According to a detention report filed by the Contra Costa County Children and family Services Bureau (Bureau) 12-year-old Brother (B) and 11-year-old Sister (S) lived with their mother (M) in their family home. M was abusive to B and S, but especially to B. On October 31, 2014, M caused B serious harm when she bit and scratched him and threatened to send him to military school for not attending his classes. She also pinned him to the floor and bit him on the right cheek – causing a large bruise.
According to the Bureau, this was not the first time M battered her children. She had an untreated mental condition, and was thought to be bipolar and suffering from depression. She would lock herself in her room for days at a time, and leave the children to fend for themselves. When not in her room, she often emotionally berated them or physically abused them. M’s family members and friends worried for the children’s safety because of M’s mental state, and had contacted Social Services numerous times to protect the children.
The Bureau assumed temporary custody of B and S, and put them in foster care, recommending reunification services for the family. M was given a plan of reunification where she was to receive medical help and therapy for her mental problems, anger management classes and parenting classes. The children were to receive therapy to help them reunify with M. M was granted monitored visitation of the children of one hour per week - if the children wished to see her. Initially both children refused to see M.
At the six-month reunification hearing, Bureau informed the juvenile court judge that M had been following most of the reunification plan. She was attending her parenting classes, but had not signed up for anger management classes. She was receiving medication and psycho-therapy, and passing her drug tests. However, neither B nor S wanted to visit with her.
At the 12-month reunification hearing, Bureau informed the juvenile court judge that M still had not attended anger management classes, and she was missing some of her therapy appointments. Bureau also noted that B would not communicate with M and S only saw M once when her foster mother was present.
At the 18-month reunification hearing, Bureau informed the juvenile court judge that M missed many of her anger management classes, B still did not want to see M, and now S did not want to see M either. Also noted was M’s failure to pass all of her drug screenings.
With no further reunification help available by law, the juvenile court judge had no option but to end reunification services and terminated M’s parental rights. M appealed the decision.
The Appellate Court upheld the juvenile court. Under the California Welfare and Institutions Code, a court will return a child to the physical custody of his or her parent, unless the court finds it is more likely that the return of the child to his or her parent would create a substantial risk of detriment to the safety, protection, or physical or emotional well-being of the child. If so, a court can order reunification services with the intention of reuniting the family. Eighteen months is the maximum time for most reunification services, so the juvenile court had no choice but to terminate M’s reunification services.