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In Re Brittany C. et al., Persons Coming Under the Juvenile Court v. Craig C. et al

January 20, 2011


APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Anthony Trendacosta, Court Commissioner. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. CK55261)

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



Craig C. (Father), Elsie C. (Mother), and Christopher C. (Chris)*fn1 appeal from the juvenile court's visitation order. They contend the manner in which the order was crafted denies them visitation with the four youngest children and allege the juvenile court improperly delegated its power to order visitation. We conclude that Chris's appeal must be dismissed. Finding no error in the court's order, we affirm.


This is the third appeal involving the family. Father and Mother have seven children: Chris (born 1994), twins William and Kyle (born 1999), and quadruplets Brittany, Heidi, Collette, and Wesley (born 2001). The family has been the subject of 30 referrals to the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). In order to place the juvenile court's visitation order in proper context, it will be necessary to set forth the history of this case in some detail.

In October 2008, some of the children alleged that Father sexually abused them and claimed other siblings engaged in substantial sexual conduct with each other. William and Collette accused Father of having sexual contact with Chris in their presence. Other children said that Mother physically abused them and coached them to tell lies against Father. What followed was an ongoing feud, fueled by Father's and Mother's domestic discord. The children hurled accusations at their parents and each other. In time, it became extremely difficult to ascertain fact from fantasy.

In January 2009, DCFS filed a petition, alleging sexual abuse by Father and physical abuse by Mother. At the March 2009 contested jurisdictional hearing, the court heard testimony from Chris, William, and Kyle. The court recessed the hearing, stating that the quadruplets would testify the next day. The following day, the court and counsel had a meeting in chambers. The petition was amended and the court found that the severe family conflict placed the children at risk of serious physical and emotional harm. Chris was allowed to remain in Father's home and the other children were placed in the care of DCFS. The children were to be provided with counseling by a licensed therapist and visitation was to be monitored in a neutral therapeutic setting. Father appealed from the jurisdictional and dispositional orders, which we affirmed. (In re Christopher C. (2010) 182 Cal.App.4th 73.)*fn2

In June 2009, Mother filed a Welfare and Institutions Code section 388*fn3 petition requesting that conjoint counseling with the quadruplets begin immediately and that she be allowed unmonitored visitation. A July 1 hearing on her visitation request was set.

The July 1 interim report continued to chronicle what has been clear from the outset of this case. Mother, who favors the twins, has had issues with the quadruplets and their relationship continues to deteriorate. In March 2009, after hearing Mother talk "incessantly" about the twins, a social worker asked about Mother's relationship with the quadruplets. Mother said, "Oh, Wesley he can go back with the father, he does not have to come here. He will try to ruin my life." She claimed that Wesley hated her. In the same conversation, Mother asked the social worker's opinion about whether the quadruplets' foster mother would be interested in becoming their legal guardian. Not surprisingly, the ill will has been mutual. The social worker who visited the quadruplets at their foster home reported that "the children have stated repeatedly how they do not wish to visit with their mother giving reasons that range from her being 'evil' to 'our mother hates us and says mean things to us when no one is looking.'" The children frequently contacted the social worker and pleaded with her not to force them to visit Mother. The social worker explained to them that the visits were court ordered. The children reluctantly continued to go to the visits, however, the foster mother reported that at times they were taken "kicking and screaming."

Father also had his issues. Several visits with the quadruplets and Chris had to be discontinued because Father would scream uncontrollably at the children. On one occasion when the monitor tried to tell Father that his behavior was inappropriate, he screamed at her, "I have a Ph.D damnit! You need to show me some kind of respect!"

At the July 1 hearing, the court kept all prior orders in full force and effect. The matter was continued to September 24, 2009. A similar order was issued on July 6.

In an August 2009 report, children's social worker Loretta Federico wrote that she met with the quadruplets in their foster home on August 13. Each child stated separately that he or she did not want to visit with Mother. Federico explained that because of the court's order they did not have a choice in the matter.

Federico reported that at the August 15 visit scheduled at the foster family agency, Mother sat outside and refused to come in because the foster mother was present with the quadruplets. At Federico's instruction, the agency worker told Mother that he would wait 15 minutes for Mother to join the children, after which the visit would be terminated. Mother left without visiting.

On August 22, at another scheduled visit with the quadruplets, Mother arrived 15 minutes late. She asked the children if they wanted to "visit" with her "or not" because if they did not, she could go to work. Given the choice, the children decided not to complete the visit.*fn4

Federico attended the August 29 visit. When Federico arrived, she noticed, once again, that Mother was waiting outside the agency in the car. It was apparent to Federico that Mother was not going to come in as long as the foster mother was present, so Federico asked the foster mother to leave. During the ensuing visit, the quadruplets began confronting Mother, "frequently all talking, shouting or crying at the same time." Although it was difficult, Federico attempted to document all of the children's comments. She wrote down almost 40 statements. The quadruplets accused Mother of hitting them with various objects, lying in court and about Father, encouraging them to tell lies about Father, preferring the twins, allowing the twins to abuse them, and telling a former babysitter to hit them. Federico reported that just prior to the visit, Chris, who had completed a visit with his siblings and Father, said that the quadruplets were telling the truth about what home life with Mother was like.

Federico informed the court that another social worker had sent letters to several agencies requesting therapeutic counseling services for Mother and the quadruplets. Only one had responded positively. That agency was 27 miles away from the children's foster home and Federico believed a long commute would be detrimental to the children, as they were behind in their school work and were currently receiving special education services.

On September 10, 2009, Mother filed two section 388 petitions. One concerned the quadruplets. Mother requested that the court move them to a different foster home, grant her unmonitored visitation, and order the immediate start of conjoint counseling. Mother alleged that her "progress is threatened because the current foster home placement for [the quadruplets] has been interfering with mother's visitation with [them], and [the foster mother] has been coaching the quadruplets against their mother. The placement has [led to] unfounded accusations against the mother." Mother accused the foster mother of making false claims against her and asserted that she was the reason Mother had missed 18 visits with the quadruplets. The petition was summarily denied on September 18.

The September 24, 2009 status review report included several letters written by the quadruplets addressed to various individuals and the court. Each expressed a desire not to visit with Mother and accused her of abuse. In the report, another social worker, Tinita Dorsey, observed "that the family continues to act as a dysfunctional unit in that the parents continue to favor not all, but only particular children, ones they wish to reunify with." Dorsey informed the court that Father said he would first like to have the quadruplets return to his care because they "are not as messed up as the twins." Father claimed Mother "brainwashed" the twins, leading them to tell lies about him. In Dorsey's opinion, Mother continued to seek reunification "mostly with the twins Kyle and William."

At the September 24, 2009 six-month review hearing, the matter was continued to November 9 for a contested hearing. On November 9, the ...

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