S.C.v.Superior Court of Contra Costa Cnty.

COURT OF APPEAL OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA FIRST APPELLATE DISTRICT DIVISION FOURDec 20, 2017
A152743 (Cal. Ct. App. Dec. 20, 2017)

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  • In re K.P.

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A152743

12-20-2017

S.C., Petitioner, v. THE SUPERIOR COURT OF CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, Respondent; CONTRA COSTA COUNTY CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES BUREAU, Real Party in Interest.


NOT TO BE PUBLISHED IN OFFICIAL REPORTS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 This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115. (Contra Costa County Super. Ct. No. J1601175)

I. INTRODUCTION

S.C. (mother) seeks extraordinary relief from an order setting a hearing under Welfare and Institutions Code section 366.26 to consider termination of parental rights and to select a permanent plan for her two-year-old daughter, K.P. Mother's sole contention is that she was not afforded reasonable reunification services. We disagree and deny mother's petition on the merits.

Subsequent statutory references are to the Welfare and Institutions Code, unless otherwise stated.

II. STATEMENT OF FACTS

A. Background

On December 5, 2016, the Contra Costa Sheriff's Department received a report that two children were living in unsafe conditions in a trailer mobile home. Responding deputies found mother who reported that she and her children were living in the trailer with Jason P. Jason P. worked for the tow yard where the trailer was parked. Deputies found Jason in the trailer with one-year-old K.P. and her sister, six-year-old K.C. The trailer was in "disarray"; there was a dirty mattress and bedding on the floor, open food containers, dirty utensils, and unrefrigerated milk sitting out. It did not have running water, electricity, or a bathroom. Jason reported chest pains and was transported to a hospital. The deputies contacted the Contra Costa County Children and Family Services Bureau (the Bureau) to initiate an investigation regarding the children.

On December 7, 2016, a social worker went to the tow yard, but mother and the girls were no longer there. On December 8, the social worker interviewed Jason, who reported that he met mother three years' prior, and lived with her in a motel before they moved to the tow yard. Jason reported that after the deputies came to the yard, mother left with the girls and did not disclose where they were going.

The Bureau made multiple attempts to contact mother by phone. On December 23, 2016, she finally responded to a text message. The social worker advised mother that the Bureau needed to see the girls to alleviate concerns relating to the deplorable living conditions at the tow yard, but mother refused, insisting that the girls were fine. She said that she left the tow yard because "Jason was not safe" for the children; the girls would stay with relatives; and she did not need assistance from the Bureau.

On December 28, 2016, deputies found the girls in the tow yard, which was an area of "heavy transient foot traffic," playing among abandoned vehicles, boats, and trailers. K.C.'s clothing and body were very dirty. She was talkative, but could not say her age, instead holding up six fingers. When officers asked about her Christmas, K.C. was not aware that it had already passed. K.P. was not wearing shoes or a jacket in 50- degree weather. Her face, hands and feet were dirty and she had a rash on her face. Jason denied that the girls were living with him, but refused to provide information about where they were staying. The deputies took the girls into protective custody.

K.C. told the social worker that it had been more than a week since mother had brought her and K.P. back to stay with Jason. Before that, they stayed with a friend who had kids her age, but the kids would "torture" K.P. by holding her up by one leg and dropping her. K.C. also said "I love Jason but he is mean to us," and showed the social worker that he would point his middle finger on both hands. When asked what Jason fed them, K.C. responded that he "always buys us McDonald's."

K.C. reported that she had never been to school. When she was observed at the receiving center, she appeared to be in generally good health, although she was very overweight. She had scratches on her nose caused by scratching herself with her nails; scratches on her back and feet from "running into thorns"; and head lice. K.P. also appeared to be in generally good health, "with no marks or bruises or other signs of maltreatment, except her body, especially hands and feet . . . were dirty."

On December 29, 2016, mother contacted the Bureau after she learned the girls had been detained. She insisted that she was a good mother and that her children were very important to her. She reported that her oldest child had been adopted by her mother; another child was living with paternal relatives; K.C.'s father was in prison; and Jason was K.P.'s father. Mother explained that she had gone to stay with Jason because her car with all her belongings had been stolen, and she had no place else to go. Mother acknowledged that she had not been able to establish a stable home life, but could not explain why. She did disclose that the fathers of two of her children had physically abused her, and she confirmed that K.C. had never gone to school. Mother also stated that she was willing to enter residential treatment, but she did not admit that she had a substance abuse problem.

B. K.P.'s Dependency Case through Disposition

In a December 30, 2016 petition, the Bureau alleged that K.P. came within the juvenile court's jurisdiction under section 300, subdivisions (b)(1) [failure to protect] and (g) [no provision for support]. The Bureau alleged that mother failed to provide adequate care for K.P. and her older sister K.C., subjected the girls to unsafe living conditions, and willingly left them in an unsafe environment; and that Jason failed to provide adequate care for his daughter K.P. by subjecting her to unsafe living conditions.

On January 3, 2017, K.P. was detained from mother, who was granted supervised visitation. The court found that Jason was still only an alleged father, and was not to have any contact with K.P. until further order of the court.

All subsequent date references are to the 2017 calendar year. --------

On January 23, the court held a jurisdiction hearing for both girls. The Bureau recommended that the court exercise dependency jurisdiction, noting that "[t]here is no safe place for the children to be. This is a chronic condition and the children need the protection of the Juvenile Court." Jason contested the Bureau recommendation but mother did not. The court found that jurisdictional allegations pertaining to mother were true, and reserved ruling on the allegations pertaining to Jason.

Jason's contest was set for February 6. Neither parent appeared at that hearing. The Bureau submitted a memorandum, updating the court that K.P. and her sister were both "responding well to the structure and supervision" of their foster home placement, "including learning to get along with others especially children." K.C. was attending kindergarten and receiving extra academic and social assistance. K.P. was working on gross motor skills in her foster home. The case was continued for a combined jurisdiction/disposition hearing.

In its jurisdiction/disposition report, the Bureau recommended that the court reserve ruling on jurisdiction allegations pertaining to Jason; adjudge the girls to be dependents; and order reunification services for mother, but not for Jason until he presented himself to the court.

The Bureau's report summarized mother's child welfare and criminal history. Prior referrals about mother were made before K.P. was born. The Bureau received a set of related complaints in late 2010-early 2011, when K.C. was an infant and mother's oldest child had already been placed under the guardianship of the maternal grandmother. During that period, mother lived with the maternal great-grandmother and caused division among her family. Some characterized her as a manipulative drug addict, and others attempted to support her. These complaints, which included allegations that mother was bipolar, were combined into a single referral that was investigated but deemed unfounded. In 2013, another set of complaints was made about domestic violence between mother and the father of K.C.'s half-sibling K.L., who was an infant at the time. The Bureau substantiated complaints about K.L.'s father, but concluded that neglect allegations against mother were unfounded, and that she took appropriate action to protect her children. The Bureau also reported that mother's criminal record included multiple arrests for drug and theft related offenses, a 2010 conviction for being under the influence of a controlled substance, and a 2012 felony conviction for theft of an elder/dependent adult.

Regarding mother's current situation, the Bureau highlighted several concerns, including that she did not acknowledge the extent of her neglect of the girls, and that she would not make "herself available to the Bureau, which . . . made it difficult to provide her with the supportive services." Furthermore, she had missed some supervised visits and been late for others. When she did visit, mother did not have any filters with regard to information she shared with the girls, which upset K.C. Also, she was not able to attend to the needs of both girls simultaneously. Nevertheless, the Bureau recommended that the court order reunification services because if mother was willing to work with the social worker and a "Parent Partner," and to engage in the necessary supportive services, it was possible for her to reunify.

At a March 13 jurisdiction/disposition hearing, the court elevated Jason to presumed father status and sustained the jurisdiction allegations pertaining to him. By that time in the proceedings, Jason had stopped attending hearings. However, mother was present and the court ordered her to take a drug test. No results were obtained because she "missed the cup." The matter was continued for disposition.

On March 22, the girls were moved to a new foster care placement after the original foster parents requested a change due to "health concerns." The new foster parents reported that K.C. posed some behavior challenges, but they were utilizing support services and working with her to resolve them. K.P. had adjusted to the new placement and there were no reported concerns.

At an April 3 disposition hearing, the court adopted the Bureau's recommendation to adjudge K.P. and K.C. dependents. The court made other findings proposed by the Bureau, as modified by the court, including the adoption of a case plan affording reunification services to mother, the girls and both fathers. Mother's responsibilities included weekly supervised visits; individual counseling focused on the issues that led to the dependency; family counseling; a parenting class; and six months of random drug/alcohol testing. The drug testing requirement expressly stated that a "no show" would be considered a positive result. The court modified the drug testing requirement to provide that if mother had a positive test result "including" a no show result, she would be required to enter and successfully complete a substance abuse program approved by the Bureau.

Unlike Jason, mother did attend the disposition hearing, although she absented herself until after the court made its findings. The court made a note on its minute order that mother had been present before the hearing started, but left after learning she would be required to drug test. When mother finally returned to the courtroom, she was advised of her appeal rights, but "still did not test."

C. Six-Month Review

The six-month review for both girls was set for September 11. The Bureau recommended that the court terminate services to mother and both fathers and set a hearing to select a permanent plan for K.P. and K.C.

The Bureau reported that K.C. had been moved to an intensive treatment foster care placement, but that the goal was for the girls to be reunited and permanently placed together. In the meantime, K.C.'s placement was changed so she could secure more help adjusting to the social and learning environment at school. In addition, the girls were having problems getting along with each other due to competition for attention. In this regard, K.C. asked to be placed separately from K.P., stating "I'm going to hurt her if I stay here, and I don't want to do that." K.P., whose placement was not changed, was showing signs of developmental delay, struggling with social rules, and using tantrums and misbehavior to compete for attention.

Unfortunately, the change of placement did not help K.C. improve her behavior in the home. She had frequent tantrums and started making suicidal statements. These behaviors were attributed to mother's failure to maintain contact with her daughter. Indeed, K.C. stated that she wanted to commit suicide because mother did not love her.

Meanwhile, mother made minimal progress on her case plan. She failed to attend scheduled meetings and rejected outreach efforts from several different Bureau representatives, and she failed to follow up on multiple referrals for services. In late July, mother finally completed the intake process for individual psychotherapy and on August 2, she entered a residential program at Wollam House. However, she left the residential program on August 14 and did not attend any individual therapy sessions after that. Mother's therapist eventually removed her from his caseload after multiple attempts to contact her were unsuccessful.

With the exception of two negative drug tests at Wollam House, mother was listed as a "no show" for the other 16 required drug test during this reporting period. For part of this review period, mother made an effort to visit the girls, but she missed several visits because she failed to comply with the visitation agreement. Also, she was habitually late for visits, even when the Bureau provided her with door-to-door service.

After August 11, mother had no contact with the girls or the Bureau until the morning of the September 11 review hearing, when she met with the Bureau social worker. Mother stated that she was going to move to Oregon with her boyfriend and his family as soon as the review hearing was completed. The social worker cautioned mother that such a move would make reunification difficult.

At the September 11 hearing, mother contested the Bureau's recommendation, and the matter was continued to October 16 for a contest. After the hearing session was completed, mother attended a meeting with her attorney, the Bureau social worker assigned to her case, and the Parent Partner, who had been attempting to work with her throughout the case. Everybody urged mother to remain in the state and maintain contact with the Bureau.

Several days later, mother began corresponding with a Bureau case assistant via text messages. On September 22, she notified the Bureau she was homeless and waiting to get into a program. On October 4, she reported that she relocated to Tahoe and was trying to find a program. On October 10, she had a supervised visit with K.P. and a long telephone conversation with the social worker. Mother reported that the week after the September 11 hearing, she was invited into a program but did not accept because her boyfriend's family needed help with the move to Oregon. But after she did that work for them, her boyfriend withdrew his offer for her to move with them, physically assaulted her and stole her belongings. Mother said that she was done with unhealthy relationships and fully committed to reunifying with her girls. The social worker provided mother with several referrals and attempted to follow up a few days later. On October 13, mother texted a photo of her enrollment form in a parenting class that would begin on October 17.

At the October 16 contested hearing, mother's counsel objected to the termination of her reunification services as to both K.P. and K.C. He argued that mother had visited both girls, even though the visits were inconsistent. He acknowledged that mother had "not engaged in services as she had needed to," but pointed out that she was enrolled in a parenting class that would start the next day, and stated that she was "also going to engage in a substance abuse program." Counsel stated that mother had obtained services for herself in Tahoe and understood that she had to be consistent in utilizing those services so she could meet the needs of both girls. Finally, counsel argued that, in any event, services could not be terminated as to K.C. who was older than three on the date of removal because even minimal progress entitled mother to 12 months of services.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the juvenile court terminated mother's reunification services with respect to K.P. and scheduled a section 366.26 hearing in K.P.'s case, finding, among other things, that the Bureau provided or offered reasonable services; mother failed to participate in court-ordered treatment; and mother had made minimal progress toward alleviating or mitigating the causes necessitating placement of K.P. in foster care. The court determined that it could not adopt the recommendation to terminate mother's services with respect to K.C. because she was older and mother had made minimal progress entitling her to continued services until the 12-month review. However, the court opined that if it could have terminated services as to K.C., it would have because mother's neglect and other problems continued to have a devastating impact on her older daughter.

III. DISCUSSION

Mother contends that the juvenile court erred by finding that the Bureau provided her with reasonable reunification services. "We determine whether substantial evidence supports the trial court's finding, reviewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the prevailing party and indulging in all legitimate and reasonable inferences to uphold the court's ruling. [Citation.]" (Katie V. v. Superior Court (2005) 130 Cal.App.4th 586, 598; see also Amanda H. v. Superior Court (2008) 166 Cal.App.4th 1340, 1345 (Amanda H.).)

"The 'adequacy of reunification plans and the reasonableness of the [Bureau's] efforts are judged according to the circumstances of each case.' [Citation.] To support a finding reasonable services were offered or provided, 'the record should show that the supervising agency identified the problems leading to the loss of custody, offered services designed to remedy those problems, maintained reasonable contact with the parents during the course of the service plan, and made reasonable efforts to assist the parents in areas where compliance proved difficult . . . .' [Citation.] 'The standard is not whether the services provided were the best that might be provided in an ideal world, but whether the services were reasonable under the circumstances.' [Citation.]" (Tracy J. v. Superior Court (2012) 202 Cal.App.4th 1415, 1426, italics omitted; see also Amanda H., supra, 166 Cal.App.4th at p. 1345.)

Applying these principles, we affirm the finding that reasonable services were afforded to mother. K.P. was removed from her home because of extreme neglect, which was traceable to mother's personal problems and substance abuse. Mother's case plan was tailored to address these problems through individual counseling; family counseling, parenting education; substance abuse testing/treatment; and supervised visitation. All of these services were made available to mother, but she declined to participate in most of them, and did not fully engage in any service including visitation.

Mother contends that services offered to her were not reasonable because they were not tailored to address her mental health issues. Specifically, mother argues that (1) she was diagnosed as being bipolar in 2011; (2) the Bureau "acknowledged" that mother has mental health issues; and yet (3) the Bureau put the burden on this "mentally ill mother to obtain services" for herself by doing nothing beyond issuing a few referrals.

First, mother's contention that she was diagnosed with a mental illness is not supported by the record citation she provides; the cited reference is to a 2011 complaint about mother that included an allegation she was bipolar. As noted, the complaint was part of a referral that the Bureau closed because it could not be substantiated. Second, the social worker who prepared the six-month review report opined that mother has serious mental health issues, but she advised the court that it was not clear whether or how those issues impacted mother's ability to address the problems that led to the dependency precisely because mother failed to comply with her case plan. Indeed, the first requirement of that plan was for mother to participate in individual counseling. However, mother decided to stop seeing her psychotherapist after only three sessions. Finally, mother's assertion that the Bureau put the burden on her to get her own services is simply not consistent with the record evidence summarized above.

Mother insists that the reasonable services finding cannot be sustained because the record shows that mental illness was not the "focus" of her case plan. According to mother, controlling case law required the Bureau to make mother's mental illness the "starting point" of her reunification plan. As support for this argument, mother relies on In re Patricia W. (2016) 244 Cal.App.4th 397, 422 (Patricia W.). In that case, a mother began hearing voices for the first time in her life following the birth of her son. Initially she was diagnosed with postpartum depression but later she received a diagnosis of schizophrenia. (Id. at p. 402.) Mother's mental illness was the sole basis for removing her toddler from the home; mother had trouble managing her medications and father appeared to be in denial about the seriousness of mother's condition. (Id. at pp. 402-403.) Under those circumstances, a reunification plan that was not tailored to address mother's mental illness was deemed inadequate. (Id. at pp. 420-424.)

In the present case, K.P. was removed from mother due to extreme neglect and a dangerous living environment, not because mother suffers from schizophrenia or a diagnosed mental illness of any kind. Furthermore, while mother may struggle with her mental health, her documented history is of illegal substance abuse, which mother refused to address. Finally, as just discussed, mother was afforded individual counseling to address her mental health problems but she decided not to participate in that service either. Thus, in contrast to Patricia W. and other cases cited in the writ petition, mother's case plan was tailored to address the problems that led to this dependency.

IV. DISPOSITION

The petition for extraordinary relief is denied on the merits. Our decision is final as to this court immediately. (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 8.490(b)(2)(A).)

/s/_________

RUVOLO, P. J. We concur: /s/_________
REARDON, J. /s/_________
STREETER, J.