separate occasions. All three tests were negative. F was tested
twice for drug/alcohol levels; and his tests, too, were negative.
Regarding M’s drunk-driving arrest, she was later convicted of misdemeanor
driving under the influence of alcohol; received three years’ probation,
and was ordered to attend drug/alcohol prevention programs. M told DCFS
that she had completed the programs as well as three parenting classes.
In a subsequent hearing, the court ordered DCFS to continue to monitoring
M and F, and ordered M to take the DCFS drug and alcohol abuse counseling program.
At the final hearing, M’s lawyer requested the case be closed with
full custody returned to M and F, because her drunk-driving incident was
a “one off” and would not occur again. DCFS noted that M had
not taken any of the DCFS counseling programs, and F had taken no programs,
so the case should remain open. The court agreed with DCFS, and M appealed.
The Appellate Court agreed with the juvenile court: “We see the record
quite differently. [M] and [F] not only seriously jeopardized the physical
safety of their children on the night Mother drove while intoxicated,
they continued to minimize the seriousness of the incident during the
dependency proceedings and had not, at the time of the jurisdiction hearing,
taken any significant steps to participate in educational programs concerning
the problematic use of alcohol that gave rise to the substantial risk
to the children’s safety. Thus, in our judgment, the juvenile court’s
finding … is true [and] is supported by sufficient evidence.”
In other words, because of the parents’ lack of participation to
ensure the continued safety of their children, those children could still
be in danger.