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In re Shannon M.

California Court of Appeals, First District, Fifth Division

November 6, 2013

In re SHANNON M., a Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. ALAMEDA COUNTY SOCIAL SERVICES AGENCY, Plaintiff and Respondent, F.S., Defendant SHANNON M., Objector and Appellant.

Superior Court of Alameda County, No. OJ06002923, Kimberly M. Briggs, Judge.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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S. Lynne Klien, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Objector and Appellant.

Donna Ziegler, County Counsel, and Grace Fong-Mei Tarn, Deputy County Counsel, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

No appearance for Defendent F.S.


Bruiniers, J.

Many children who become dependents of our juvenile courts remain so when they are, at least chronologically, no longer children. The juvenile court has discretion to retain jurisdiction over a dependent until

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he or she attains the age of 21 years (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 303, subd. (a)), [1] but until recently the utility of doing so was limited by insufficient funds to assist nonminor dependents. This situation changed dramatically on January 1, 2012, when provisions of the California Fostering Connections to Success Act (CFCS Act or Act) (Assem. Bill No. 12 (2009–2010 Reg. Sess.); Assem. Bill No. 212 (2011–2012 Reg. Sess.)) became operative, allowing California to take advantage of newly-available federal funding for extended foster care benefits for certain nonminor dependents who were under an order of foster care placement when they turned 18 (§ 11400 et seq.; see 42 U.S.C. § 675(8)). The question presented here is, under this new statutory scheme, what rules, standards and procedures apply when a juvenile court is asked to terminate jurisdiction over a nonminor dependent who was not under an order of foster care placement at the time she turned 18.[2]

Appellant Shannon M., after years of foster care, was returned to her mother’s home not long before her 18th birthday and abandoned by her mother shortly after she turned 18. The Alameda County Social Services Agency (Agency) asked the court to terminate dependency jurisdiction pursuant to section 364, subdivision (c), which generally governs continued supervision of dependents in home placements and requires termination of jurisdiction unless the court finds that grounds for assumption of jurisdiction exist or will likely exist absent court supervision. Shannon argued that section 391, as revised by the CFCS Act, governs the termination issue for all dependents who have turned 18—not, as argued by the Agency, only section 11400(v) nonminor dependents—and requires the court to consider the best interests of the nonminor dependent in deciding whether to terminate jurisdiction. The trial court terminated jurisdiction, articulating its order under the section 364 standard. We conclude that, except as otherwise specified in the statute, section 391 applies to all nonminor dependents, and we remand for the trial court to reconsider termination of dependency jurisdiction under the appropriate standard.

I. Dependency History

Shannon first became a juvenile dependent in 2006, when she was 12 years old. She and her three siblings were detained after their mother (F.S., hereafter Mother) was arrested and incarcerated when a large quantity of drugs was found in her home. After Mother’s failure to comply with her case

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plan and a failed relative placement, the children were formally placed in foster care in August 2006.[3] In July 2007, Mother’s reunification services were terminated in Shannon’s case.

Between August 2006 and May 2011, Shannon lived in a series of foster homes and briefly with her maternal grandmother. She had a series of permanent plans of long-term foster care, initially with a goal of returning home and later with goals of adoption or guardianship. On several occasions, Shannon’s foster parents or grandmother requested her removal due to behavioral issues or Shannon ran away from her placements. All plans for adoption and guardianship fell through. Beginning in May 2009, Shannon’s permanent plans anticipated emancipation and independent living. A “transitional independent living plan” was prepared and repeatedly updated, and she was referred to independent living skill classes. Shannon was diagnosed with depression and other mental disorders, and she took prescription psychotropic drugs and attended individual therapy.

Throughout this period, Mother continued to have problems with drug use and criminal violations, but she maintained contact with Shannon. Their continuing relationship seemed to interfere with Shannon’s ability to form bonds with other adults. In July 2010, the court authorized visits with Mother and modified Shannon’s permanent plan to include a goal of returning her to Mother’s care. A September report, however, stated that Mother had not cooperated with the Agency’s attempts to investigate the background of her roommates, and later permanent plans anticipated Shannon’s emancipation and independent living.

In May 2011, Shannon petitioned to change her permanent plan from foster care to reunification with Mother. The petition stated: “Mother has been clean and sober for at least 2 years, ... has completed treatment[, ]... has one of her younger daughters... in her care[, ]... now has stable housing that can provide suitable space for Shannon, and wishes to provide full time care for Shannon. [¶]... [¶]... [Shannon] is spending a substantial amount of time with her mother and wishes to reunify with her mother.” The court authorized a 14-day trial home visit and referred Mother and Shannon for family therapy. In June, on the Agency’s recommendation, the court returned Shannon to Mother’s home with family maintenance services because the 14-day visit had gone well. Shannon’s 18th birthday was in September.

In November 2011, the Agency filed a status review report that recommended dismissal of dependency jurisdiction over Shannon. The Agency reported that Shannon had been living in Mother’s home since June 6.

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“[M]other has reported... that since the return of Shannon to the home, there have been several verbal arguments between her and Shannon wherein Shannon has chosen to leave home and take respite at her friend’s home.... However, [Mother] reports that she is always willing to have Shannon in her home.” The Agency noted that Mother “has provided Shannon with shelter and food” and opined, “There appears to be no detriment to dismissal at this time as the items on the petition are no longer true and Shannon has reached the age of majority.” Shannon objected to the recommendation of dismissal and the court set a contested hearing for January 5, 2012.

In December 2011, the Agency asked the court to issue a protective custody warrant for Shannon because Mother had been “arrested and later released on or about 11/05/11 and is believed to be fleeing from the law. [¶]... The residence of [Mother] is vacated and her whereabouts... are unknown. [¶]... [Shannon] was residing with her maternal great aunt, [T.S.], who as of 12/10/11 kicked her out of the home... [T]he aunt has stated that Shannon is probably with some friends. The aunt does not know the whereabouts of the minor’s friend.” The court issued the warrant. Shannon appeared in court on January 5, 2012 and the warrant was withdrawn.

At the January 5, 2012 hearing, Shannon’s counsel reported that Shannon had none of the required documents that normally must be obtained before jurisdiction is terminated. The Agency agreed to provide the former section 391 (see Stats. 2010, ch. 559, § 27) documents and the court set a hearing for January 26 to review the Agency’s progress in doing so.[4] At hearings held on January 26, February 23, and April 5 and in a June report, the court received updates on the collection of those documents, Shannon’s application for MediCal benefits, high school graduation, referrals to transitional housing and other independent living services, and arrangements to remove Shannon’s braces.[5]

On June 28, 2012, Shannon filed a written objection to the dismissal of jurisdiction and petitioned the court to maintain jurisdiction. Citing In re Robert L. (1998) 68 Cal.App.4th 789, 794 [80 Cal.Rptr.2d 578] (Robert L.), In re Holly H. (2002) 104 Cal.App.4th 1324, 1330 [128 Cal.Rptr.2d 907] (Holly H.), and In re Tamika C. (2005) 131 Cal.App.4th 1153, 1160 [32 Cal.Rptr.3d 597] (Tamika C.), she argued that the court could terminate her dependency jurisdiction only if the Agency established that termination was

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in her best interest. Shannon argued termination of jurisdiction was not in her best interest because she was “in immediate need of support services from the [A]gency including mental health services, transportation assistance, and housing.” Shannon stated she was destitute and had been essentially homeless since before she turned 18. At an August 1 hearing, she argued her situation was not typical of dependents under a family maintenance plan subject to review under section 364: “Shannon has had to do so many things on her own that she wouldn’t have [had] to do if she was actually in a functioning Family Maintenance situation.... [T]he statutes that are designed to help minors transition into adulthood are the statutes that the Court should use in determining whether it is appropriate to dismiss her case. [¶] The best interest of the child is always at play in these cases....”

The Agency argued that section 364 applied and there was no legal justification for continued jurisdiction over Shannon under that statute: “[C]onditions do not exist which would justify initial assumption of jurisdiction..., and are not likely to exist if supervision is withdrawn. This is the standard used to dismiss juvenile court jurisdiction under a Family Maintenance Order, and thus the standard that should be relied upon by this Court.” The Agency argued that section 391 did not apply because Shannon was not under a foster care placement order when she turned 18 and thus was not eligible to become a nonminor dependent under section 11400 et seq. At the August 1, 2012 hearing, the Agency further argued, “The dependency statutes were not enacted to make sure that every child receive all of the benefits that some children receive.... [¶]... [¶]... I get that [Shannon] is having trouble with transportation and places to stay and... in her foreseeable future she won’t have the therapist that she has had a relationship with. All of that does not mean, though, this Court is to maintain its jurisdiction.”

The court ruled: “For all of the reasons set forth in the [Agency’s] trial brief... and all of the arguments by [the Agency], which the Court agrees with, [that]... ‘[c]onditions do not exist which would justify initial assumption of jurisdiction under section 300 and are not likely to exist if ...

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