In March of 2014, San Francisco police officers encountered Mother [M] walking aimlessly throughout the city with her two children, a son [S1] t and a daughter [D1] then ages 6 and 3. They had been wandering for over 12 hours. The children had not been fed all day and the family was homeless. They were taken to the police station and M’s father took the children home with her. M refused to go with them. When M’s parents had not heard from M in over a month, they filed a missing person’s report.
In May of 2014, the Contra Costa County Children and Family Services Agency [Agency] stepped in. According to M’s parents, M had had a substance abuse problem for many years. M was not in contact with S1’s father, but she was married to D1’s father where both parents had been arrested for domestic violence. Agency was unable to find the fathers, and had the children placed in Agency’s custody with care to the grandparents.
Later, M and Husband [H] were found living in H’s parents’ home in San Mateo County [SMC]. Agency provided M with family counseling, parent training, and help for her substance abuse. M admitted to Agency that she was schizophrenic, was taking methamphetamine with H, but now only abused alcohol. During this time the children thrived with their maternal grandparents.
At the 12-month review, M was drug-free and had completed her classes. She also gave birth to her second child, a son, [S2] with H. The children were returned to M’s custody and family reunification services were terminated for H and S1’s father. Family maintenance reviews continued while M and her children continued to live with M’s parents.
In 2016, M and her children moved back in with H, and Agency transferred the case to SMC. Sadly, the move was bad for the children. S1 suffered from PTSD from H’s behavior toward him. S1 was beaten because he wetted and soiled his bed. (H admitted to SMC that he physically harmed S1 and berated him constantly.)
In early 2017, M gave birth to her second daughter [D2] with H. In September S1 was institutionalized for suicide attempts. M was abusing alcohol again and not feeding D2. H was also physically abusing D1 now too. SMC continued to try to help M and her children including housing.
In 2018, further abuse of the children was documented, including dropping the baby D2 into a toilet. SMA went back in juvenile court to request further family maintenance. The juvenile declined SMA’s request and terminated services.
The court stated: “[It] has considered other possible alternatives, but determined that based on the parents’ performed—past performance, some of their statements, and the other information that’s [been] presented, that those other alternatives would not be options that the Court could put in place to eliminate the need for removal. M appealed arguing that the juvenile court could not do more than SMA had requested. SMA did not ask that the children be removed. The court reconsidered it opinion, but came to the same conclusion: “It is true the petition requested an order that the minors be ‘detained’ rather than ‘removed.’ However, the modification request went on to state [D1] and his siblings are at risk of harm. It is in their best interests to be removed,”
M appealed and the Appellate Court agreed with the juvenile court:
“Even if we construed the court’s removal order as exceeding the scope of relief sought by the modification petition, it is nevertheless within the juvenile court’s inherent and statutory authority to modify or set aside its orders sua sponte as circumstances warrant, so long as it has provided the parties with notice and an opportunity to be heard.” (Sua sponte means an action of the judge taken without formal prompting or requesting from a party.)
These children were being harmed and were at risk for future harm. The juvenile court did what was in the best interest of those children.