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In re S.E.

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Fourth Division

June 26, 2013

In re S.E., a Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. LOS ANGELES COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
S.S. et al., Defendants and Appellants.

APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County No. CK75981, Stephen Marpet, Commissioner.

Karen J. Dodd, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant S.S.

Andre F. F. Toscano, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant A.A.-E.

John F. Krattli, County Counsel, James M. Owens, Assistant County Counsel, and Peter Ferrera, Senior Deputy County Counsel, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

SUZUKAWA, J.

INTRODUCTION

A.A.-E. (Father) and S.S. (Mother) appeal from an order of the juvenile court establishing guardianship of their son, S.E. Both parents contend that the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) failed to comply with the inquiry and notice requirements of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) (25 U.S.C. § 1901 et seq.) and the analogous California statutes governing custody proceedings involving Indian children. (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 224 et seq.)[1] We conclude that the inquiry and notice conducted was not in full compliance with the requisites of the statute. We reverse for the limited purpose of full compliance with ICWA, as explained below.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

I. Dependency Proceedings Culminating in Legal Guardianship Order

On April 16, 2008, DCFS received a referral alleging neglect of S.E. (born Oct. 2005) by Mother. The list of medical concerns for the boy included: failure to thrive/oral aversion, delayed speech, anemia, eczema, undescended testes, severe tooth decay, and asthma. Mother signed a voluntary family maintenance contract but, over the ensuing months, she repeatedly failed to adequately care for him and told social workers that her religious beliefs were not compatible with conventional medicine.

In January 2009, DCFS determined that S.E. was not getting adequate care for his problems and detained S.E. from Mother, placing him with the maternal grandparents. On January 21, DCFS filed a petition pursuant to section 300, subdivision (b), alleging that Mother had failed to protect S.E. Father filed a statement with the court declaring that he was S.E.’s parent.

On April 25, 2009, the parents abducted S.E. from the site of a monitored visit. The court issued a protective custody warrant for S.E. and arrest warrants for the parents. On May 29, 2009, DCFS filed a second amended petition that added the allegation that the parents abducted S.E. during a monitored visit and endangered the child. On September 30, 2009, the court sustained the amended petition.

On February 20, 2011, Father was arrested in New Orleans and provided information as to the whereabouts of Mother and S.E. On March 4, Mother and S.E. were located in the New Orleans area and Mother was arrested. DCFS picked up S.E. and transported him back to Los Angeles, again placing him with the maternal grandparents.

In its disposition report, DCFS recommended that no reunification services be provided to the parents pursuant to section 361.5, subdivision (b)(15), which states that reunification services may be denied when a parent abducts the child from his or her placement and refuses to disclose the child’s whereabouts or return the child to his or her placement or the social worker. DCFS noted that the physical problems S.E. had at the time of his initial detention were not addressed during the two years following his abduction. The child continued to be at risk for failure to thrive, as he had gained only five pounds in two years. DCFS informed the court that S.E. was in therapy to address issues related to past trauma and separation from his parents. The therapist told the social worker, “‘There has been no progress in meeting the goals. He continues to be mute in all environments outside his home and immediate family.’” The child was extremely fearful, which the therapist attributed to mental health issues and lack of trust. DCFS reported that S.E.’s physical condition had improved since his placement with the ...


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