Law enforcement officers in Del Norte County California found mushrooms, meth pipes, marijuana paraphernalia, concentrated cannabis, brass knuckles and butterfly knives during a valid search of Mother’s home. The occupants appeared to be hoarders with large piles of stuff everywhere. Some of the piles were over seven feet tall and a clear health hazard to Mother’s two children, eleven-year-old K and five-year-old C. The officers arrested Mother for possession of a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of marijuana over 28.5 grams, possession for sale, receiving stolen property, and carrying a dirk or dagger. Mother tested positive for methamphetamine, benzodiazepines, and marijuana. The officers also removed the children from her home and into the care and protection of the county’s health and human services personnel (Department).
The Department filed a petition to remove the children from Mother’s control with the county’s juvenile court. The Department stated that Mother failed to protect her children, left them without support and the abuse of a sibling. The Department also argued that Mother had a substance abuse problem and that she engaged in criminal activity preventing her from taking care of her children and was subjecting them to harm.
The juvenile court agreed with the Department, and placed the children in foster care with limited visitation by Mother. The court ordered Mother to undergo parenting classes, random drug testing, and get treatment for her drug program.
Mother failed to follow the court orders. The Department informed the court that Mother abuse drugs daily. Mother, however, continued to deny she even had a drug problem. She stated that although she smoked marijuana daily, she “...only uses meth to do yard work.”
Mother was sentenced to 16 months in prison for her drug and weapons convictions. However, technically, she would serve half of that sentence, and be given credit for time served, so her actual incarceration time was about six months.
At the six-month juvenile court review, the judge made the following findings: “… adequate services were provided, Mother had ‘simply not engaged in services,’ there was an ‘extremely low’ likelihood of reunification prior to the 12-month dependency hearing, Mother had not provided a safe and secure home, the services that would be available to her in prison would be inadequate to overcome her many serious problems, and the minors’ need for permanency…” The court ordered services terminated and set the matter for a permanency hearing (to terminate parental rights) under section 366.26 of California’s Welfare and Institutions Code.
The appellate court found that the juvenile court did not follow the appropriate law, and sent the case back for applying the facts of this case to the appropriate law. A 12-month reunification period is mandatory and can only be cut short at the six-month review hearing if the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the whereabouts of the parent are unknown, that the parent has failed to make contact and visit with the child, or the parent has been convicted of a felony indicating parental unfitness.