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In re D.R.

June 15, 2010


(Alameda County Super. Ct. No. J166944-04) Trial Judge: Hon. David M. Krashna.

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


In this second of two appeals related to minor D.R., the juvenile court denied appellant Alameda County Social Services Agency's motion to terminate the de facto parent status of respondent C.S. It also granted the application of C.S.'s partner--respondent K.F.--for de facto parent status. The agency appeals both rulings, contending that the juvenile court either committed legal error or abused its discretion by denying the motion to terminate C.S.'s de facto parent status; and that it abused its discretion by granting K.F.'s application for de facto parent status. We affirm the juvenile court's orders.


D.R.'s Placements

The underlying facts of this juvenile dependency matter are set out in a related appeal.*fn1 We set out the facts pertinent to the issues raised in the matter now before us.

In June 2008, a supplemental petition was filed after then 12-year-old dependent child D.R. was removed from the home of his uncle, C.S., with whom he had lived since he was an infant. C.S. had been D.R.'s de facto parent since September 1997. The supplemental petition alleged that C.S. had inflicted corporal punishment on D.R., leaving marks on the minor's body. In November 2008, a juvenile court commissioner sitting as a temporary judge found the allegations of physical abuse to be true. Despite this fact, it sought the ultimate reunification of D.R. with C.S. and K.F.

At the close of the hearing on the supplemental petition, the agency made an oral motion to set aside C.S.'s de facto parent status based on the commissioner's physical abuse findings. The motion was denied without prejudice. In December 2008, the agency filed a written motion to terminate C.S.'s de facto parent status, citing the fact that D.R. was no longer living in his home. C.S. opposed the motion.

While the motion to terminate was pending, D.R.'s placement shifted again. He had displayed anxious, impulsive and aggressive behavior in his foster placement. A November 17, 2008 psychological assessment diagnosed D.R. with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and child physical abuse. It also noted sexual preoccupations that were unusual for a child of his age, and multiple indications of historic trauma. A group home placement was recommended, to provide more structure and resources than a foster placement could. The psychologist hoped that this setting would help modulate D.R.'s aggressive externalizing behaviors. Neither the juvenile court commissioner nor the agency had this report at the time of the November 21, 2008 findings on the supplemental petition.

On December 24, 2008, D.R. was removed from the foster home in which he had been placed in June 2008. He threatened to assault a new caregiver and was placed temporarily in a group home in Oakland. By the end of the year, D.R. had been moved to a therapeutic group home in Marin that met the requirements of the psychologist's recommendations. The juvenile court approved this placement, subject to later revision, in January 2009. In this placement, D.R. displayed aggressive and sexually provocative behavior.

D.R. had regular supervised visits and telephone calls with C.S. and K.F. C.S. sought additional contact with D.R., but refused agency entreaties to participate in family therapy with the minor. The agency sought to engage C.S. in his own therapeutic exploration of the factors leading to his physical abuse of D.R., which C.S. also resisted. The agency viewed therapy as a fundamental precondition to the safe return of D.R. to C.S.'s care. C.S. continued to deny any abuse of D.R., questioned the need for an out-of-home placement, and challenged the wisdom of the residential treatment placement.

At the group home, D.R. was diagnosed as suffering from ADHD, posttraumatic stress disorder, physical abuse and possible sexual abuse. He participated in numerous therapeutic programs there, including individual and group psychotherapy, anger management and communication skills development. He received a psychiatric consultation in order to identify effective medical treatment for his hyperactivity and aggression. A neuropsychological evaluation was conducted to identify factors that could guide D.R.'s treatment and medication. He expressed his desire to live with C.S. rather than at the group home. D.R. continued to display disruptive and aggressive behavior. A group home worker advised that if reunification with C.S. and K.F. was the ultimate goal, then more contact with them in family therapy was needed.

In March 2009, the agency recommended D.R.'s continued placement in the group home setting, over C.S.'s objections. C.S. complained that the agency did not want to provide him with services. The agency reported that it had been trying to facilitate services, but that C.S. refused to participate in therapy. At the conclusion of that hearing, the juvenile court found that the agency had complied with the case plan and had provided reasonable services. It adopted for D.R. a permanent plan of placement in the group home with a goal of a less restrictive foster placement.

Several hearings on de facto parent status issues were held between January and April 2009. By March 2009, C.S.'s partner--respondent K.F.--sought a court order determining his own de ...

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