A Case for Denying Child and Parent Reunification

In the fall of 2019, Daughter [D] left her father’s [F] home because of his escalating mental health issues.  According to D, F heard voices, had delusions of persecution by demons, witches, and the government.  He also yelled, threw things, and punched the walls in their home.  During this time D was not in contact with her mother [M].  M lived in North Carolina and neither visited nor kept in contact with D.  M’s background also includes mental health issues, psychiatric hospitalization, alcohol abuse, attempted suicide, and a criminal history.

The Orange County Social Services Agency [Agency] petitioned the juvenile court to assume jurisdiction over D.  The court found D’s assessment of her parents credible and did so.  The court also ordered F and M to undergo parental reunifications services to be provided by Agency.

At the six-month status hearing, Agency informed the court that neither F nor M were complying with reunification services.  The court continued the current status of D until the twelve-month status hearing.

At the twelve-month status hearing, Agency informed the court that F’s participation in reunification services was improving, but not acceptable; and found M’s participation was minimal at best.  The court retained jurisdiction and ordered reunification services for another six months.

At the eighteen-month status hearing, the court found reunification services for F and M had failed and terminated the services, even though both F and M complained that Agency had not provided them with reasonable services during the last six-month period.

Both M and F appealed, and the Appellate Court agreed with the trial court.  The Court cited California Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu:

“We [The Supreme Court] recognize denying or terminating reunification services can be heart wrenching. But ‘in order to prevent children from spending their lives in the uncertainty of foster care, there must be a limitation on the length of time a child has to wait for a parent to become adequate.’ [Citation.] The statutory restrictions are consistent with the overall objective of the statutory scheme—that is, the protection of abused or neglected children and the provision of permanent, stable homes if they cannot be returned to parental custody within a reasonable time.”

With Justice Liu’s statement in mind, the Appellate Court stated, “…Section 352 [of the Family Code] allows a court to order a continuance only if it is not ‘contrary to the interest of the minor,’ giving ‘substantial weight to a minor’s need for prompt resolution of his or her custody status, the need to provide children with stable environments, and the damage to a minor of prolonged temporary placements.’ (§ 352, subd. (a)(1).) The [juvenile] court here concluded additional services would not be in [D]’s best interest, given both parents’ lack of consistent and regular contact and visitation, their lack of significant and consistent progress in the prior 18 months in resolving the problems that led to her removal, and a lack of evidence that either parent had demonstrated the capacity or the ability to complete the components of the case plan. On this record, the court reasonably concluded [D]’s interests were best served by moving forward with the case; we see no abuse of discretion.”

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