NOT TO BE PUBLISHED IN OFFICIAL REPORTS
California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115. (Santa Clara County Super. Ct. No. 17JD024558)
G.C. (son) was nine years old when he and his two-year-old half-sister S.M. (daughter) were removed from the custody of J.M. (mother) and M.M. (stepfather) following stepfather's arrest due to his participation in the production and trading of child pornography involving son and daughter. Mother was detained for questioning but not charged in that case. She appeals from the juvenile court's January 4, 2018 order bypassing reunification services for her as to son.
Mother's separate writ petition challenging the bypass of reunification services for daughter was denied by this court in a nonpublished opinion. (J.C. v. Superior Court (Apr. 26, 2018, H045408) [nonpub. opn.].)
On appeal, mother argues: (1) there was not clear and convincing evidence to support the court's finding she participated in or knowingly permitted son's abuse by stepfather and others; and (2) the court erred in finding that providing reunification services would not be in son's best interests.
As discussed below, we find no error and shall affirm the order.
I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
A. Initial proceedings and jurisdictional hearing
On June 14, 2017, the Department of Family and Children's Services (the Department) filed a petition alleging that son came within the provisions of Welfare and Institutions Code section 300, subdivisions (b)(1), (b)(2), (c), (d), and (j). Son had been taken into protective custody the day before, along with daughter, upon the arrest of stepfather for child pornography by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The California Highway Patrol officer who had responded to the home stated that six adults lived at the residence, including stepfather's father, a registered sex offender. A DHS agent reported that there were images and videos of the children wearing no clothes as well as multiple incidents depicting sexual acts with the children, all of which were produced in the family bedroom and bathroom. Mother had denied knowing about any abuse or exploitation of the children. In addition, the home was dirty, there was feces on the floor, there was not enough food for the children, and there was " 'tons of clutter.' " The social worker, Brian Hawkinson, believed that the risk of general neglect and sexual abuse was high, and mother appeared unable to protect the children from sexual exploitation, thus placing them "at serious risk of further sexual abuse." The court detained the children and granted mother supervised visits twice a week, with discretion to the social worker to permit extended contact.
Unspecified statutory references are to the Welfare and Institutions Code.
The Department amended the petition on July 25, 2017, to allege that mother was "involved in the production and distribution of child pornography . . . [and] produced pornographic images of the child after she tied him up and taped his mouth closed."
At the contested jurisdiction hearing on October 23 and 25, 2017, the Department presented evidence of a videotaped multi-disciplinary interview (MDI) with son conducted by a DHS specialist. During the interview, the specialist showed son several photos in which he was depicted. The first photo was of son standing in his bedroom wearing only his underwear. Son said he may have accidentally taken that photo of himself and he was only wearing underwear " 'because I tend to get hot.' " The second photo was of him lying down on a bed, wearing a shirt and underwear, with his legs raised in the air and taped to his wrists. He told the interviewer that he " 'sometimes . . . ask[s] someone to punish me and to take a picture of me.' " He said his parents would take a picture of him like this, after asking if he really wanted to do this, and "then the mother or the [step]father puts the tape on him." He is in his underwear "because . . . he wanted to punish himself by feeling cold." As for the tape on his mouth, son said he asked "the mother and the [step]father to put the tape on him . . . 'either I put it on my mouth or my mom does it.' "
Hawkinson testified that he was in an adjacent room behind a two-way mirror observing this interview as it occurred.
The third photo was much like the second, in that son's legs and wrists are taped together, but in this photo, the underwear is pulled aside, exposing his genitals. Son told the interviewer he "wanted to be punished, so he thought that he would do this by embarrassing himself." Again, he said the photo was taken by mother and stepfather. Son said they asked if he was sure that he wanted to do that, but he "wanted to be punished." His mother told him it "was an inappropriate position and he told her 'I know it's embarrassing but I wanted to do it because it was an embarrassing position.' "
The fourth photo was a screenshot from a video, showing son with an adult penis in his mouth. Son said he sometimes asked stepfather to " 'do something inappropriate so that I feel disgusted.' " Stepfather objects, but son says he wants to be punished. Stepfather then " 'puts his private parts where is not supposed to . . . [specifically son's] mouth and butt.' " He said his mother " 'usually knows' " and he tells her "what will be happening so that she would not get worried."
The fifth picture also showed son with a penis in his mouth. Son said he did not remember this photo and did not believe it was of him. He then said stepfather only put his penis in his mouth " 'maybe two to three times.' " However, he also said he asked stepfather to find images "of a dark haired [sic] boy that looked like him who had a man's genitals in his mouth to 'make me feel grossed out.' " Son said that mother and stepfather did not want to do this, but he insisted as he needed to be punished.
Son denied that he was the subject of the three remaining pictures, which showed him with either his bottom, his genitals or both exposed. Son claimed that stepfather would find images like these online—with children who had dark hair like he did—and show them to him. When asked why the bedding was the same color as that in his bedroom, son said it was because stepfather would find images that had the same color bedding.
After being placed in a foster home, son spoke to the social worker and retracted his earlier statements that mother was involved in taking the photographs. However, he did say that mother knew what stepfather was doing with him. She did not want to involve " 'the police or social workers' " so she went to stepfather and " 'thought she could trust him' " to stop. Son said he recalled mother finding "pictures on the stepfather's phone twice" and that she and stepfather argued about it, with mother telling stepfather to never "take those pictures of [son] again."
In addition to the photos depicting abuse of son and daughter, the social worker alleged that stepfather had met with one of the other suspects being investigated by DHS for child pornography "six times [to] exchange [son and daughter]" for sexual purposes. The social worker reported an account by the foster mother's son in which son had described "in 'graphic detail' " stepfather's sexual molestation of him. The foster mother's son also reported that son had told him that when he was removed from mother, mother had told him to "tell 'social workers and lawyers some of the truth but not all of the truth.' "
The social worker's jurisdiction report also described videos and pictures of daughter and son being abused, contained in files recovered by the DHS in its investigation. One video depicted daughter one year earlier, lying on her back as an adult male ejaculates into her eyes; others showed penile vaginal and penile anal penetration of the toddler, as well as an adult male anally penetrating son. Although a pediatric forensic examination of son conducted on June 13, 2017, disclosed no physical signs of "penetrating anal trauma," the clinician noted that this did not " 'rule out the possibility of prior sexual contact.' "
When the social worker later spoke to son about mother advising him not to tell "the whole truth," son got quiet and responded that "he was the one that did not want to tell the whole truth." Although son had identified his mother as a participant in the photos during the MDI, he told the social worker that it was a secret what had been happening for the past year between stepfather and him; he insisted that it was not true that mother knew what was going on, and if she had known, she would have done something, without involving the police or social workers. He appeared sad when he told the social worker, " ' I made up that story to make things better but I made things worse.' " Son insisted he liked what he and his stepfather were doing and "he was the one who told the stepfather that he wanted to do it."
On cross-examination, the social worker admitted that mother had always been cooperative, that she had completed a parent orientation class, and that she had engaged in individual therapy. She also consistently denied having any knowledge of what stepfather was doing with son and daughter.
With regard to son's welfare, the social worker noted the foster parents' report that son was "in general a very calm and easy going [sic] child." He had several behavioral incidents at his placement and his daycare. At daycare, he was arguing with a five-year-old girl, who he grabbed by the arm and pushed. Son noticed that the daycare provider saw what happened, and he immediately began to cry, saying, " 'I wish I was dead,' " and " 'I hate my life.' " The foster mother also reported that on one occasion, son told her he had gone outside and punched a tree as hard as he could " 'to see how bad it would hurt if he hit it his hardest.' "
According to the foster mother, son would go to bed at a normal time but would wake up at 1:00 or 3:00 a.m. and wander around the house. Son told her he " 'tosses and turns and was worried about people coming into the house.' " He also told her he has "always been a scared and lonely boy, even before he was removed from his parent's care[, and] he did not like feeling lonely." Son began working with a licensed clinician in August 2017 and was also working with a sexual abuse advocate through the YWCA.
The social worker recommended that the court offer no services to mother. The social worker cited section 361.5, subdivision (b)(6) and (17), based on his determination that mother had failed to protect the children from severe sexual abuse, sexual trafficking, and victimization by child pornography, and that she had participated in the sexual exploitation of both children. Mother, the Department alleged, "knew of the sexual abuse but did not report the abuse to law enforcement, [and] she did not take necessary steps to physically and emotionally protect the child or his sibling from [stepfather]." Instead, she continued to deny her part in the abuse, demonstrating her lack of insight or ability to protect her young children from harm. The consequences of mother's failure included "trauma, behavioral difficulties and emotional distress" experienced by son, who "will likely face future issues relating to boundaries, self esteem [sic], coping, stress and stability."
After reviewing the evidence, the juvenile court found "pretty strong evidence that mom knew what was happening and was not protecting these children." The court noted the long period over which the abuse and exploitation had been occurring, as well as son's statement that mother had told him not to tell "all of the truth." Having reviewed the MDI, which the court described as "the most professional interview that I have ever seen," the court said there were 38 instances during the interview in which son implicated his mother. The court did not believe these statements were unreliable simply because son retracted them after being placed in foster care. The court did, however, strike the allegations that the children were at risk from the parents' allowing a registered sex offender to live in the home. After excluding those allegations, the court found that both children were described by section 300, subdivisions (b), (c), (d), and (j).
B. Dispositional hearing and ruling
At the contested disposition hearing on January 4, 2018, the social worker recommended a bypass of services for both mother and stepfather pursuant to section 361.5, subdivision (b)(6) and (17). The court heard testimony from Hawkinson and from mother's expert witness, Dr. Deidre D'Orazio. In addition, the parties stipulated that son wanted to reunify with mother and return to her care with his sister; he felt safe with mother and wanted their visits to continue if he was not allowed to live with her. Both children had been placed with stepfather's aunt since October 21, 2017. Prior to this placement, son had opened up somewhat to his therapist about the sexual abuse and told the therapist he was five years old when stepfather began molesting him. He also described a disturbing dream that turned into a " 'violent bloody horror movie,' " where he felt that there was a demon in the room with him. He did not want to stay in his room because of the evil presence and tried hard not to think of the demon because it made it hard for him to sleep.
Since the placement with stepfather's aunt, however, son was more guarded in his therapy sessions. He was defensive when speaking about mother and said she did not participate in the abuse.
Stepfather's aunt e-mailed the social worker about an incident on December 12, 2017, when son became very upset and was crying, punching the kitchen table, and calling himself an " 'idiot.' " He yelled that he was not a " 'normal kid,' " and said he had a horrible life. Son told her he was tired of pretending he was happy when he was sad and angry all the time, and he could not even talk to his friends at school about what was going on in his life. He was upset because he could not live with mother and no one can tell him what is happening. Son also told stepfather's aunt that the sexual abuse happened " 'more than anyone can think of' " and that it took place " 'almost daily.' "
Hawkinson testified that, since the children's detention, mother had been participating in services consisting of a parent orientation class, a parent education class, and therapy. She had received scores of four and five out of five in her classes. With respect to counseling, the counselor said mother was "addressing the issue of the case[,] [but] was not taking responsibility for any sexual acts." Mother had been visiting consistently twice a week, and the children enjoyed the visits. Although there were no concerns about the visits, Hawkinson was not ready to allow unsupervised visits because "she's perpetrated sexual abuse on [son], and because she's also told [son] to not be entirely truthful to social workers and the police."
Hawkinson acknowledged that reunification was the goal of the dependency system. He also agreed that there were services to help parents reunify after sexual abuse, mainly mental health counseling and a 52-week child abuse course. In this case, however, he did not believe that either parent should receive reunification services "due to the severity of the abuse, the sexual abuse that's been going on and to the length of time that it occurred, which was approximately half or almost half the life of both children." In Hawkinson's opinion, the children would have "life-long repercussions that are going to negatively affect their mental health, as well as their ability to form a lasting, trusting, safe relationship with other individuals as they get older. The parents' behaviors have shown that they would rather put their own desires and needs ahead of their children['s] desires and needs."
Hawkinson further explained that he did not believe that the parents had "the capacity to learn how to be a safe parent and to provide [the children] with a protective, safe home." Hawkinson admitted he had not put mother through a formal assessment, but his conclusions were based on the nature and extent of the abuse, the nature of the case, and the "behavior issues" that resulted from "the trauma that she participated in." He agreed that the 52-week course was designed to help those who had abused children "develop the capacity to learn how to be safe in the future" and "create a safe home for children." Later, however, he stated that the course was not for perpetrators of abuse. Even if such a course existed, he would not recommend services for mother, due to the severity of the abuse and the length of time that the abuse had occurred, with its "life-long repercussions" for the children. He had not talked with mother about her accountability for the abuse, mainly because her attorney had asked to be present when he discussed the case with her.
The parties stipulated that Dr. D'Orazio was an expert in "[r]isk assessment, reunification, placement of dependent children, treatment of children who suffered sexual abuse [by] adults, including the sexual abuse by their own parents, [and] clinical psychology." In her work with children and adults, she specialized in sexual abuse intervention and prevention. Having worked for 25 years with sexual offenders, she was involved in the planning and development of treatment programs for sexual offenders, including parents who had sexually abused their children.
In this case, Dr. D'Orazio had reviewed all of the documents, including the petition, the jurisdiction and disposition reports, and addendum reports. She believed that reunification was in the best interests of the children, subject to a thorough individual assessment of the children and mother. If reunification was a "potential option" in a case, then an assessment was necessary to determine the first step in the extended process of reunification. Without such assessments "it would be clinically contraindicated to terminate all contact with mother and not allow some form of reunification." Adding to the trauma of abuse was the second trauma of being removed from home; to deny contact with a parent would engender a third, "complex" trauma, "which makes the psychological experience of the children much worse and the long-standing [sic] symptoms much longer and serious in duration." Dr. D'Orazio testified that studies which examined reunification versus terminating services, as well as her own professional experience in the field, demonstrate that properly managed reunification "is associated with a host of positive outcomes" and is beneficial to the child's best interest.
Dr. D'Orazio clarified that incest offenders were the least likely of all types of sexual offenders to reoffend once they were detected. She had personally worked with over 100 incest perpetrators in which she had been involved in successful reunification. In the scant research on female sexual offenders, only 1 to 3 percent reoffended, and those were offenders who had been involved in prostitution, those who did not have a male accomplice, and those who had selected victims outside the family. None of those circumstances applied in this case, however. Additional factors that must be considered are specific to the personal history and mental health of the offender, such as general criminality, severe mental disorder, or substance abuse, which could then be addressed in individual therapy. In this case, Dr. D'Orazio did not see any evidence of general criminality, antisocial attitudes, or severe psychiatric instability that would increase the likelihood of reoffending. Mother's interest, participation, and progress in therapy and parenting classes also suggested that she was ready for reunification.
The court asked Dr. D'Orazio whether mother's denial that she had abused was a "contraindication of reunification services." Dr. D'Orazio answered the question by first drawing a distinction between an individual denying that the abuse happened at all versus a denial which minimized the person's own conduct. However, she affirmed that mother "must admit and reflect" the experience of her children and take responsibility for not protecting them. In Dr. D'Orazio's opinion it was not essential to reunification that mother admit the specifics of her conduct. She explained: "[L]ay people, we want to believe that that denial is very important, and the research consistently says that it's not. If the mother takes accountability for failing to protect, admits and validates [that] this serious abuse occurred, the child will likely feel, yes, you know, mother is there for me. The mother does need to take accountability for the sexual abuse in a broad way, but to get at this micro-level of specific features of offenses is not necessary. [¶] . . . So validation of the child's experience of abuse is the most important feature. [¶] . . . [I]n terms of never doing it again, the mother simply needs to identify what are the factors in [her] life that occurred that led this abuse to happen. She needs to identify those things, and then she needs to create ways of coping with them, ridding her life of those things of [sic] interrupting their operation in the future. So if the mother is motivated not to commit sexual offending again, she can go through that sort of course of sexual offender treatment without admitting to a version of offending that an official record states." It was "a very good sign" that mother's therapist had believed that mother had "taken responsibility for not knowing . . . [that the abuse] . . . was happening" and that she was working on recognizing the signs of an inappropriate relationship with her children as well as the need to be proactive in protecting them.
The court questioned Dr. D'Orazio's reasoning, pointing out that its jurisdictional findings were not merely that mother did not do enough to recognize and remedy the situation, but that she "did it," that she in fact "very much knew what was going on." The court also asked the witness about research on reoffending by female offenders who have failed to protect a child from others' offenses. Dr. D'Orazio expressed the view that if a parent is motivated to improve from a circumstance like this—i.e., "very severe and chronic sexual abuse" which the parent either failed to detect or knew about and failed to do something about—"that parent can take those parenting classes and take therapy interventions in order to identify how she failed to . . . see the signs in the first place or chose not to act on them." In addition, a concurrent 52-week class designed for sexual offenders would be a "very solid idea" for mother in this case. The "monitored presence" of mother, the "ultimate therapist," would be "very important" to facilitate the children's healing and mitigate the long-term effects of the abuse. Dr. D'Orazio believed that if denied the opportunity to reunify, the children would be "strongly negatively impacted," particularly in son's case, as he had been requesting more contact with mother.
After the matter was submitted, the juvenile court acknowledged that this was a difficult case, but it had already been almost seven months since the children were removed, and "mom has never admitted that she did anything." The court questioned whether any judge would send a child home to a parent who had engaged in serious, long-term abuse but who had not "at least started the process of admitting what they did." In the court's view, whether a parent went through a 52-week or a 52-year counseling program, it would be ineffective if the parent did not begin the process with an admission of her own conduct. The court acknowledged that "maybe some day [sic] it's going to be proved that this is all wrong. It's all a big mistake. Maybe mom is innocent, but the facts that I saw she's not, and I made that finding." The court emphasized that its decision was not about punishment, but about the "best interest of [son]."
The court also noted the timelines involved in the dependency process, and said that "one of the problems with [Dr. D'Orazio]'s testimony is that she did not tether . . . the reunification process . . . with the very short timelines that we have in dependency court." In that light, the court believed that it was unrealistic to think that mother could do what needed to be done. Being ready to reunify, in the court's view, was "not just being ready and motivated to reunify. It's being ready to be a safe parent, and I don't think you can do that and be in denial. I just don't see how you can do that. I don't know how I can trust mom if she's not willing to admit what I found that she did."
The court thus found, by clear and convincing evidence, that it was not in the best interest of the minors to provide services to mother, based on "the severity, the length of time, [and] the lack of capacity to become a safe parent." Its findings were based on section 361.5, subdivision (b)(6) and (17). In its order, the court directed the Department to maintain the current placement of the children with their paternal aunt, with no reunification services to mother. Mother's supervised visitation was ordered to continue, and a six-month review hearing for son's case was set for June 28, 2018.
Services were denied to stepfather on the same grounds, as well as on section 361.5, subdivision (e)(1).
Son's biological father was granted family reunification services.
Mother timely appealed.
A. Applicable legal principles
"Subdivision (a) of section 361.5 sets forth the general rule that a parent whose child has been removed in a dependency proceeding must be afforded reunification services." (Renee J. v. Superior Court (2001) 26 Cal.4th 735, 753, superseded by statute on another point as stated in Renee J. v. Superior Court (2002) 96 Cal.App.4th 1450, 1457.) "While the overarching goal of the dependency law is to safeguard the welfare of dependent children and to promote their best interests [citations], the law's first priority when dependency proceedings are commenced is to preserve family relationships, if possible. [Citation.] To this end, the law requires the juvenile court to provide reunification services unless a statutory exception applies." (In re K.C. (2011) 52 Cal.4th 231, 236.) "The importance of reunification services in the dependency system cannot be gainsaid. The law favors reunification whenever possible. [Citation.] To achieve that goal, ordinarily a parent must be granted reasonable reunification services. [Citation.] But reunification services constitute a benefit; there is no constitutional ' "entitlement " ' to those services." (In re Aryanna C. (2005) 132 Cal.App.4th 1234, 1242.)
The exceptions to reunification services are listed in the bypass provisions in section 361.5, subdivision (b). Relevant here is subdivision (b), subsections (6) and (17), which state that services "need not be provided to a parent . . . when the court finds, by clear and convincing evidence, any of the following: [¶] . . . [¶] (6)(A) That the child has been adjudicated a dependent pursuant to any subdivision of Section 300 as a result of severe sexual abuse or the infliction of severe physical harm to the child, a sibling, or a half sibling by a parent or guardian, as defined in this subdivision, and the court makes a factual finding that it would not benefit the child to pursue reunification services with the offending parent or guardian. . . . [¶] . . . [¶] (17) That the parent or guardian knowingly participated in, or permitted, the sexual exploitation, as described in subdivision (c) or (d) of Section 11165.1 of, or subdivision (c) of Section 236.1 of, the Penal Code, of the child. This shall not include instances in which the parent or guardian demonstrated by a preponderance of the evidence that he or she was coerced into permitting, or participating in, the sexual exploitation of the child." (§ 361.5; cf. Tyrone W. v. Superior Court (2007) 151 Cal.App.4th 839, 846.)
When either of these exceptions applies, "[t]he court shall not order reunification . . . unless the court finds, by clear and convincing evidence, that reunification is in the best interest of the child." (§ 361.5, subd. (c)(2), italics added.) In such a case "the general rule favoring reunification is replaced by a legislative assumption that offering services would be an unwise use of governmental resources." (In re Baby Boy H. (1998) 63 Cal.App.4th 470, 478.)
"A court called upon to determine whether reunification would be in the child's best interest may consider a parent's current efforts and fitness as well as the parent's history. [Citation.] Additional factors for the juvenile court to consider when determining whether a child's best interest will be served by pursuing reunification include the gravity of the problem that led to the dependency; the strength of the relative bonds between the child and both the parent and caretakers; and the child's need for stability and continuity, which is of paramount concern." (In re S.B. (2013) 222 Cal.App.4th 612, 622-623, citing In re Ethan N. (2004) 122 Cal.App.4th 55, 66-68.)
Section 361.5, subdivision (i), specifies a number of factors for the court to consider: "In determining whether reunification services will benefit the child pursuant to paragraph (6) or (7) of subdivision (b), the court shall consider any information it deems relevant, including the following factors: [¶] (1) The specific act or omission comprising the severe sexual abuse or the severe physical harm inflicted on the child or the child's sibling or half sibling. [¶] (2) The circumstances under which the abuse or harm was inflicted on the child or the child's sibling or half sibling. [¶] (3) The severity of the emotional trauma suffered by the child or the child's sibling or half sibling. [¶] (4) Any history of abuse of other children by the offending parent or guardian. [¶] (5) The likelihood that the child may be safely returned to the care of the offending parent or guardian within 12 months with no continuing supervision. [¶] (6) Whether or not the child desires to be reunified with the offending parent or guardian." --------
"[T]he party seeking bypass of reunification services under section 361.5, subdivision (b) has the burden of proving that reunification services need not be provided," a showing that must be made by clear and convincing evidence. (In re Angelique C. (2003) 113 Cal.App.4th 509, 521 (Angelique C.); § 361.5, subd. (b); see Evid. Code, § 500.) That standard, requiring "a high probability, such that the evidence is so clear as to leave no substantial doubt" (In re Isayah C. (2004) 118 Cal.App.4th 684, 695) is for the guidance of the trial court. (Sheila S. v. Superior Court (2000) 84 Cal.App.4th 872, 880.) On appeal, our function is limited to determining whether there was substantial evidence to support the juvenile court's decision in accordance with the appropriate standard. (Id. at pp. 880-881; Angelique C., supra, at p. 519.) We consider whether "the evidence [wa]s reasonable, credible, and of solid value" to support the conclusion of the trier of fact. (Curtis F. v. Superior Court (2000) 80 Cal.App.4th 470, 474.) Further, " '[a]ll conflicts must be resolved in favor of the respondent and all legitimate inferences indulged in to uphold the verdict, if possible. Where there is more than one inference which can reasonably be deduced from the facts, the appellate court is without power to substitute its deductions for those of the trier of fact.' " (Francisco G. v. Superior Court (2001) 91 Cal.App.4th 586, 600.)
"A juvenile court has broad discretion when determining whether . . . reunification services would be in the best interests of the child under section 361.5, subdivision (c)." (In re William B. (2008) 163 Cal.App.4th 1220, 1229 (William B.).) "As a reviewing court, we will reverse a juvenile court's order denying services only if that discretion has been clearly abused." (Angelique C., supra, 113 Cal.App.4th at pp. 523-524.) In other words, we will not disturb such a discretionary decision unless the lower court made "an arbitrary, capricious, or patently absurd determination." (Adoption of D.S.C. (1979) 93 Cal.App.3d 14, 25.)
B. Clear and convincing evidence regarding mother's role
Mother challenges the juvenile court's decision not to order reunification services, arguing that there was not clear and convincing evidence showing she participated in or permitted son's sexual abuse or exploitation. Her argument is based solely on certain of the court's statements at the hearing, specifically when it remarked: "maybe some day [sic] it's going to be proved that this is all wrong. It's all a big mistake. Maybe mom is innocent." In mother's view, these qualifying statements suggest that there was not clear and convincing evidence to support the court's conclusion that she participated in son's sexual abuse or knowingly allowed it to happen. We do not agree.
The flaw in this argument is that mother's recitation fails to set forth the court's remarks in full. After acknowledging the possibility that "mom is innocent," the court continued by saying, "but the facts that I saw she's not, and I made that finding." (Italics added.) The court is simply stating a truism—in the future, new facts could call its current findings into question. However, based on the existing facts presented to the court in the dependency proceedings, the court was convinced that mother actively participated in son's abuse or knowingly permitted it to happen.
We briefly recount the evidence presented below. Son, during the June 16, 2017 MDI, implicated mother 38 times, going so far as to state that she was the one who taped his wrists to his legs and placed tape on his mouth as shown in two of the photos. Son told the interviewer that mother knew what was happening and described overhearing arguments she had with stepfather after finding photos of son on his cellphone. Given the length of time the abuse had been ongoing, much of it in her own home, the court found it impossible to believe that mother did not know that it was happening even if she were not an active participant in the abuse.
Although son subsequently retracted his statements implicating mother, that does not conclusively establish that they were not true. As Hawkinson explained, children who have been abused will often recant some or all their disclosures because of their sincere desire to reunite their family. Hawkinson also explained that it was not unusual for the victim of family abuse to take responsibility for the abuse, e.g., son stating that everything that was done to him in the pictures was his idea.
Viewing those existing facts, as we must, in the light most favorable to the decision below, we find there was substantial evidence to support the court's decision to bypass reunification services.
C. No abuse of discretion in finding services not in son's best interests
Mother next asserts that the court erroneously determined that providing reunification services would not be in son's best interests. Again, we disagree.
Mother points to several circumstances of this case that she believes should have persuaded the court to allow reunification. She calls attention to (1) son's bond with her and his desire to return to her care; (2) the evidence she was benefiting from services and her visits with son were positive; and (3) the testimony of Dr. D'Orazio, who believed that abused minors nearly always benefit from "services aimed at repairing their relationships with parental abusers," and who also testified that mother was not a "unique risk" to son.
It is clear from the record that the court followed the statutory guidelines for reunification decisions under section 361.5, subdivision (c)(2) in considering the testimony of Hawkinson and Dr. D'Orazio. While Dr. D'Orazio opined that reunification was in the children's best interests, she also acknowledged that "reunification is actually a very long process." The court did not believe that reunification was possible given the short amount of time the dependency procedures allow for reunification. "[A]t least part of the best interest analysis must be a finding that further reunification services have a likelihood of success." (William B., supra, 163 Cal.App.4th at p. 1228.) The court in this case was unable to make such a finding; to the contrary, it found that reunification would not be achieved even with a 52-week sexual abuser's class and extensive therapy for son. Mother, the court found, lacked the capacity to internalize the lessons of the resources that would be offered to her. Due to mother's continuing refusal to acknowledge her awareness of and participation in the severe abuse inflicted on her children, the court determined that mother had not met her burden to show, by clear and convincing evidence, that reunification services would be in the best interests of son. We are not at liberty to reweigh the evidence supporting the juvenile court's ruling. Even if we might have reached a different conclusion, we cannot say that "the evidence compels a finding in favor of the appellant as a matter of law." (In re I.W. (2009) 180 Cal.App.4th 1517, 1528.) With no realistic chance that son would find stability and permanency with mother, the court did not exercise its discretion in an arbitrary, capricious, or patently absurd way.
Accordingly, we must uphold the bypass of reunification services for mother.
The order is affirmed.
Premo, J. WE CONCUR: /s/_________
Greenwood, P.J. /s/_________