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M.L. v. Superior Court of Ventura County

March 23, 2009


(Super. Ct. No. J067204) (Ventura County). Tari L. Cody, Manuel J. Covarrubias, Judges.

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


A mother leaves the hospital an hour after her child is born. Both the mother and her newborn test positive for amphetamines. Here we hold a social worker may remove the child from the mother's custody because there is reasonable cause to believe that the child is in imminent danger.

M.L. ("Mother") petitions for an extraordinary writ and challenges orders of the juvenile court denying family reunification services, denying placement of her newborn for private adoption, denying dismissal of the dependency, and setting a permanent plan hearing. (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 366.26.)*fn1 We deny the petition.


On September 29, 2008, Ventura County Human Services Agency ("HSA") filed a dependency petition pursuant to section 300 on behalf of newborn L. HSA alleged that hospital laboratory tests revealed the presence of amphetamines in Mother and the newborn at birth. HSA alleged that Mother has a long history of substance abuse, and that her six older children were dependents of the juvenile court in 2006 and 2007. Mother did not reunify with the children and she continues to suffer from substance abuse. HSA also alleged that the identity and whereabouts of the newborn's father is unknown. (§ 300, subds. (b), (g), (j).)

In early September 2008, Mother had contacted Family Connections Christian Adoptions ("Family Connections"). Social worker Lee Ann Skylstad of Family Connections interviewed Mother and sought adoptive parents for the yet unborn child. Skylstad stated that Mother did not ask about any prospective adoptive parents and preferred that Family Connections select an appropriate adoptive family. Wayne Mott, the regional administrator of Family Connections, also requested Mother to select an adoptive family, but she refused. Skylstad also stated that Mother demanded more expense funds than most birth mothers assisted by Family Connections, and rejected their entreaties to obtain prenatal care.

Mother admitted to Skylstad that she had abused drugs in the past, but stated that she had been drug-free for the last eight years. She admitted that her older children were dependent children, but explained that her boyfriend was responsible for their neglect and abuse.

Later that month, Mother entered the hospital to give birth. Skylstad accompanied her. Mother gave birth at 11:21 p.m., and discharged herself from the hospital one hour later. Prior to leaving the hospital, Mother executed state adoption form, AD 22 - "Health Facility Minor Release Report" ("AD 22 report"). This revocable release permitted the hospital to release physical custody of the newborn to Family Connections. The hospital had received notice of Mother's adoption plan through Family Connections several weeks earlier. Mother and Skylstad discussed returning to the hospital the following day to meet the adoptive parents and to take photographs.

The following morning, the prospective adoptive family learned of the positive toxicology tests and declined to proceed with the adoption. Family Connections contacted a second prospective adoptive family ("Adoptive Parents B"), who decided to proceed with the adoption despite the toxicology test results. The adoptive parents arrived at the hospital near noon that day, and spent the day and evening with the newborn.

That same evening, Mother and attorney Michelle Erich telephoned the hospital nursery and informed the charge nurse that Mother was revoking her consent to release the newborn to Family Connections. Erich stated that she and Mother would arrive at the hospital shortly and that Mother had selected different adoptive parents ("Adoptive Parents C").

When Erich and Mother arrived, hospital nurses observed Mother to be "flighty, . . . hyper, [and] talking very fast." Erich and Mother attempted to provide the hospital with adoption papers for Adoptive Parents C, but the hospital nurses refused to accept them. The nurses telephoned a supervisor, who in turn contacted the hospital administrator and the hospital general counsel for advice. They were directed not to accept any legal documents and to request that all parties, including Adoptive Parents B, leave the hospital. The nurses were also instructed to contact HSA.

That same evening, the HSA "Hotline" received a report from hospital employees stating that Mother and the newborn had positive toxicology tests for amphetamine and that Mother discharged herself from the hospital shortly after giving birth. The report stated that Mother had arranged for a private adoption but now had selected different adoptive parents. The report stated: "The mother and [her] lawyer are attempting to take the child from the hospital."

HSA social worker Danielle Gersh arrived at the hospital nursery at approximately 9:30 p.m. that evening. She inspected the newborn's medical records and noted the AD 22 report in favor of Family Connections and the hospital social worker's notes. The nurses informed Gersh that Mother also had positive amphetamine toxicology tests several months earlier during an ...

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