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In Re K.L., A Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. v. Stacy B

October 25, 2012

IN RE K.L., A PERSON COMING UNDER THE JUVENILE COURT LAW. SAN DIEGO COUNTY HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES AGENCY, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
STACY B., DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



(Super. Ct. No. J517-935) APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court of San Diego County, Carol Isackson, Judge.

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

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Affirmed.

In this juvenile dependency case, we examine the term "nonminor dependent" as this term is used in the California Fostering Connections to Success Act (the Act). (Assem. Bill No. 12 (2009-2010 Reg. Sess.); Assem. Bill No. 212 (2011-2012 Reg. Sess.).) We conclude that the dependent child in this case did not meet the definition of a nonminor dependent and that even though she had turned 18, the juvenile court did not err when it held the 12-month permanency review hearing. (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 366.21, subd. (f), undesignated statutory references are to this code.) We also conclude that the statutory framework does not allow a parent to reunify with a dependent child who has turned 18 because a parent cannot have physical custody of an adult. Thus, the juvenile court did not err when it terminated reunification services to the mother. Accordingly, we affirm the order issued after the 12-month permanency review hearing.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

In mid-September 2010, 17-year-old K.L. lived with her father and several other individuals. K.L.'s mother, Stacy, and brother had also lived with them, but moved out three months earlier even though Stacy believed K.L. would not be safe and had previously signed safety plans stating she should not leave K.L. alone with K.L.'s father. K.L.'s psychological functioning and intellectual development is at about the level of a nine to eleven year old. Stacy is in the low, average range of cognitive functioning.

The San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (Agency) filed a section 300, subdivision (d) petition on behalf of K.L. after an investigation revealed her father had sexually abused her and arranged for other adult males to have intercourse with her. The petition also alleged that Stacy was aware that K.L.'s father was a registered sex offender and that she left K.L. in his home despite her belief it was not safe. At the detention hearing, the juvenile court found that K.L. was a person described by section 300, subdivision (d). It provided voluntary services to the parents and ordered that they have no contact with K.L.

The juvenile court made a true finding on the petition, declared K.L. a dependent child, removed custody from the parents, ordered reunification services for Stacy, and placed K.L. with a non-relative extended family member. In April 2011, the court ordered that K.L. be placed in a licensed foster home because her caregiver could no longer care for her. (§ 387.) At the six-month review hearing in May 2011, the juvenile court found Stacy had made substantive progress in services and granted her additional services. It also continued K.L.'s placement in out-of-home care, and granted the Agency discretion to expand Stacy's visits. In September 2011, K.L. turned 18. She remained placed in a group home and was accepted by a regional center adult family home placement agency. In a November 2011 status review report, the Agency recommended that Stacy's reunification services be terminated and K.L. be placed in a regional center foster home under another planned permanent living arrangement.

At the contested 12-month permanency review in January 2012, Stacy argued that after a dependent child turns 18, the court could continue reunification services to a parent to further the best interests of the child; however, she asserted the court did not need to make orders regarding evaluation of her progress in reunification services and probability of return because K.L. had turned 18 and she could not reunify with K.L. Stacy claimed that the court could order continued jurisdiction over K.L. to provide K.L. with additional services without making findings as to Stacy's progress in services. The court denied Stacy's request to not make findings as to her participation in services. The court reasoned that the dependency statutory scheme permitted it to make the customary findings at the 12-month review, including whether Stacy failed to reunify, and that her argument regarding potential harm should she be involved in a further dependency case was speculative. Thereafter, it continued the review hearing.

At the continued 12-month review hearing, the court found return of K.L. to Stacy's custody would create a substantial risk of detriment. It found that Stacy had made some progress in services but there was not a substantial probability K.L. would return home by the 18-month review date the following month and terminated Stacy's services. It ordered another planned permanent living arrangement, and granted a request to change K.L.'s placement to a group home. The court reiterated that it had the authority to make review hearing findings during the time it had jurisdiction, even if the dependent child had turned 18 years old. It set a future hearing to address K.L.'s possible status as a nonminor dependent. Stacy timely appealed.

DISCUSSION

I. Propriety of the Juvenile Court's Review Hearing Findings

Where, as here, a parent is receiving court mandated reunification services, the juvenile court is required to hold review hearings. (§ 366.21.) At the 12-month permanency hearing, the court must determine the permanent plan for the child, including whether the child will be returned to the child's home and to the physical custody of his or her parent. (§ 366.21, subd. (f).) The juvenile court must also determine whether reasonable services have been provided or offered to the parent or parents. (Ibid.)

Stacy contends that K.L. was a nonminor dependent at the time of the contested 12-month review hearing, that the juvenile court erroneously and improperly made legal findings regarding her progress in services and that such findings were improper because they were inconsistent with the legislative purpose of reunification, which was rendered impossible when K.L. turned 18. She contends that having these ...


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