California Welfare and Institutions Code (WIC) section 361.3 - Interpretation

In re Joseph T. (2008) 163 Cal.App.4th 787, determined the scope of section 361.3, subdivision (d). In that case, the juvenile court denied placement of an older child with his paternal aunt at the six-month status review hearing. The child's father appealed. the court rejected social services' contention 361.3, subdivision (d), eliminated the relative placement preference once the dispositional phase is completed except when the court was required to change the child's placement. (Id. at p. 794.) Section 361.3, subdivision (d), states in relevant part: "Subsequent to the hearing conducted pursuant to section 358 the dispositional hearing, whenever a new placement of the child must be made, consideration for placement shall again be given as described in this section to relatives who have not been found to be unsuitable and who will fulfill the child's reunification or permanent plan requirements." The court in Joseph T., reasoned: "The plain language of subdivision (d) states that when a 'new placement' is required the procedures 'described in this section' must be followed in the same way as when there is an initial placement, including the affirmative duty of the court, under subdivision (a) of section 361.3, to order the parents to disclose the names and pertinent family information of relatives and the obligation of the social worker to follow through on that information, contact all the relatives whose names have been provided, and evaluate those relatives desiring placement. ( 361.3, subd. (a).) In contrast, at least through the reunification period, when a relative voluntarily comes forward at a time when a new placement is not required the relative is entitled to the preference and the court and the social worker are obligated to evaluate that relative (but the court need not again order the parents to disclose other possible relative placements)." (Id. at p. 794.) Accordingly, "during the reunification period, the preference applies regardless of whether a new placement is required or is otherwise being considered by the dependency court." (Joseph T., supra, 163 Cal.App.4th at p. 795.) After the reunification period has ended, the preference applies when a new placement is required. (Ibid.) In both situations, the overriding inquiry is whether the change in placement is in the child's best interests. (See In re Stephanie M. (1994) 7 Cal.4th 295, 320-321.)