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In re R.C.

December 19, 2008

IN RE R.C., A PERSON COMING UNDER THE JUVENILE COURT LAW.
SAN DIEGO COUNTY HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES AGENCY, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
PATRICIA C., DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of San Diego County, Carol Isackson, Judge. Affirmed. (Super. Ct. No. J516592).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Irion, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PARTIAL PUBLICATION*fn1

Patricia C. appeals a juvenile court judgment terminating her parental rights to her minor son R.C. under Welfare and Institutions Code section 366.26.*fn2 Patricia contends the court erred by summarily denying her section 388 petition for modification seeking further reunification services or placement of R.C. with her. She also challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support the court's findings R.C. is adoptable and the beneficial parent-child relationship exception of section 366.26, subdivision (c)(1)(B)(i) does not apply to preclude terminating parental rights. We affirm the judgment.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

In April 2007 one-month-old R.C. became a dependent of the juvenile court under section 300, subdivision (b) and was removed from parental custody based on findings Patricia used heroin while pregnant with R.C., and he was experiencing symptoms of drug exposure. The court placed R.C. in foster care and ordered reunification services for Patricia, including individual therapy, parenting education, substance abuse treatment and a psychological evaluation. The court also ordered Patricia to participate in the Substance Abuse Recovery Management System program.

During the next six months, Patricia's whereabouts were often unknown. Patricia did not participate in individual counseling or parenting classes. She enrolled in several drug rehabilitation programs, but did not remain in any of them. For the first few months of reunification, Patricia had supervised visits with R.C. three to four times a week. During some visits, Patricia did not interact much with R.C., and had to be told to read and talk to him. During other visits, she kissed and fed R.C. and changed his diapers. She stopped visiting R.C. when she moved to Virginia.

At the six-month review hearing, the court found reasonable services had been offered to Patricia, but she had not made substantive progress with the provisions of her case plan and there was no substantial probability R.C. would be returned to Patricia in the next six months. The court terminated services and set a section 366.26 selection and implementation hearing.

Patricia filed a section 388 petition for modification, seeking to have the court place R.C. with her, or alternatively, order six more months of services. As changed circumstances, Patricia alleged she had completed programs while incarcerated in Virginia. Patricia further alleged the requested modification was in R.C.'s best interests because it would allow him to continue bonding with her. The court summarily denied the petition, finding Patricia did not make a prima facie showing of changed circumstances or best interests.

In an assessment report, the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (Agency) recommended adoption as R.C.'s permanent plan. Social worker Paul Ruegg noted R.C. was adoptable because he was a cute, healthy and happy 11-month-old boy with a great disposition. There were many families willing to adopt a child with his characteristics. R.C. was developmentally on target and was scheduled to have a complete evaluation the following month.

Additionally, R.C.'s current caregivers were committed to adopting him. R.C. had lived with these caregivers since he was a few days old, and he looked to them as his parents. The caregivers were a mother and her adult daughter living in the same home, who had adopted a child with special needs and also had other foster children. Although there was a recent investigation regarding discipline of one of the children in the home, the caregivers were open and honest about the incident and none of the children were removed. The caregivers knew and loved R.C. and were meeting all his needs.

In Ruegg's opinion, the relationship Patricia had with R.C. was not parental. Ruegg believed terminating Patricia's parental rights would not be detrimental to R.C.

At a contested selection and implementation hearing, Patricia testified she was willing to do whatever was necessary to have R.C. back in her life. She had been incarcerated for five months after surrendering on outstanding warrants. While in jail, she participated in various programs, including one that addressed drug addiction. She asked the court to order a permanent plan other than adoption for R.C.

The court asked Agency to briefly reopen its case to clarify information about the "many adoptive families" available for R.C. When Ruegg indicated he did not inquire as to the specific number of available adoptive families, the court ordered a brief recess to allow Ruegg to obtain that information. Ruegg then spoke to Agency's adoption placement coordinator, who informed him that based on R.C.'s characteristics, including age, ethnicity, in utero drug exposure and lack of identified father, there were 43 approved prospective adoptive families for R.C.

After considering the evidence and hearing argument of counsel, the court found R.C. was likely to be adopted and none of the circumstances of section 366.26, subdivision (c)(1) ...


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