Grandmother [G] was a licensed foster parent from 1993 until 2011. She was also a public elementary school teacher for 30 years. She fostered Mother [M] from the time M was seven years old, and then adopted her a few years later. As a child, M had been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and bipolar depression.
As an adult, M gave birth to a son S. The Los Angeles County of Children and Family Services [DCFS] removed S from M’s custody and placed him in G’s care when S was three months old. G later adopted S. In 2013, M gave birth to her second son, J. He was born with motor and speech delays. In 2014, DCFS placed J with paternal relatives. G petitioned the juvenile court to place J with her, and her request was granted in 2015 when none of J’s paternal relatives were able to care for him.
Also, in 2014, M gave birth to her third son D. DCFS placed D with G. According to regular evaluations by DCFS, “[D] remains well cared for in the home of [G]… [D] was often smiling and appeared very attached to [G]… [D] is a healthy baby and is meeting his developmental milestones.” Subsequent medical examinations and evaluations determined the three boys were special needs children with many medical challenges.
In later 2015, M gave birth to her fourth son, L. DCFS placed L in G’s care when he was three days old. He, too, was a special needs child. (In September of 2017, M gave birth to a daughter, but DCFS permanently placed her with her biological father.) It should be noted that at no time did DCFS find problems with G’s care of any of the children.
In July of 2017, DCFS went back into juvenile court to remove J from G’s care alleging G physically abused J by striking him with a ruler. That abuse also put D and L in risk of physical harm. The court placed J, D, and L in homes of relatives and allowed G monitored visitations. Further investigation by DCFS found no indication of injury to J’s arm, but did find bruises on his back. At the time he was living with a relative. (Records show that J rarely stayed still and was continually superficially bruising himself at home or at school.)
At the same time G requested the court find her to be a de facto parent. (A de facto parent is a person who has assumed the role of an actual parent by fulfilling both the child's physical and psychological need for care and affection on a day-to-day basis, and he or she has assumed that role for a substantial period of time.) DCFS opposed G’s request stating that as an alleged abuser she could not have parental rights. The juvenile court agreed with DCFS and denied G’s request. G appealed.
The Appellate Court agreed with G finding her to be a de facto parent: “A custodial relative [can contest a court hearing] . . . where the relative’s conduct and the removal of the minor(s) from the relative’s physical custody are at issue. …A de facto parent has rights in addition to a relative and may ‘participate as a full party to the contested hearing’ concerning the de facto parent’s conduct. ‘…Although it is clear that de facto parents do not have all the substantive rights and preferences of legal parents or guardians, they have been afforded procedural rights in order to assert and protect their own interest in the companionship, care, custody and management of the child …and to ‘ensure that all legitimate views, evidence, and interests are considered’ by the juvenile court in dependency proceedings.”
In other words, although if you’re a de facto parent, you may not have all the rights of or legal parents, you do have rights and the opportunity for a court to hear your position in the matter.