Dependency Jurisdiction Termination in California

The trial court in In re Holly H. (2002) 104 Cal.App.4th 1324 terminated dependency jurisdiction over Holly. (Holly H., supra, 104 Cal.App.4th at p. 1329.) Holly had not appeared at the hearing, but her counsel argued dependency should not be terminated because there was a continuing risk of harm. Social Services Agency (SSA) presented evidence it had made many attempts to help Holly, but she had not taken advantage of any of these services. In making its ruling, the court stated, "'she fails to meet the department halfway. I just don't see the department can do any more. . . .'" (Ibid.) In Holly H., the appellate court found no abuse of discretion. "Despite her attorney's arguments to the contrary, Holly has given every indication that she does not want the assistance of the juvenile dependency system. Through her attorney, Holly argues that the court abused its discretion by dismissing the petition since there was evidence that she 'still needs the supervision, care and protection of the juvenile court.' She points out that she has been separated from her siblings for years, and has moved from placement to placement with no hope for stability since her grandmother became too ill to care for her when she was 13. While she graduated from high school, it is undisputed that she has a serious learning disability. She has consistently failed to demonstrate that she is able to hold a job or even to complete job training. She has shown no ability to manage her finances, using the small amount of Social Security benefits that she was awarded as a result of her father's untimely death to move out of her group home. Her school counselor noted that she had 'no savings, no plan for where to live or how to provide for herself and I am afraid that she will end up on the streets when she graduates. . . .' "Although one may reasonably conclude that these facts demonstrate a continued need for assistance, Holly has repeatedly refused to take advantage of services that have been offered to her. She failed to appear for an evaluation that might have allowed her to receive income from SSI; she failed to report for a job that the department helped to secure for her; and as just noted she left her group home when she began receiving a very small, limited-term income as the result of her father's death. Holly's continued participation in the juvenile dependency system cannot reasonably be expected to prevent any future harm when she has effectively rejected nearly all offers of assistance from the department. Moreover, Holly has not been charged with committing a crime, and there is no suggestion that she is subject to commitment under section 5150. Now that she has reached the age of majority and has acquired the rights and responsibilities that come with adulthood, the court may not, and should not, force her to accept its services. The trial court properly considered Holly's unwillingness to utilize the services that had been offered to her in deciding to terminate its jurisdiction." (Holly H., supra, 104 Cal.App.4th at p. 1337.) The more recent case, In re Tamika C. (2005) 131 Cal.App.4th 1153 (Tamika C.), involved a 19-year-old girl, Tamika, who was accepting services, but still struggling to make the transition to adulthood. Unlike the college bound student in Robert L., Tamika was still in high school and attended RSP classes. She was utilizing all the services available to her. In terminating jurisdiction, the trial court relied on the fact Tamika's caretakers stated they were willing to offer her a stable home for as long as she wanted. The appellate court disagreed, concluding, "This is certainly a generous offer by her caretakers, but they are not bound by their statements and if they change their minds or something unforeseen should happen to change their circumstances, Tamika could easily end up without a home while she is still in high school. The trial court abused its discretion when it terminated dependency over Tamika. It was in the best interests of Tamika for the juvenile court to retain jurisdiction over her. There was an existing and reasonably foreseeable threat of harm to Tamika if she was not allowed to remain a dependent of the court while she finished her high school education under a normal schedule." (Id. at p. 1168.) In addition, the appellate court concluded the trial court had "erred in applying the wrong burden of proof to the question of whether dependency should be terminated at the request of the department. Neither the department nor the court gave consideration to the best interests of the child. . . . The department and the court erroneously misplaced the emphasis in the proceedings from Tamika's best interests to financial considerations." (Tamika C., supra, 131 Cal.App.4th at p. 1168.)