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In re E.T.

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Eighth Division

May 30, 2013

In re E.T., A Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law.
v.
L.T., Defendant and Appellant LOS ANGELES COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
C.M., Real Party in Interest.

Pub. Order Date: 6/21/13

APPEAL from orders of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County. D. Zeke Zeidler, Judge. Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. CK92328

Liana Serobian, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant L.T.

Darlene Azevedo Kelly, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Real Party in Interest, C.M.

John F. Krattli, County Counsel, James M. Owens, Assistant County Counsel, and Jacklyn K. Louie, Principal Deputy County Counsel, for Plaintiff and Respondent Department of Children and Family Services.

GRIMES, J.

Mother, L.T., appeals from the juvenile court’s dispositional order granting custody of minor E.T. to his biological father, C.M. Father admits he never achieved presumed father status, but nonetheless contends the appeal is moot because the court subsequently removed E.T. from his custody upon the filing of a supplemental petition alleging neglect by father. Mother also contends the court’s visitation order, providing that “[t]he Department is to create a detailed visitation order for mother[, ]” is prejudicially vague. The Department of Children and Family Services (Department) filed a letter brief “taking no position” on mother’s challenge to the custody order, and “not oppos[ing] a remand for a proper visitation order.” We find this appeal is not rendered moot by the court’s later order removing E.T. from his placement with C.M. Because C.M. was a mere biological father, and was not entitled to presumed father status, the order granting him custody was in error. We also agree that the visitation order failed to adequately specify the frequency and duration of mother’s visits, and reverse and remand for further proceedings.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On January 27, 2012, the Department received a referral alleging that 21-month-old E.T. was neglected by mother. Mother and E.T. shared a home with maternal grandmother and an older sibling (over whom maternal grandmother had a guardianship due to mother’s drug use), and maternal great grandparents. E.T. had lived in this home for his entire life. Mother would often leave E.T. with maternal relatives without making plans for his care, and without specifying when she would return. She would leave E.T. for days without calling to check on him. Mother admitted leaving E.T. with maternal relatives for days at a time while she stayed with friends, and that she does not always return when she says she will. She also admitted that she does not contact maternal relatives to let them know when she is not going to return as planned.

Mother has a history of illegal drug abuse. She started using marijuana when she was 14 (in 1995), and graduated to methamphetamine when she was 16 (in 1997). Mother completed a drug program in September 2006, and claims she has not used illegal drugs since then.

Mother also has a history of mental health problems. She was diagnosed as bipolar in 2007, and was prescribed medication. She stopped taking her medication once she became pregnant with E.T. She was hospitalized several times in the last seven years because she attempted suicide. Her last hospitalization was in 2010.

At the request of the Department, mother drug tested on February 8, 2012. The test was positive for amphetamine and methamphetamine. When the social worker went to the family home, maternal great grandfather reported that mother left the home over the weekend, and had not returned or contacted them. E.T. was ill over the weekend, and mother did not return the family’s calls.

Maternal grandmother reported that E.T. had a fever and was vomiting. She did not know where mother was, and left voicemail messages for mother that E.T. was sick. Mother did not return any of her calls. Maternal grandmother took E.T. to the emergency room, and had difficulty obtaining treatment for E.T. because she did not have an authorization to receive medical care for E.T. Eventually, she was able to get him treated. Maternal grandmother was concerned that mother was currently using drugs; she was exhibiting many of the same behaviors that led grandmother to seek guardianship over mother’s older child.

Mother eventually called the Department social worker. She said E.T. was not sick when she left him, and that she did not receive any phone calls concerning his illness because she had turned off her phone over the weekend. When confronted with the positive drug test, mother explained that perhaps she was around someone who was using drugs, causing her to test positive. She did admit to using drugs on Sunday (over the weekend that E.T. became ill) because maternal great grandmother had been diagnosed with cancer, and this was difficult for mother to deal with.

A team decision-making meeting was held on February 17, 2012. Mother, maternal grandmother, maternal great grandparents, and maternal aunt attended. At the meeting, mother claimed her recent positive drug test must have been a mistake. She only used drugs over the weekend that E.T. became ill. Nevertheless, all parties agreed the Department’s supervision was necessary to protect E.T. Mother agreed to leave the family home so that E.T. could stay there under the care of maternal grandmother.

Mother refused to disclose to the Department the identity of E.T.’s father, who had not provided for E.T.’s support.

At the February 29, 2012 detention hearing, the trial court ordered E.T. removed from mother and placed with maternal grandmother. The court ordered monitored visitation for mother, and allowed maternal grandmother to monitor the visits. Mother also submitted a signed declaration of paternity indicating that father’s identity was “unknown.”

The Department’s April 11, 2012 jurisdiction/disposition report reflected that the family home was clean and safe, and that none of the occupants had any criminal or child abuse histories. Mother had only one visit with E.T. since his detention and called maternal grandmother only for money rather than to arrange visits. Mother did not return calls from the Department. Because mother refused to identify father, the Department completed a due diligence search. The ...


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