Old Violence vs Current Violence

In May, of 2015, the Los Angeles Department of Child and Family Services [DCFS] received a referral alleging emotional and physical abuse by Father [F] and general neglect by Mother [M]. At the time, M was 17 years old and [F] was 21. According to the report, M was holding their two-month old Daughter [D] when F hit M on the forehead. M filed a restraining order against F and ended her relationship with F. The restraining order provided that F was to have “no personal, electronic telephonic, or written contact with mother or child, except for court-ordered visitation and the safe exchange of child.” DCFS closed its file.

On January 6, 2017, the police stopped a car with M and D as passengers. M was found with 11 grams of methamphetamine and two grams of marijuana. She told the officers that she was on her way to F’s mother’s house to drop off D for her weekend visit with F. (F lived with his mother.) She also told the officers that she used meth usually on weekends when D was with F. (M had custody of D on weekdays.) M was charged with possession of meth for sale and another referral was sent to DCFS.

DCFS’s petition alleged D was at risk of physical harm based on F’s actions during the domestic violence incident against M in 2015, F’s convictions for violent crimes (battery in 2013 and 2014), F’s violation of the restraining order and mother’s history of substance abuse and her possession of meth while in a vehicle with child.

The juvenile court found that staying with F and M would pose substantial danger to D’s physical health, safety, and emotional well-being. The juvenile court declared D a dependent of the court and removed her from both parents’ custody. The court also allowed monitored visitation by F and M and ordered DCFS to provide family reunification services.

F appealed believing that his “violent history” was old and no longer relevant, thus making him a fit parent. The Appellate Court agreed with F:

California Welfare and Institutions Code section 300, subdivision (b) requires: “(1) neglectful conduct by the parent in one of the specified forms; (2) causation; and (3) ‘serious physical harm or illness to the child, or a ‘substantial risk’ of such harm or illness. The third element effectively requires a showing that at the time of the jurisdictional hearing the child is at substantial risk of serious physical harm in the future (e.g., evidence showing a substantial risk that past physical harm will reoccur) …”

The Appellate Court stated, “…in evaluating risk based upon a single episode of endangering conduct, a juvenile court should consider the nature of the conduct and all surrounding circumstances. It should also consider the present circumstances, which might include, among other things, evidence of the parent’s current understanding of and attitude toward the past conduct that endangered a child, or participation in educational programs, or other steps taken, by the parent to address the problematic conduct in the interim…”

Here F’s behavior toward M was two years old, his former violent behavior was four years ago, and he has shown nothing but good parenting skills toward D from 2015 to the present. Custody should remain with F.

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