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Maria C v. the Superior Court of San Diego County


December 8, 2010


(San Diego County Super. Ct. No. SJ12183A-C)

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

Maria C. v. Super. Ct.



California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.

PROCEEDINGS for extraordinary relief after reference to a Welfare and Institutions Code section 366.26 hearing. Garry G. Haehnle, Judge. Petition denied.

Maria C. seeks writ review of juvenile court orders terminating her reunification services regarding her daughters, Mariana C., M.C. and Arianna C., and setting a hearing under section 366.26. (Statutory references are to the Welfare and Institutions Code.) She contends she did not receive reasonable reunification services, and the court erred by not ordering services extended to the 18-month date. We deny the petition.


On June 15 2009, the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (the Agency) petitioned under section 300, subdivision (d), on behalf of seven-year-old Mariana and five-year-old Arianna, alleging they were at substantial risk because Maria's friend, Omar, had sexually abused them on several occasions by touching their vaginas and buttocks with his hands and mouth and by rubbing his penis on their vaginas. The Agency also petitioned on behalf of six-year-old M.C. under section 300, subdivision (j), alleging she was at risk because of the abuse of her sisters. M.C. is developmentally disabled, nonverbal, non-ambulatory and requires complete assistance.

Mariana was too shy to talk about the abuse, but Arianna told the social worker it had happened "a lot of times." Arianna said Maria told her if she said anything about the abuse, she would cut off her tongue. Maria said Omar had spent the night with the family about five times, and she had only recently learned that he had sexually abused the children. She denied threatening Arianna.

The social worker reported the Agency had investigated a sexual abuse case involving Mariana and M.C. in 2006. The Agency had provided voluntary services to Maria in 2003-2004, 2005 and 2006-2007 based on referrals involving neglect of the children.

Maria's case plan included attending sexual abuse group therapy for nonprotecting parents, therapy, parenting education, family preservation services and visitation with the children. At the jurisdictional and dispositional hearing on July 7, 2009, Maria submitted to the court's jurisdiction. The court ordered the children placed in foster care and ordered Maria to comply with the provisions of her case plan.

In January 2010 the social worker reported the children had been placed in foster care and Maria had enrolled in a sexual abuse treatment group. The group's facilitator reported that after 18 sessions Maria still did not accept responsibility for not protecting the children and she minimized the abuse. Also, the social worker was concerned she had not found stable housing. At the six-month review hearing, the court continued the children's foster care placements and continued services.

In July 2010 the social worker reported Maria had attended 44 sexual abuse group therapy sessions and was beginning to take responsibility for not protecting her daughters. However, the social worker noted she had brought someone the girls did not know to a visit, and she still did not have stable housing. In August Maria said she had applied to live in a shelter. The facilitator for the sexual abuse treatment group reported Maria viewed herself as a victim of the Agency, the "system", and the economy.

At the 12-month review hearing on August 25, 2010, the social worker reported Maria visited the children once each week for one hour. During the two visits she observed, Maria did not engage with M.C. unless prompted to do so and she had little interaction with Mariana and Arianna. The social worker said Maria had not taken responsibility for the abuse to her daughters and she needed to obtain stable housing and devise an adequate safety plan. The social worker had talked with Maria only three times during the previous six months because Maria did not have access to a telephone.

Maria testified she had been in group therapy for nearly one year. She had created a safety plan that included not letting strangers into her home and always watching her daughters. She said she accepted that the abuse was her fault. She said she visited the children every week and would have liked more visitation, but she had never asked for more visits. She said she had learned a lot about how the abuse had affected her children. She said she had recently moved to a shelter.

Maria's therapist testified Maria had had 18 therapy sessions. She said Maria regretted what had happened to the children. The therapist said she had helped Maria develop a safety plan. She recommended Maria have conjoint therapy with the children and continue individual therapy.

After considering the evidence and argument presented, the court found by clear and convincing evidence the Agency had provided reasonable services; Maria had not made substantive progress with the provisions of her case plan; and there was no substantial probability the children would return to her custody by the 18-month date. The court terminated services and set a section 366.26 hearing.

Maria petitions for review of court's orders. (§ 366.26, subd. (l); Cal. Rules of Court, rule 8.452.) This court issued an order to show cause, the Agency responded and the parties waived oral argument.


I Maria contends the court's finding that she was provided reasonable reunification services was not supported by substantial evidence. She argues her visitation with the children was inadequate in that she was provided only one hour-long visit each week.

A reviewing court must uphold a juvenile court's findings and orders if they are supported by substantial evidence. (In re Amos L. (1981) 124 Cal.App.3d 1031, 1036-1037.) "[W]e must indulge in all reasonable inferences to support the findings of the juvenile court [citation], and we must also ' . . . view the record in the light most favorable to the orders of the juvenile court.' [Citation.]" (In re Luwanna S. (1973) 31 Cal.App.3d 112, 114.) In determining the sufficiency of reunification services, the role of the appellate court is to decide "whether the record discloses substantial evidence which supports the juvenile court's finding that reasonable services were provided or offered." (Angela S. v. Superior Court (1995) 36 Cal.App.4th 758, 762.) A service plan must take into account the specific needs of the family. (In re Riva M. (1991) 235 Cal.App.3d 403, 414.) The standard is not that the best possible services were provided, but that reasonable services were provided under the circumstances. (In re Misako R. (1991) 2 Cal.App.4th 538, 547.) The appellant bears the burden to show the evidence is insufficient to support the court's findings. (In re Geoffrey G. (1979) 98 Cal.App.3d 412, 420.)

Maria has not shown she did not receive reasonable services. She attended sexual abuse group therapy for nonprotective parents, parenting education, individual therapy, family preservation services for help with parenting, employment and housing, and weekly visitation. The Agency also arranged transportation and bilingual services.

Maria's argument she did not receive adequate visitation is without merit. The caregivers reported she had only limited interaction with the children during visits. When she would arrive for a visit, she would play with the children for a short time and then speak with the caregivers. They had to encourage her to play with the children. M.C.'s caregiver said Maria interacted very little with M.C. and had to be urged to hold her. In June 2010 the social worker learned Maria had brought a stranger to a visit. This was of special concern because of Maria's history of not protecting the children from people she did not know very well. Because Maria had made little progress in learning how to protect the children, it was reasonable not to expand visitation. Moreover, Maria never requested more visits. Substantial evidence supports the court's finding that reasonable services were provided.

II Maria asserts the court erred by not extending services to the 18-month date. She argues she was not given a reasonable opportunity to apply what she had learned to show she would be able to provide safe care for the children.

Under section 366.21, subdivision (g)(1), a court may continue a case to the 18-month date only if there is a substantial probability the child will be returned to the parent's physical custody and safely maintained in the home by that time. In considering whether to extend the case for 18 months the court must make all of the following three findings:

"(A) That the parent or guardian has consistently and regularly contacted and visited with the child.

"(B) That the parent or guardian has made significant progress in resolving problems that led to the child's removal from the home.

"(C) The parent or guardian has demonstrated the capacity and ability both to complete the objectives of his or her treatment plan and to provide for the child's safety, protection, physical and emotional well-being, and special needs."

Substantial evidence supports the court's decision not to extend services to the 18-month date. Maria consistently visited the children as required under section 366.21, subdivision (g)(1)(A). However, she did not, as required by subdivision (g)(1)(B), make significant progress in resolving the problems that led to the children's removal. She did not show, as required under subdivision (g)(1)(C), that she had the capacity to complete the objectives of her case plan and provide for the children's safety, protection, physical and emotional well-being and special needs. She attended sexual abuse group therapy for many months, but the group's facilitator said her ability to protect the children was still questionable. She continued to see herself as a victim and maintained a passive attitude. She had not obtained employment and did not obtain a secure place for herself and the children to live until she moved to a shelter a few days before the hearing. Her plan to protect the children from further abuse was limited. Also, she did not show she would be able to provide for M.C.'s special needs. Maria had been invited to all of M.C.'s medical appointments but she did not attend. She resisted holding and interacting with M.C. during visits.

Substantial evidence supports the finding there was no substantial probability the children could be returned to Maria's care by the 18-month date.


The petition is denied.



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