In March of 2016, at the request of Grandmother [G], deputies from the Orange County California Sheriff’s Department made a welfare check on Daughter [D] and her six brothers. Mother [M] would leave the children with G for days at a time with no way for G to contact M. Further, M refused to give G any supplies for the children or directives for their medical care. G told the deputies that M had a drug problem and was homeless. M’s drug problem and homelessness were confirmed by M’s sisters. The children had no contact whatsoever with their father.
The deputies reported their findings to the county’s social services agency [SSA], who sent a social worker to open an investigation.
At the conclusion of her investigation, the social worker filed a dependency petition in juvenile court. The court ordered that the children remain in the care of G. At a later hearing, the judge ordered reunification procedures for M to regain control of her children. M was to stop using drugs, attend drug rehabilitation programs, attend parent management courses, and be tested for drugs regularly. M was also awarded four-hour monitored visitation with her children twice a week.
For the first nine months, M failed to attend her mandated classes, and tested positive (when she showed up for testing) for methamphetamines. She also did not attempt to visit her children. It wasn’t until the tenth month that M realized if she didn’t comply with the court orders, she would lose all parental rights to her children. She began in earnest to be drug free and exercised her visitation rights with her sons – but without D in attendance.
During this time, D attended therapy every week. She told her therapist that she wanted to live with G and wanted no contact with M. According to the therapist, D stated that M was a bad mother and D was responsible for taking care of her siblings. D was 14 years old at the time, and she did not want to see M. In fact, she refused to see M. The therapist continuously encouraged D to change her mind, but D was adamant; she did not want to see M.
At the last hearing to determine reunification, the judge found that M failed to comply and terminated M’s parental rights. D (now age 15) could be adopted by G.
M appealed stating that the court failed to enforce the visitation order. (M did not argue that she was otherwise in compliance with her reunification orders.) According to M, had the judge enforced his visitation order, M would have seen D and would, therefore, have complied with the court order.
The Appellate Court agreed with the juvenile court:
“When a child refuses visitation, it is the parent’s burden to request a specific type of enforcement, or a specific change to the visitation order. Absent a request, it is not the court’s burden to sua sponte come up with a solution to the intractable problem of a child’s steadfast refusal to visit a parent.” (Sua sponte means a court makes its own decision without a request or motion by any party involved in a case.)