California Welfare and Institutions Code (WIC) Section 355.1(d) - Interpretation

In In re P.A. (2006) 144 Cal.App.4th 1339, a father's conduct in sexually molesting his nine-year-old daughter was held to support the juvenile court's finding that the victim's younger brothers were also at risk of sexual abuse. (Id. at pp. 1345-1347.) The sexual abuse consisted of touching the daughter's vagina under her clothes, but on top of her underwear. (Id. at p. 1342.) While the court in P.A. did not have before it a case in which there had been findings at a prior dependency court hearing, Division Three nevertheless concluded that section 355.1 evinced a legislative determination that "siblings of sexually abused children are at substantial risk of harm and are entitled to protection by the juvenile courts." (Ibid.) The Court upheld a finding of jurisdiction over male children, where the evidence established only that the father twice improperly touched his 9-year old daughter. The juvenile court had concluded that the two younger boys in the household were at risk because they were approaching the age of the victim and the father had access to them. (Id. at p. 1345.) The court of appeal affirmed, persuaded that "where, as here, a child has been sexually abused, any younger sibling who is approaching the age at which the child was abused, may be found to be at risk of sexual abuse." (Id. at p. 1347.) The court found support for its determination in section 355.1, subdivision (d), which provides in pertinent part: "'(d) Where the court finds that either a parent, a guardian, or any other person who resides with . . . a minor who is currently the subject of the petition filed under Section 300 . . . (3) has been found in a prior dependency hearing . . . to have committed an act of sexual abuse, . . . that finding shall be prima facie evidence in any proceeding that the subject minor is a person described by subdivision (a), (b), (c), or (d) of Section 300 and is at substantial risk of abuse or neglect. the prima facie evidence constitutes a presumption affecting the burden of producing evidence.'" Acknowledging that section 355.1, subdivision (d), had not been triggered "because there was no prior dependency proceeding at the time of the [underlying] jurisdictional hearing," the court nonetheless concluded that the provision "evinces a legislative determination that siblings of sexually abused children are at substantial risk of harm and are entitled to protection by the juvenile courts." (In re P.A., supra, 144 Cal.App.4th at p. 1347.)