Dependency Petition Landmark Cases in California

In In re Amber M. (2002) 103 Cal.App.4th 681, dependency petitions were filed on behalf of two girls and a boy because their substance-abusing mother left the younger daughter alone in a bath when she was seven months old. The girls were placed with their grandmother, and the boy was placed with his grandfather. Both grandparents expressed the wish to adopt. Mother filed a section 388 petition more than two years after her children were out of her care, other than a 60-day trial visit with her son when he was a toddler. At the time of the section 388 hearing, mother was living in a drug rehabilitation home that would not accommodate children, and the waiting time for a home that would accommodate the children was up to 90 days. (103 Cal.App.4th at pp. 684-687.) "Examining the evidence in the light most favorable to the judgment, we conclude that not only did Mother maintain regular visitation and contact, but she also met her burden of showing a beneficial relationship. " (In re Amber M., supra, 103 Cal.App.4th at p. 689.) It was noted that the oldest daughter spent about five of her seven years with her mother, the son had spent more than half of his nearly five years of his life with his mother, and the youngest daughter spent most of her three years of life away from her mother. The two oldest children loved and missed their mother, called her "mom" and were found to be strongly attached to her. Even the youngest daughter was found to be strongly attached to her mother. (Id. at pp. 689-690.) "Mother visited as often as she was allowed and acted in a loving, parental role with the children when permitted visitation. She was devoted to them and did virtually all that was asked of her to regain custody. The social worker, the only dissenting voice among the experts, provided no more than a perfunctory evaluation of Mother's relationship to the children, instead focusing on her current inability to provide a home for them and on the suitability of the current placements, perhaps swayed by both grandparents' qualifications and willingness to adopt and their refusal to consider guardianship or any other permanent plan. Admittedly, at the time of the section 366.26 hearing, Mother was not ready for the children's return to her custody. Neither that fact, however, nor the suitability of the grandparents' homes can justify the termination of parental rights. If the proposed adoptions proceed, the three children will be adopted in two separate groups, and the maintenance of mother-child and sibling relationships will depend solely on both grandparents' continued goodwill." (In re Amber M., supra, 103 Cal.App.4th at pp. 690-691.) In n re Jerome D. (2000) 84 Cal.App.4th 1200, a six-year-old boy became the subject of a dependency petition after he received a large burn in the shape of an iron on his behind. His two younger half-siblings' father, who was an ex-boyfriend of mother, reported to police that mother intentionally burned the boy, and she was later convicted of child abuse. (84 Cal.App.4th at p. 1203.) The half-siblings' father, with whom the boy was placed, applied to adopt him. (Id. at pp. 1203, 1205.) But the boy had a close parental relationship with his mother, and she maintained regular visitation. (Id. at pp. 1205-1206.) The boy's counsel's investigator testified that when she visited him in his half-siblings' home, he seemed lonely, sad and "the odd child out." The boy said he spent little time with his half-siblings' father, and he smiled when he said he wanted to live with his mother. The investigator and the legal intern of the boy's attorney both testified that at mother's home, the boy looked happy. (Id. at pp. 1206-1207.) "Examining the evidence in the light most favorable to the judgment, we conclude there is insufficient evidence to support the determination that Mother did not meet her burden of showing a beneficial relationship. At the time of the section 366.26 hearing, Jerome was nearly nine years old. He had lived with Mother for the first six and one-half years of his life and expressed his wish to live with her again. For at least two months, he had been having unsupervised overnight visits in her home. He called her 'mom' or 'mommy.' There was apparently no woman in his life other than Mother with whom he had a beneficial relationship." (In re Jerome D., supra, 84 Cal.App.4th at p. 1207.)