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In re I.R.

California Court of Appeals, Third District, El Dorado

April 23, 2014

In re I.R. et al., Persons Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law.
v.
I.R. et al., Appellants. EL DORADO COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES, Plaintiff and Respondent,

Super. Ct. Nos. SDP20110033, SDP20110034

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COUNSEL

Donna W. Furth, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Appellants.

Edward L. Knapp, County Counsel, Lesley B. Gomes and Lauren C. Bowers, Deputy County Counsel, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

OPINION

BUTZ, J.

The minors appeal from orders of the juvenile court placing them in long-term foster care after finding both the parental beneficial relationship and the sibling exceptions to the preference for adoption applied. (Welf. & Inst. Code, §§ 366.26, 395.)[1] We granted appellants’ application to stay proceedings in the juvenile court until further order of this court.

Appellants contend, and respondent El Dorado County Department of Human Services (Department) agrees, that the juvenile court’s findings are not supported by substantial evidence and that the juvenile court abused its discretion in ordering a permanent plan of long-term foster care for the minors. On review, it appears the court relied on facts and circumstances that were not relevant to the issues before it. This resulted in findings and orders not supported by relevant evidence and an abuse of discretion in ordering

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long-term foster care. Accordingly, we shall reverse and, based on the statutory limitations and the relevant evidence in the record, direct the juvenile court to terminate parental rights. The previously granted stay is vacated.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

In September 2011, the Department filed non-detaining petitions on six-month-old I.R. and 19-month-old K.R. The petitions alleged the parents failed to participate in voluntary family maintenance offered in February 2011. Both parents suffered from serious mental health issues but neither was in treatment and both were periodically unable to care for the minors. Further, the father (father) had a history of substance abuse and the mother’s (mother) medical and physical issues limited her ability to care for the minors. The Department recommended court-ordered family maintenance services. The family also included a six-year-old half sibling who is a special needs child with cognitive delays. In October 2011, the court sustained the non-detaining petitions and adopted the Department’s recommended disposition of family maintenance.

Six months later, in April 2012, the Department filed section 387 petitions to remove one-year-old I.R. and two-year-old K.R. from parental custody. The parents had left one or both of the minors in the bathtub unsupervised several times, and in one instance, the older half sibling had tried to drown I.R. By this time, the parents had been offered services for more than one year but showed no change in parenting behavior and blamed the half sibling for the emergency removal because he had disclosed the lack of parental supervision that led to the bathtub incident and other dangerous situations. The court ordered the minors detained.

The combined jurisdiction/disposition report stated that K.R. was moved from the foster placement she shared with I.R. due to her aggressive behavior toward him. The social worker identified the parents’ ongoing problems of untreated mental health issues and their limited parenting skills when dealing with toddlers despite the voluntary and court-ordered services. The report recommended further reunification services. An addendum report indicated the parents were beginning to make progress since the minors’ removal and recommended extended visits to transition the minors home after an assessment of parental compliance with services. The court adopted this recommended disposition in May 2012.

The parents failed to reunify and, in December 2012, the court terminated services and set a section 366.26 hearing. The court ordered supervised visitation to occur two times a month for a total of two hours per month for

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mother and a minimum of once a month for two hours and a maximum of two times a month for four hours for father. The social worker was given discretion to increase mother’s visitation.

The April 2013 report for the section 366.26 hearing stated the minors were healthy and developmentally on target. The parents had maintained regular contact until the beginning of February when mother could not travel due to her pregnancy. Thereafter, the parents had a single visit in March. The minors had been placed in the same home since November 2012 and enjoyed a close relationship with each other and the foster parents. The Department recommended termination of parental rights with adoption as the permanent plan because the minors needed permanence and stability.

The new baby was born in April 2013 and was placed in the same foster home as K.R. and I.R. The parents’ visits with the baby were separate from visits with the two older minors.

Mother and father each filed a section 388 petition for modification in April 2013 seeking to reinstate services. Mother alleged circumstances were changed because she had continued in therapy, was making progress and the home was appropriate. Father alleged circumstances were changed because they were receiving services for the new baby and continued services for the half sibling, he was making progress in counseling, visits were going well, he was testing clean and was active in couples counseling. A therapist’s letter attached to mother’s petition indicated the parents had improved their ability to interact and accept accountability for ...


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