Risk of Harm is Enough to Remove Children from the Family Home

Mother [M] had a daughter [D] and a son [S1] before she met Father [F], and they had a son together when they began living together [S2].  Both F and M had previous drug records and numerous arrests for abusing alcohol, amphetamine, methamphetamine, and marijuana.

In November of 2019, M tested positive for marijuana during a hospital visit.  She was 18 weeks pregnant and miscarried the child.  A reporting party said that M was always “out of it, kept falling asleep, and looked homeless” and was not able to care for her children.

A social worker from the LA County Department of Social Services [DSS]investigated the family situation.  The social worker found that M had been using drugs (even though M originally said she wasn’t), and requested the children be removed from the parental home.  She noted that S1 said M usually fell asleep by about 5pm, and the children had to wake her up the next morning so they could go to school.  The social worker also noted that both sons had been absent from or late to school over 20 times each that year.

At a hearing to determine whether the County should remove the children from the family home, F stated that he was not aware of M’s drug use.  He worked nights, and according to the children, they rarely saw him, because he would come home after work and go to his room and sleep.  F also stated that he did not use drugs.  Although, he subsequently tested positive for amphetamine and methamphetamine.  Also, both sons testified that they had witnessed F drunk or drugged numerous times.  S2 was also afraid that if he misbehaved, F or M would hit him; something he said had happened to him in the past.

This hearing was not the first time M and F had been under investigation by DSS.  The family had been investigated numerous times since 2012, with plans in place for improving the family homelife.  The family never improved.  The court ordered D placed with M’s mother, and the sons placed in foster care.

In February of 2020, the court declared the children dependents of the court.  The court found that the children were at risk of harm.  The parents were not supervising them properly due to their drug use; the children had poor school attendance and hygiene; and ordered drug abuse classes for the parents.  Both M and F appealed.

The Appellate Court agreed with the trial court. 

Regarding M, the Court stated: “The trial court properly found the mother’s conduct put her children at substantial risk of serious physical harm. The mother routinely disappeared from her children’s lives at about 5:00 p.m. until they woke her the next morning for school. It was reasonable for the juvenile court to infer the mother’s drug use had something to do with this conduct. The resulting failure to supervise the children put them at serious risk. Without supervision, nothing protects children from a world of serious and sudden danger.”

Regarding F, the Court stated: “F incorrectly argues finding harm here ‘would essentially mean that physical harm to a child is presumed from a parent’s substance abuse under the dependency statutes, and that it is a parent’s burden to prove a negative, i.e., the absence of harm.’ We do not presume harm. Rather, we find there was enough evidence to permit the juvenile court to infer the risk of physical harm from the father’s failure to supervise the children…

 “Sufficient evidence supports the juvenile court’s dispositional order removing the children. As the parents note, before the juvenile court may order a child physically removed from his or her parent’s custody, it must find, by clear and convincing evidence, the child would be at substantial risk of harm if returned home and there are no reasonable means by which the child can be protected without removal.”

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