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In re Precious D.

November 8, 2010

IN RE PRECIOUS D., A PERSON COMING UNDER THE JUVENILE COURT LAW.
LOS ANGELES COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
PATRICIA D., DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



APPEAL from orders of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County. Marguerite Downing, Judge. Reversed with directions. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. CK78263)

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

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

The juvenile court asserted dependency jurisdiction over an incorrigible teenager, 17-year-old Precious D., under Welfare and Institutions Code section 300, subdivision (b), and removed her from the custody of her mother, Patricia D. (Mother).*fn1

In this case of first impression, we address the issue of whether the provision of section 300(b) providing for jurisdiction based on the parent's "inability . . . to adequately supervise or protect the child" requires that the parent be unfit or neglectful in causing serious physical harm to the child or a risk of such harm. We hold that, in light of the dependency statutory scheme and federal due process principles, parental unfitness or neglectful conduct must be shown in order to assert dependency court jurisdiction under that part of section 300(b) providing for jurisdiction based on the parent's "inability . . . to adequately supervise or protect the child." Because there was insufficient evidence of both unfitness and neglectful conduct in this case, we reverse the jurisdiction and disposition orders.

BACKGROUND

Precious D., born in August 1992, lived with Mother and Precious's two half sisters, ages 14 and 8. Mother's male companion, Onajite E. (Stepfather), was the father of Precious's half sisters and visited their home often, but did not live there. Precious's father, Steven B., lived in Arizona, last visited with Precious in 2002, and did not appear in these proceedings. When Precious was 16 years old, she started associating with the "wrong crowd," talked to "older guys" on the phone, met up with people she met on the phone, misbehaved, missed classes, and started running away from home. Mother suspected that Precious was engaging in prostitution, but Precious denied it.

In March 2009, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) received a referral from the Los Angeles Police Department that Precious was a runaway and that she was picked up by the police in Long Beach. Precious asserted that her Stepfather beat her; she refused to return home to Mother. A police detective told DCFS that there was no evidence of abuse, and DCFS concluded that the allegations of physical abuse were unfounded.

Although Precious consistently maintained that Stepfather physically abused her by hitting her with an extension cord, Precious was unable to provide specific dates, times, instances, or motives for such physical punishment. Mother denied ever physically abusing Precious and told DCFS that she was willing and able to protect Precious from any abuse and wanted Precious to return home, but Mother needed support to help her address Precious's mental health needs. Stepfather was hurt and shocked by Precious's allegations of abuse; he denied ever hitting Precious or her half sisters. He told DCFS that they had been trying everything to help Precious, and when she ran away, they would look day and night to find her. Precious's half sisters also denied any abuse in the home. Precious "remains adamant that she is not afraid of [Mother]," but it was unclear to DCFS why Precious ran away from home and did not want to return to Mother.

On March 12, 2009, Mother signed a Voluntary Family Reunification Contract and Precious was placed in a foster home. The next day, Precious ran away from the foster home. Precious's foster mother reported that Precious was sneaking boys into the home and that she had taken Precious to the emergency room because she had contracted a sexually transmitted disease, chlamydia. According to Precious, she received medication for a bladder infection.

In April 2009, Precious was placed in a second foster home, where she was disrespectful, left without permission, refused to follow the house rules, skipped classes, and sent threatening and inappropriate messages to her family. Mother and Precious spoke by telephone daily, but Precious refused to see Mother or her half sisters. In April 2009, Precious told a DCFS social worker that she had a boyfriend who was 20 years old. Precious also persisted in her claim that she had been the victim of a gang rape, even though Mother had taken her to the hospital and a rape examination revealed no trauma.

After a month in the second foster home, Precious's foster mother reported that Precious was engaging in behaviors such as missing classes in school, running away, stealing, and leaving home to "hang out with boys." The foster mother told DCFS that Precious "craves attention and dresses very provocative[ly]." Although the foster mother had requested that Precious be placed in another home, the foster mother agreed to continue with Precious's placement to allow her to receive mental health services.

In June 2009, the foster family agency reported that Precious was enrolled in mental health counseling but was not on any medication and had not begun family therapy. Mother continued to telephone Precious daily, but because of transportation problems had not visited with her; the foster family agency then agreed to transport Mother for visits with Precious. Precious's foster mother reported that the mental health counseling did not seem to be making an impact on Precious's behavior, as Precious refused to do any chores, missed classes every day, and "all [she] wants to do is run away and fight." Mother telephoned Precious often, but Precious refused to see Mother. During a July 6, 2009 meeting with a social worker, Precious was very emotional, refused to return home, and blamed Mother for her bad grades and behavior. Precious reiterated her claim that Stepfather beat her; Precious also said that Stepfather beat Mother and "controls the house." Precious claimed that no one was on her side or believed her.

During a July 14, 2009 psychiatric assessment, Precious stated that she wanted to hurt herself, so she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital on a 72-hour hold. Precious was diagnosed with major depression, but was released from the hospital on July 17, 2009, without medication being prescribed. On July 20, 2009, a team decision-making meeting was held to determine whether Precious needed a higher level of care or whether she could be returned home with intensive services. As a result of the meeting, a safety plan was created that included family therapy and placement of Precious in a group home where it would be ensured that she received appropriate mental health services.

After Precious was placed in a group home on July 20, 2009, she called the social worker several times, threatening to run away if she was not placed with the maternal grandfather. DCFS did not allow Precious visitation with the maternal grandparents because the issue of their criminal backgrounds first needed to be resolved. In August 2009, Precious was suspended from school because of her disruptive behavior; she asserted that the school staff harassed her for no apparent ...


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