Facebook and the Use of Due Diligence to Find Parents

In July of 2001, Father’s [F] eldest three children were subjects of a dependency petition, but sadly, in September of 2002, family reunification services were terminated because of the parents’ “non-compliance.”  In January of 2004, the children were placed with their maternal grandmother.  The problems didn’t end there for the children, because in April of 2009, F’s then-girlfriend hit one of those children with a belt.  In August 2009, due to F’s failure to provide care and supervision for the children, the court ordered permanent placement for the older still-minor ones.

In September of 2015, The Los Angeles County Department of Child and Family Services [DCFS] filed a petition alleging Child 1 [C1] (age six) and Child 2 [C2] (age 4) should be placed within court jurisdiction under California Welfare & Institutions Code Section 300.  The petition alleged their mother [M] hit C1 with a belt and burned C2 with a hot spoon.  M told DCFS that F, the father of C1 and C2, had been deported to Mexico in 2014.  The children were removed from M’s custody and placed in foster care.  The court also directed DCFS to find F.

DCFS attempted to find F.  DCFS had no address nor phone number for F, only M’s statement that F was in Mexico.  However, C1 and C2 told the DCFS social worker, that their half-brother [B] kept in touch with F via Facebook.

DCFS contacted B, who said he hadn’t been in contact with F for five months, but that his usual contact was via Facebook.  DCFS made attempts to reach F via Facebook, but they were unsuccessful because of the large number of men who had the same name and birthdate as F.

Based on the DCFS attempts, and M’s inability to care for the children, the court continued jurisdiction, ordering the next hearing in December of 2016.  At that hearing, DCFS informed the court that it had made “…searches of 21 sources including governmental agencies, military agencies, and three previous local addresses.”  However, there was no mention of any attempt to locate [F] via Facebook or to ask for help from [B].  The court held off its decision on permanent placement until March of 2017.  At the March hearing, DCFS stated that they tried to inform F of the proceedings with a letter to a former address, but the letter was returned, because the addressee was not at that address.  With this information, the court created a plan for permanent placement.

Other hearings followed and again, DCFS, made numerous attempts to contact F.  However, DCFS made no attempt to contact F via Facebook.  It wasn’t until June of 2018, that the court became aware the F e-mailed the minor children’s attorney asking if he could have custody of them, that contact was available of F.  F obtained counsel, but at the August, 2018 hearing the court terminated F and M’s parental rights.  The court stated, “…it was unreasonable to ask [DCFS] to attempt to locate [F] in Mexico with no further information as to his whereabouts.” The court emphasized that [F] had no contact with the C1 and C2. a year before the dependency hearings and no contact for the two years since the hearings began.     F appealed because he had not been given notice of the hearings.

The Appellate Court agreed with F that DCFS did not do enough to try to locate F:  “…although DCFS did not know for sure if it could obtain [F]’s address from [B], there was an actual possibility DCFS could have located [F] or valid contact information had it asked for help from [B] in accessing [F]’s Facebook account… [B] was cooperative and available, yet DCFS did not take advantage of [his] Facebook access to [F] to provide notice reasonably calculated to apprise [F] of the proceedings.”

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