Domestic Violence Between Parents Can Also Cause Harm to Children

Mother [M] and Father [F] began dating in 2008 and married in 2015.  They have three children together [A] (born in 2015), [B] (born in 2017) and [C] (born in 2019).

On February 1, 2020, the Long Beach Police Department [LBPD] responded to a domestic violence call at M and F’s home.  M told the police that she and F were arguing in their bedroom, when he pulled at the necklace she was wearing and scratched her face.  (The police report noted that M had scratches on her face.) When F left the bedroom, M shut and locked the door, and then F began pounding on the door from the other side.  He then left the apartment.

In a police report that sparked the investigation by the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services [DCFS], a police officer noted that there had been three previous domestic violence incidents between F and M, and that there were mutual restraining orders between the two in place.  Another officer said that he previously had been to F and M’s home two days in a row for domestic violence between the parents, and he had informed them of the effect domestic violence has on the children.

During DCFS’s investigation, social workers made numerous attempts to meet with M and the children, but M would not answer their phone calls nor answer the door when they came.  It was not until they knocked on the door on March 2, that A answered the door (disregarding M’s instructions no to do so).  A told the social worker that he was present during F and M’s argument and that M scratched herself and that he had seen M push F down stairs.  A also told the social worker that M would hit A and B on their bottoms and hands with a wooden spoon.  The DCFS investigation also discovered that M had been convicted of domestic violence in 2015 when she stabbed F.

DCFS removed the children from the home and placed them in foster care. Then DCFS petitioned the juvenile court to keep the children under DCFS’s care alleging “that mother and father had placed the children at substantial risk of serious physical harm by engaging in violent physical altercations with each other in the children’s presence.”   At a July 2020 hearing, the court agreed with DCFS that violence between parents can substantially harm children, ordered that the children remain in foster care, and for DCFS to provide M and F with reunification services.

M appealed arguing that domestic violence between spouses with children present did not reach the legal level of substantial risk of serious harm to children and that the children should not have been removed from her care. (Note:  F did not join in the appeal.)

The Appellate Court agreed with the juvenile court:

“…substantial evidence supports that there existed no reasonable means of protecting the children other than removing them from [M]. As we outline above, the record contains evidence that [M] failed—over the course of many years—to comply with court-ordered restrictions and refrain from domestic violence with [F], as well as evidence that completing a domestic violence training program did not stop her domestic violence with [F], and that [M] was initially evasive and uncooperative with DCFS. The court could reasonably infer from this record that a combination of services and monitoring that might, under different circumstances, provide a viable alternative to removal, would not sufficiently protect the children in this case.”

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