Review the most recent legal developments in dependency case law. Our talented in-house Writ Team provides an in-depth analysis on Michael G. v. Superior Court, In re Damian L., In re Robert F., In re S.S., In re L.C., and In re C.P
WIC 366.22; WIC 352
Michael G. v. Superior Court
Published 4/6/2023; California Supreme Court 14 Cal.5th 609; Docket No. S271809
 THE JUVENILE COURT IS NOT AUTOMATICALLY REQUIRED TO EXTEND REUNIFICATION SERVICES UPON A FINDING OF NO REASONABLE SERVICES BETWEEN THE 12-18 MONTH REUNIFICATION PERIOD  A JUVENILE COURT MAY GRANT A DISCRETIONARY EXTENSION OF REUNIFICATION SERVICES UNDER WIC 352, WHICH PROVIDES ADEQUATE SAFEGUARDS TO A PARENT’S DUE PROCESS.
The juvenile court took jurisdiction over A.G. due to father’s serious mental health issues, removed her from father’s custody, and ordered reunification services for father as well as a psychological evaluation. At the 6-month hearing, it was reported father received his case plan months prior but refused to sign it or engage in services. The juvenile court found father had been provided reasonable services, and his compliance was minimal. At the 12-month hearing, the juvenile court found father had again been provided with reasonable services, and that his progress was moderate, as he had started complying with his case plan, and completed his psychological evaluation. At the 18-month hearing, father contested the agency’s 2 recommendation to terminate his services and requested the juvenile court exercise its discretion to extend his services, arguing he was not provided with reasonable services during the recent review period, and that he had completed his case plan, including the psychological evaluation which the social worker failed to review. The juvenile court found that father had not been provided reasonable services but declined to use its discretion to extend father’s services, finding that it would not be in A.G.’s best interest or be reasonably likely to lead to A.G. reunifying with father. Father’s services were terminated, and a section 366.26 hearing was set. Father filed a writ petition, which the Court of Appeal denied, holding the juvenile court was not required to extend father’s reunification, and that section 366.22, subdivision (a)(3) instructs the juvenile court to set a permanency hearing if the child is not returned to the parent at the 18-month hearing, irrespective of whether reunification services in the recent period were not reasonable. (Michael G. v. Superior Court (2021) 69 Cal.App.5th 1133, 1143 (Michael G.).) The Court of Appeal further held that the juvenile court did not abuse its discretion by denying father’s request for a discretionary extension of reunification services under section 352. (Michael G., at p. 1145.) Father filed a petition for review which was granted with the following question presented: Are juvenile courts required to extend reunification efforts beyond the 18-month review when families have been denied adequate reunification services in the preceding review period?
Affirmed. The dependency provisions governing reunification do not require a court to extend reunification services to a parent when it finds that reasonable services were not provided in the 12-to-18-month period, but rather allows the court to use its discretion to determine the best course of action given the circumstances and best interest of the child in a case. The general rule is that there is an 18-month limit on a parent’s reunification services. At the 6 and 12-month review hearings, the court must find reasonable services were provided to the parent before proceeding to a permanency planning hearing. Previously, section 366.22 included a similar provision, but the Legislature amended the language in 1991, expressly removing the requirement that a parent be provided reasonable reunification services at the 18-month hearing as a prerequisite to proceeding to a permanency hearing. More recently, the Legislature amended section 366.22, subdivision (b) to create an exception for a certain subset of parents by extending their reunification services if the court finds that it would be in the best interest of the child and either reasonable services were not provided or there is a substantial probability of return within a further review period. The subsets of parents are described as those making consistent and significant progress who are either in a court ordered residential treatment program, a minor or dependent parent, or those recently discharged from incarceration, institutionalism, or the Department of Homeland Security’s custody. Section 361.5, subdivision (a)(4)(A) allows for the extension of reunification services up to the 24-month hearing for only those parents who fit into the three narrowly defined categories in section 366.22, subdivision (b). While the reunification provisions do not allow for an automatic extension of services for a 3 parent who did not receive reasonable services during the preceding period, for those parents who do not fall within the section 366.22, subdivision (b) categories, the juvenile court has the discretion under section 352 to continue a section 366.26 permanency planning hearing and extend reunification services beyond the 18- month date. Any extension of services and the delay in permanency for the child, however, must not be contrary to the child’s interests. This allows for a case-specific approach about how best to balance the child’s interests with a parent’s due process and potentially unjust termination of parental rights. When a parent has received at least 12 months of reasonable reunification services, the court’s ultimate permanency planning decisions for a child are not necessarily undermined by the fact that the parent did not receive reasonable services during the 12-to18-month period. If the evidence suggests that an extension of services would not be successful, due process does not require a delay in permanency. If, however, a lack of reasonable services impedes a court’s ability to evaluate reunification, section 352 provides a mechanism for extending reunification services in those exceptional circumstances. Here, father received 12 months of reasonable services, and given his lack of consistent progress, it was not in A.G.’s best interest to continue reunification services. (KH)
Reunification Services—WIC 361.5
In re Damian L.
Published 4/11/23; Fifth Dist. 90 Cal. App. 5th 357; Docket No. F08380
THE WIC 361.5 REUNIFICATION TIMELINE BEGINS AT THE INITIAL REMOVAL DATE REGARDLESS OF WHETHER AT DISPOSITION THE CHILD WAS REMOVED FROM ONE OR BOTH PARENTS’ CUSTODY.
On 9/14/2019, law enforcement took eight-year-old Damian and five-year-old Jesse into protective custody due to neglect. On 9/19/2019, the court detained the children from their parents and set the jurisdiction hearing on 10/17/2019. During this time, mother and Jesse’s father tested positive for methamphetamine. The court continued the adjudication four times before sustaining the WIC 300(b) petition on 2/13/2020. At the 2/27/2020 dispositional hearing, the agency requested more time to assess a father and the matter continued to 3/23/2020, six months after the detention hearing. The court continued disposition again at the agency’s request. The agency recommended the children remain in foster care with reunification services for mother and Damian’s father and to bypass Jesse’s father. After days of testimony and reopening for new evidence, the court ordered the children returned to mother on 6/4/2020. Mother received family maintenance services until hair follicle tests of the children came back positive for methamphetamine, resulting in their removal on 1/27/2021. The court sustained a WIC 387 petition and on 4 5/10/2021 ordered reunification services for mother and the fathers. A WIC 366.25 status review hearing was set on 9/13/2021. At the status review, the agency recommended termination of reunification services as the maximum time had been offered. The court reviewed In re N.M. (2003) 108 Cal.App.4th 845, 854 and In re T.W. (2013) 214 Cal.App.4th 1154, and ordered briefing on whether further reunification services could be offered. Minors’ counsel argued that the reunification clock does not begin when a child is placed with a parent at disposition; here, it began on 1/27/2021 when the children were detained from mother on the WIC 387 petition because they would be removed from all parental custody on this petition’s disposition. Likewise, a six-month review hearing should have been set in November based on the 5/10/2021 disposition hearing (rather than a WIC 366.25 hearing on 9/13/2021). The agency argued that T.W. and In re A.C. (2008) 169 Cal.App.4th 636 incorrectly interpreted the statutory timelines and, regardless, only apply when a child is placed with a noncustodial parent under WIC 361.2. On 11/15/2021, the court ordered further reunification services for mother and set a 12- month review hearing on 3/28/2022. The agency appealed.
Reversed. On appeal, the agency argued that the juvenile court erred in relying on T.W. to order further reunification services of more than 24 months after the children were initially removed. Mother argued that T.W. applied and she was entitled to 12 months of reunification services from the date of the WIC 387 disposition hearing when the children were removed from all parental custody. Pursuant to WIC 361.5(a), “child welfare services” must be provided whenever a child is removed from the custody of a parent. “Child welfare services” include “emergency response services, family preservation services, family maintenance services, family reunification services, and permanent placement services.” (WIC 16501(a).) Generally, the statutory scheme provides for the end of “court-ordered services” 12 months after the child entered foster care and for a “maximum time period not to exceed 18 months” and, under limited circumstances, extended to 24 months. The 18- and 24-month periods are calculated from the date of initial removal from the parent’s physical custody. (WIC 361.5.) T.W. and A.C. are distinguishable as each involved removal from one parent and eventual placement at disposition with the other parent under WIC 361.2. A.C. held that the reunification time limits do not apply if the children are not removed from both parents’ custody at the dispositional hearing. T.W. agreed with A.C. because there are two separate statutory tracks when a child is placed with a parent versus when placed with someone other than a parent, and so the WIC 361.5 timeline is not implicated until a child is removed from both parents’ custody. Adopting the approach of T.W. and A.C. here would reward parents who request or acquiesce to numerous delays in the completion of the dispositional hearing resulting in the provision of quasi-reunification services that do not count toward their reunification time. In contrast and notwithstanding application of a prior version of WIC 361.5, N.M.’s calculation of family maintenance services as part of the reunification timeline is the more appropriate approach that aligns with the Legislature’s intent 5 to minimize delay in dependency proceedings. Had the juvenile court followed N.M. and considered the entire period from the children’s initial removal as part of the reunification period, then the result would have been 26 months of reunification services already provided to mother. (ML)
WIC 340; 224.2
In re Robert F.
Published 4/12/2023; Fourth Dist.; Div. Two 90 Cal. App. 5th 492; Docket No. E080073
THE DUTY TO INQUIRE OF KNOWN RELATIVES DOES NOT APPLY WHEN AN AGENCY TAKES A CHILD INTO PROTECTIVE CUSTODY PURSUANT TO SECTION 340.
In 2019, the agency took nine-year-old, R.F., into protective custody pursuant to section 340. During the initial investigation, father denied Indian ancestry. He submitted an ICWA-020 form indicating no Indian ancestry and confirmed those statements when questioned by the juvenile court. Mother was serving a prison sentence in Arizona and was not present at the initial hearing. The juvenile court detained R.F. from his parents, found that the ICWA did not apply and ordered the agency to continue its ICWA investigation. Mother denied Indian ancestry when questioned by the agency. The juvenile court found ICWA did not apply, sustained the petition, removed R.F. from his parents, ordered reunification services for father and denied reunification services for mother. The agency placed R.F. with a paternal cousin before moving him to the care of paternal great grandparents. Maternal relatives were also assessed for placement. Despite having contact information for various relatives, the agency failed to inquire of possible Indian ancestry. The juvenile court terminated father’s family reunification services at the 12-month review hearing and terminated parental rights at the section 366.26 hearing. Mother timely appealed, arguing that the agency failed in its duty to conduct an initial inquiry because it did not inquire of known relatives.
Affirmed. The duties of initial inquiry outlined in section 224.2, subd. (a) and (c), such as inquiring of the reporting party and any party appearing in court, apply to all dependency proceedings, regardless of whether the agency takes custody pursuant to section 306 or 340. In some cases, California law requires an expanded initial inquiry. Section 224.2, subd. (b), provides that if an agency takes temporary custody of a child pursuant to section 306, it must inquire about possible Indian ancestry of known relatives. Here, the agency was not required to ask known relatives about R.F.’s possible Indian ancestry because it took R.F. into protective custody pursuant to section 340, rather than taking him into temporary custody pursuant to section 306. The plain language of the statute controls. The expanded 6 duty of inquiry for custody pursuant to section 306 makes sense in light of the differences between sections 306, which allows a social worker to take a child into temporary custody without a warrant in exigent circumstances, and 340, which provides for court-authorized protective custody. (SL)
In re S.S.
Published 4/14/2023; Second Dist., Div. Eight 90 Cal. App. 5th 694; Docket No. B318794
THE AGENCY’S FAILURE TO CONDUCT A PROPER INQUIRY REGARDING POSSIBLE NATIVE AMERICAN ANCESTRY WITH KNOWN RELATIVES IS PREJUDICIAL AND REVERSIBLE ERROR.
Infant S.S. was detained at birth and placed with maternal relatives. S.S.’s older sibling, N.S., was already a dependent of the court and placed with a paternal cousin, L.T. Mother and father both denied Native American ancestry at the time the juvenile court declared S.S. to be a dependent of the court. The agency properly inquired of maternal relatives regarding possible Native American ancestry, eventually ruling out heritage through S.S.’s maternal side of the family. However, although the agency had contact information for three paternal extended family members, including paternal cousin L.T., the agency never asked them about Native American ancestry. The juvenile court ruled there was no reason to know S.S. was an Indian child and terminated parental rights in favor of a permanent plan of adoption by the maternal aunt and uncle. The mother appealed.
Conditionally reversed and remanded. The 2018 amendment to section 224.2 requires the agency to ask “extended family members” whether a child has Native American ancestry. In this case, the agency’s failure to contact the three paternal relatives for whom they had contact information and ask them about S.S.’s Native American ancestry violates section 224.2 and prejudices tribes. Appellate courts are divided on the proper way to address the 2018 amendment and have devised various tests to determine whether a failure to ask extended family members regarding Native American ancestry is reversible error. This issue is pending review by the California Supreme Court. (In re Dezi C. (2022) 79 Cal.App.5th 769, review granted Sept. 21, 2022, S275578.) However, the legislative history behind the amendment demonstrates that tribes are the real parties in interest under section 224.2. In 2017, California tribal leaders wrote a report which contextualized the need for additional inquiry. The report explained that, for various reasons, a parent may not know their ancestry or may be fearful to self-identify and extended family members may be able to provide additional tribal information. The tribal report created the framework for a bill that was adopted without opposition, resulting in the 2018 amendment to section 224.2. Tribes and tribal interests were 7 therefore integral to ICWA legislation in California. This legislative history demonstrates that under the 2018 amendment, tribes have an independent, statutory right which requires the agency to ask extended family members about Native American ancestry. The prejudice to tribes resulting from an inadequate inquiry may appear remote, especially when the tribes are absent or uninvolved in the dependency proceedings. However, compliance with section 224.2 should be interpreted in light of the legislative purpose behind ICWA. Prejudice resulting from the agency’s failure to comply with the statutory promise to contact extended family members is compounded by the history of cultural genocide and separation of Native American children from their families and their tribes. Conducting a proper inquiry protects the future existence of tribes by ensuring that individuals who may have tribal information are contacted and connected to their tribe. In contrast, the cost of communicating with extended family members is slight and aligns with the agency’s pre-existing duty to investigate relatives for placement. In sum, although appellate courts have expressed different approaches to comply with the 2018 amendment to section 224.2, all courts are in agreement with achieving stability and finality for dependent children like S.S. This issue can only reach a final resolution if the agency consistently makes the slight effort required to comply with its ICWA duties. In his concurring opinion, Justice Viramontes adopted the substantial evidence test set forth in In re K.H. (2022) 84 Cal.App.5th 566, requiring an assessment of prejudicial error to determine whether an ICWA inquiry is sufficient. Justice Stratton dissented, concluding that the error in this case was harmless because the mother did not demonstrate why further inquiry would lead to a different result. She noted S.S. was living with relatives in compliance with the ICWA placement preferences and the tribe’s interest did not supersede S.S.’s interest in permanency and stability. (TL)
UCCJEA—Cal. Family Code § 3400
In re L.C.
Published 4/18/2023; Second Dist., Div. Five 90 Cal. App. 5th 728; Docket No. B322778
FAILURE TO RAISE UCCJEA ISSUES BEFORE THE TRIAL COURT DOES NOT RESULT IN FORFEITURE ON APPEAL.
In 2020, a dependency investigation was initiated for the family in Los Angeles County. Mother stated she was born in Georgia, moved to Florida in 2013, and then to Texas. The family resided in Texas until 2019 and then moved to Arizona for a few months before moving to California. Upon moving to Los Angeles County, a dependency investigation was initiated, and a petition was ultimately filed. Initially, the children were left in Mother’s care. However, at the jurisdiction and disposition hearing, the children were removed. A year later, Mother’s reunification 8 services were terminated, and her parental rights were subsequently terminated. At no time during dependency proceedings was a UCCJEA inquiry requested or conducted by the juvenile court. Mother timely appealed.
Conditionally reversed. The UCCJEA applies to dependency proceedings and is the exclusive method for determining the proper forum in child custody proceedings involving other jurisdictions. When it is clear some jurisdiction other than California is the home state of the child in question, efforts to consult in that jurisdiction are required under the UCCJEA. The Agency argued any UCCJEA challenge was forfeited because Mother did not object to the juvenile court exercising jurisdiction over the family. In support, the Agency cited In re J.W., (2020) 53 Cal.App.5th 347 (J.W.), which required a party to object to jurisdictional issues or forfeit the issue on appeal. The forfeiture doctrine provides a reviewing court will ordinarily decline to consider a challenge to a ruling if an objection to the ruling was not made in the trial court. However, the forfeiture doctrine is not automatic—certain issues may not be waived or forfeited on appeal. In J.W., the issue of fundamental jurisdiction was considered; issues involving fundamental jurisdiction cannot be waived and can be raised for the first time of appeal. J.W. found issues involving UCCJEA were not issues involving questions of fundamental jurisdiction. Thus, if UCCJEA challenges were not raised at the trial court, the issue was forfeited on appeal. The analysis in J.W. was deemed “limited” in scope and consideration. Even if the UCCJEA does not concern issues of fundamental jurisdiction, J.W. does not address other reasons why forfeiture should not apply to UCCJEA issues. Forfeiture is not appropriate when reviewing important legal issues, assessing pure questions of law or issues involving due process conflicts. Allowing the doctrine of forfeiture to preclude parties from raising jurisdictional issues on appeal was found to undermine the purpose of enacting UCCJEA— avoiding jurisdictional conflicts between states, promoting interstate cooperation, litigating custody where the children and family have the closest connections, avoiding re-litigation of another state’s custody decisions, and facilitating enforcement of another state’s custody decrees. The importance of these goals was recognized and allowing the forfeiture rule would, “risk undermining them.” Thus, the forfeiture rule was found inapplicable when issues involved the UCCJEA. In reaching the merits, California was not the home state and the juvenile court needed to reach out to Texas to assess which state should take jurisdiction over the family. (MO)
Legal Standing (Relatives); RFA (Adoption)—WIC 16519.5; RFA (Criminal Exemptions)—H&SC 1522
In re C.P
Published 5/5/23; Fourth Dist., Div. Two Docket No. E078696
 MATERNAL GRANDPARENTS HAVE STANDING TO CHALLENGE THE JUVENILE COURT’S ORDER SELECTING LEGAL GUARDIANSHIP OVER ADOPTION;  THE JUVENILE COURT ERRED IN ORDERING LEGAL GUARDIANSHIP BECAUSE MATERNAL GRANDPARENTS’ RFA APPROVAL WAS SUFFICIENT TO ORDER ADOPTION AS THE PERMANENT PLAN AND GRANDFATHER’S PREVIOUS CONVICTION NO LONGER DISQUALIFIES HIM FOR ADOPTION.
The agency filed a petition concerning C.P. after maternal uncle sexually abused C.P. Shortly after the juvenile court removed C.P. from mother and placed C.P. in foster care, maternal grandparents initiated the resource family approval (RFA) process. A criminal background check of maternal grandfather uncovered a 1991 misdemeanor conviction pursuant to Penal Code 273d for child corporal punishment. Maternal grandfather stated he pled no contest after he pushed his wife and son during an argument and was sentenced to probation. The agency stated RFA could not be approved due to maternal grandfather’s conviction. Subsequently, maternal grandfather successfully petitioned to have his name removed from the CACI database and obtained a dismissal of his charge due to completing probation. The agency continued to deny RFA approval due to maternal grandfather’s previous conviction. Maternal grandparents appealed and this Court reversed, finding maternal grandparents possessed a due process right to have the agency complete an individualized analysis of maternal grandfather’s exemption request if maternal grandparents had a parental relationship with C.P. Upon remand, the juvenile court found maternal grandparents served in a strong parental role with C.P. and ordered the agency to reassess maternal grandparents. After some delay, the agency approved maternal grandparents through RFA and C.P. was placed with them without issue. C.P.’s social workers recommended adoption, but the agency’s adoptions unit stated it could only recommend legal guardianship because the unit could not approve maternal grandparents in the adoptions home study due to maternal grandfather’s previous conviction. At a 366.26 hearing, the juvenile court ordered legal guardianship as the permanent plan for C.P. because it believed adoption could not be ordered without an approved adoption assessment by the agency. Maternal grandparents appealed.
Reversed.  Maternal grandparents have legal standing to appeal and challenge the juvenile court’s order of legal guardianship due to their fundamental interest in protecting their quasi-parental relationship with C.P. Moreover, the juvenile court’s order of legal guardianship provides the maternal grandparents with a legally cognizable claim as legal guardianship does not provide maternal grandparents with the same legal status as parents of C.P. that they would be afforded if they were to adopt C.P.  Pursuant to section 366.26, adoption remains the norm and a permanent plan of legal guardianship is only a valid alternative if one of the exceptions to section 366.26 applies. Although the agency argues several impediments exist which prevent maternal grandparents from adopting C.P., none of these proffered reasons are valid. First, subdivisions (c)(4-5) of section 16519.5 state any RFA approved family is eligible for adoptive placement without any further agency approval. Therefore, no further approved adoptions home study was required, nor has the agency completed the procedural steps necessary to rescind RFA approval for the maternal grandparents. While the agency contends in this case that RFA was only approved as to a specific child and maternal grandparents never received full RFA approval, a review of section 16519.5 and the legislative history as a whole indicates that this distinction is incompatible with the goal of RFA to allow all approved families to seek a permanent plan of adoption. Second, maternal grandfather’s previous conviction is not disqualifying under section 1522 of the Health and Safety Code. Maternal grandparents’ quasi-parental relationship with C.P. requires an individualized application of any criminal exemption. Moreover, by enacting Senate Bill 354, the Legislature has now expanded the criminal exemptions allowed under section 1522 by placing a ten-year time limit on specific non-exemptible crimes. In this case, although maternal grandfather’s 1991 misdemeanor conviction pursuant to Penal Code 273d was previously nonexemptible, the current version of section 1522, specifically subdivision (g)(2)(D), now requires the agency to grant an exemption if maternal grandfather “is of present good character necessary to justify the granting of an exemption.” Accordingly, reversal of the juvenile court’s order is appropriate, and remand is required to determine if any changed circumstances exist precluding a selection of adoption with maternal grandparents as the permanent plan for C.P. (SW)