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In Re J.T., A Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. v. J.B

May 17, 2011


Super. Ct. No. JD223899 APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Sacramento County, Daniel M. Horton, Judge. Affirmed.

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


The mother, Jacqueline B. (mother) and sister, LaR.S., (sister) of J.T. (the minor), appeal from the juvenile court's order terminating mother's parental rights. (Welf. & Inst. Code,*fn2 §§ 366.26, 395.)

Mother contends that: 1) the juvenile court erred in finding the minor adoptable; 2) the beneficial parental relationship exception to adoption applied; 3) the sibling relationship exception to adoption applied; and 4) guardianship, rather than adoption, was the preferred permanent plan.

Sister contends that: 1) the juvenile court erred in failing to determine the minor's wishes before terminating parental rights; and 2) the juvenile court failed to consider whether the current caregivers were able to provide for the minor's needs. Sister also joined in mother's arguments. Mother adopted sister's arguments by reference in her reply brief.

We raised sua sponte the issue of sister's standing to be heard on her claims and ordered supplemental briefing on that issue.

Because we conclude that sister lacks standing, as we explain post, we shall dismiss sister's appeal.

As we disagree with each of the contentions summarized above, we shall affirm the juvenile court's order terminating mother's parental rights.


Mother's history with the Department of Health and Human Services (Department) dated from 1992, and included claims of general neglect, substance abuse, emotional abuse, and physical abuse. With respect to the minor, born in 1999, that history began in 2000 and included substantiated allegations of severe neglect, emotional abuse and caretaker absence or incapacity. Over the years, mother was offered various periods of reunification services, including parenting education and drug rehabilitation. However, she was never able to follow through with the services.

In February 2006, mother was placed on a section 5150 hold. She had a history of unaddressed mental health problems which included paranoia, such as believing her daughters were part of the FBI and that the FBI, the Mafia and the devil were joined in a conspiracy against her. Mother had previously been diagnosed with schizophrenia and prescribed medications, but had not taken those medications for years. After examination, mother was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, bipolar disorder not otherwise specified, and psychosis not otherwise specified. Upon her release from the psychiatric hospital, mother refused to sign up for an aftercare plan.

The minor had been diagnosed as having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), extreme mood swings and aggressiveness. His fine motor skills were also delayed. The minor, age six, and his sisters,*fn3 were detained and placed together in a foster home.

The minor's paternal aunt, B.T., was assessed for placement. She had known him since birth and he would regularly spend weekends with her. She was aware of his behavioral and educational needs. She was willing to provide him a permanent home through either adoption or guardianship.

Despite mother's past failures with regard to reunification services and her ineligibility for those services under section 361.5, subdivision (b)(10) and (13), the social worker recommended she receive reunification services. The social worker noted there was a significant bond between the children and mother and that given the minor's special needs, it would be detrimental not to offer services.

Following a contested jurisdictional/dispositional hearing, the juvenile court adjudged the minor and his sisters dependents and ordered reunification services for mother.

The minor was in a special education program and adjusting well. There was a noticeable improvement in his behavior. However, he continued to resist guidance from his foster mother. Ultimately, after living in numerous foster placements because of his challenging and erratic behavior, he was placed in a group home. The minor was diagnosed as emotionally disturbed and had significant behavioral issues.

Mother was slow to progress in reunification services. She was inconsistent with drug testing and counseling appointments. Mother and the minor had consistent weekly visits, including unsupervised visits. The visits went well, but given the minor's emotional state upon return, overnight visits were not recommended. The minor visited with his sisters at the same time. The minor generally did better at the visits when his sisters were not there. He was visiting B.T. on weekends; during a 2007 visit with her, he was improperly medicated which then impacted his behavior at school. Because of this incident, B.T. was found to be an inappropriate placement.

After completing her case plan, and because of the significant bond between the minor, his mother, and his sisters, the minor and his sisters were returned to mother's care in July 2007 with continued family maintenance services. Upon the initial placement, the minor experienced increased difficulties in school. The school believed this was caused by his not taking his medication. Eventually mother provided the school with an extra supply of medication.

As time went on, mother continued to have difficulty complying with court orders. She regularly failed to drug test, tested positive for marijuana, struggled with psychotropic medication compliance and in September 2007, she allowed a homeless man who called himself "H.D." (an acronym for "Handsome Devil"), to move into the home. The sisters contacted the Department about this because they did not feel safe with H.D. Initially, mother refused to provide any background information on H.D., insisting he was staying in the home and the Department could do whatever they wanted with the children, as they did not run her life. Mother eventually provided the information for a background clearance. The background clearance showed a dismissed domestic violence charge. In addition, the social worker received numerous contacts from the children reporting family discord and that the situation was escalating. Mother had also discontinued use of her psychotropic medications. The minor reported mother had a party where she was smoking marijuana and drinking.

The minor's behavior continued to improve. His school attendance was fair. He had made tremendous progress in his counseling. He and sister were very supportive of each other and got along well. By May 2008, mother was compliant with her psychotropic medications and was presenting as stable. She had completed individual and family counseling and parenting classes, and was participating in programs with the minor to learn to manage his behaviors. Accordingly, the social worker "guardedly" recommended termination of dependency.

On May 19, 2008, mother was arrested for domestic violence against H.D.*fn4 H.D. alleged mother also physically abused the minor, threatened to slit the minor's throat, did not take her medications and instead sold the medication. Mother denied these claims. However, she acknowledged she had been arrested and that there had been a domestic violence incident between her and H.D. She also denied using corporal punishment on the minor, and stated if the minor had made that claim, he was lying and "he will lie about everything." She also attempted to intimidate the minor as he was being interviewed by the social worker.

The minor reported H.D. had lived in the home, but had moved out the day before. The minor reported mother hit him with a belt on his butt when he was bad. He denied mother had threatened to slit his throat and denied he was afraid of mother. Mother again attempted to intimidate the minor during the social worker's interview. Based on this recent turn of events, the social worker changed her recommendation to continuing dependency. On July 1, 2008, the court followed that recommendation and continued sister and the minor as dependents of the court.

When the social worker interviewed the minor in July 2008, he was anxious, refused to make eye contact, was fidgety and making loud random noises. The minor had been sent to school in his pajamas. Other times mother did not know where the minor was or whether he was in school. On various occasions, mother presented as confused and unaware of the minor's location. She also sounded inebriated at times. The minor continued to present challenging behaviors in the home. Mother repeatedly resisted visits from the social worker and avoided contact. When the social worker did make contact, mother was "hostile, erratic, and disorganized in her thought content with slurred speech." Mother also failed to drug test as required. From August 2008 to December 2008, mother was appropriate in her interactions with the social worker, and presented as lucid. However, mother continued to test positive for low levels of marijuana and Vicodin.

Mother continued in her relationship with H.D. She admitted H.D. was a likely drug user and presented as unstable. H.D. refused to drug test and refused to participate in the process to have him approved as a resident in mother's home.

On February 25, 2009, a subsequent petition under section 342 was filed. The petition alleged sister and the minor were at risk due to mother's alcohol abuse and physical altercations with them.*fn5 The petition was based on a claim by sister that mother had physically assaulted her. The minor also reported mother had physically abused him. He told the social worker he wanted to go back to the group home as he did not feel safe. Sister also reported that H.D. stayed overnight in the home on numerous occasions. The children were ordered detained.

The minor's behavior in school improved when he was removed from his mother's care. When he was with his mother, he had more difficulty remaining "on task" and had difficulty controlling his frustration.

In June 2009, mother and H.D. had an altercation which resulted in each of them filing for restraining orders against the other. On June 22, 2009, mother's application for a restraining order against H.D. was granted.

Ultimately, both children recanted their claims of abuse. On June 25, 2009, the children were placed back with mother. The court noted, however, that it believed mother had been drinking and that there had been a physical altercation between mother and sister. The juvenile court also issued a no-contact order between the children and H.D. on June 25, 2009.

Mother and H.D. were both arrested and detained on July 4, 2009. Mother had gone to H.D.'s residence and had engaged in a dispute with H.D. in front of sister. Sister and ...

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