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In re L.M.

September 9, 2009

IN RE L.M., A PERSON COMING UNDER THE JUVENILE COURT LAW.
THE PEOPLE, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
L.M., DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT; CONTRA COSTA COUNTY PROBATION DEPARTMENT, OBJECTOR AND RESPONDENT.



Trial court: Contra Costa County Superior Court Trial judge: Hon. George V. Spanos (Contra Costa County Super. Ct. No. J07-01041)

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

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Appellant L.M. was declared a ward of the juvenile court under Welfare and Institutions Code section 602*fn1 and was placed in a Southern California residential treatment program several hundred miles away from his home. The goal of his case plan was reunification with his father and monthly visits were ordered as part of the plan. Appellant filed a motion to require the Contra Costa County Probation Department (Department) to pay his father‟s transportation costs to and from the monthly visits. The motion was denied and this appeal follows.

We agree with appellant that a juvenile court hearing a delinquency case has the power, under the appropriate circumstances, to order a supervising agency to financially assist a parent who lacks the financial means to travel to and from visitation. We affirm the juvenile court‟s order denying the motion for travel expenses in this case because appellant failed to make a threshold showing that his father was unable to afford the cost of the trips to and from visitation.

I. BACKGROUND

In May 2007, when he was 12 years old, appellant touched the vagina of his three-year-old stepsister. He had himself been repeatedly molested by his older brothers and sisters when he lived with his mother in Michigan before moving to his father‟s home in Contra Costa County in 2004. Upon discovering that appellant had molested his stepsister, his father contacted the police. Father had already put appellant in counseling for his sexual abuse issues and did not know what else to do.

The district attorney filed a juvenile wardship petition alleging that appellant had committed a lewd act upon a child under 14. (Pen. Code, § 288, subd. (a).) On May 29, 2007, the petition was amended and appellant admitted one count of sexual battery in exchange for the dismissal of the lewd conduct charge. (Pen. Code, § 243.4.)

In its report prepared for the disposition hearing held on June 11, 2007, the Department recommended a highly structured residential treatment program, noting that appellant suffered from a number of behavioral problems stemming from sexual abuse and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The court ordered appellant removed from his father‟s custody and placed under the Department‟s supervision in the Gateway Residential Program for a maximum period of four years. The case plan for the minor contemplated family reunification with his father, and the court ordered visitation as a component of the plan. (See § 727.2, subd. (a) [reunification services in wardship case].) Father‟s responsibilities under the plan required him to "assist in financial obligations" and "assist with transportation."

Appellant‟s placement in the Gateway program was continued at the six-month review hearing held in November 2007. (See § 727.2, subd. (c).) Monthly visitation with father continued, and family reunification with father remained the goal of the plan.

In its report prepared for the permanency planning hearing set for May 14, 2008 (see § 727.3, subd. (a)(1)), the Department advised the court that appellant was no longer progressing in his treatment at Gateway and recommended that he be moved to the Children‟s Therapeutic Community (CTC) in Riverside, California, several hundred miles away from father‟s home. The court adopted the recommendation after finding there were no local alternatives that would provide the sex offender counseling that appellant needed. The permanent plan was identified as "return home" and monthly visits with father were continued.*fn2 Appellant was moved to CTC on May 21, 2008.

A status review hearing was held on November 20, 2008. Placement at CTC continued, the permanent plan remained "return home," and monthly visitation was to continue between appellant and his father. Father remained obligated under the case plan to "assist in financial obligations" and "assist with transportation." The court found that father‟s progress under the plan had been poor.

On January 9, 2009, appellant filed a "Motion In Support of Family Financial Assistance With Travel to Child Visitation," which sought an order requiring the Department to pay for father‟s travel costs to and from the monthly visits in Riverside County. The Department filed written opposition to the motion, arguing that the case plan approved by the court did not require it to pay for travel costs and in any event, there was no statutory authority on which such an order could be based.*fn3 The court denied the motion for the reasons stated in the opposition papers.

II. DISCUSSION

Appellant‟s case plan included monthly visits with his father at CTC in Riverside County, and he raises no challenge to either the frequency of the visitation ordered or the suitability of his placement. His only argument in this appeal is that the court should have granted his motion for an order requiring ...


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