A Loss of Custody Based on Drug Abuse

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 his children.

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.

Father appealed.

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.

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