California Welfare and Institutions Code (WIC) section 366.22 - interpretation

In Denny H. v. Superior Court (2005) 131 Cal.App.4th 1501, a 12-month review hearing had been continued several times, and eventually took place more than 18 months after the children there had been removed from parental custody. The Court of Appeal concluded that the 12-month hearing should be treated as an 18-month permanency review hearing. (Id. at pp. 1508-1509.) The court in Denny H. went on to reject the father's contention that he had not been provided reasonable services, stating: "At the critical juncture of the 18-month hearing, the authority of the juvenile court to set a section 366.26 hearing is not conditioned on a reasonable services finding. In mandatory, unequivocal terms, Welfare and Institutions Code section 366.22, subdivision (a) states that if the minor is not returned to parental custody at the 18-month review, 'the court shall order that a hearing be held pursuant to Section 366.26 . . . ." (Denny H., supra, 131 Cal.App.4th at p. 1511.) Even if the court finds reasonable reunification services have not been provided, section 366.22, subdivision (a) does not prohibit it from ordering a .26 hearing. (Denny H., at p. 1511) In In re Ramone R. (2005) 132 Cal.App.4th 1339, the reviewing court also reversed an adoptability finding for a minor whose "behavioral difficulties were well-documented." (Id. at p. 1352.) That court noted, among other things, that the assessment was incomplete as to the only identified prospective adoptive parent--a relative who had never before cared for the minor and whose commitment consisted of a statement that she was "open to adoption 'if the father was okay with it.'" (Id. at pp. 1346, 1351-1352.) Clearly the "assessment" to which that court referred was similarly nothing more than the preliminary assessment required under section 366.22, subdivision (c)(1)(D).