In Re G.D. Et Al., E050875

CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
Writing for the CourtHOLLENHORST Acting P. J.
Decision Date21 January 2011
PartiesIn re G.D. et al., Persons Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. RIVERSIDE COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SOCIAL SERVICES, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. M.M., Defendant and Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. SWJ001007,E050875

In re G.D. et al., Persons Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law.
RIVERSIDE COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC
SOCIAL SERVICES, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
M.M., Defendant and Appellant.

E050875
No.
SWJ001007

COURT OF APPEAL OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA
FOURTH APPELLATE DISTRICT
DIVISION TWO

Filed: January 21, 2011


NOT TO BE PUBLISHED IN OFFICIAL REPORTS

California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.

OPINION

APPEAL from the Superior Court of Riverside County. Michael J. Rushton, Judge. Affirmed.

Diana W. Prince, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.

Pamela J. Walls, County Counsel, and Anna M. Deckert, Deputy County Counsel, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

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I. INTRODUCTION

In this child dependency proceeding, we are called upon to determine whether the juvenile court abused its discretion in denying reunification services. We conclude the juvenile court considered all the relevant factors in determining the children's best interests pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code1 section 361.5, subdivision (c), and we uphold its finding that providing reunification services here would not serve that interest.

II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The dependency proceedings in this case involve appellant M.M. (Mother) and her four children, G.D., age 12; A.D., age 11; C.N., age six; and X.N., age four. R.D. (not a party to this appeal) is the father of G.D. and A.D. and the stepfather of C.N. and X.N. In December 2009 the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services (Department) filed a petition alleging C.N. had suffered serious physical harm (§ 300, subd. (a)), the other children were at risk of child abuse (§ 300, subd. (j.)), and all the children were at risk because of Mother's and R.D.'s failure to protect (§ 300, subd. (b)).

This is the second time the juvenile court has established jurisdiction over Mother's children. The first time was in 2002, when the court sustained allegations against Mother under section 300, subdivisions (b) and (f), finding she had negligently caused the death of her then infant child, Y.N., by her failure to follow medical directives. After an initial period of court-ordered reunification services, including anger

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management, parenting education, counseling for Mother, and parenting education and a domestic violence program for R.D., the court awarded joint custody to both parents, with primary physical custody to R.D. and visitation for Mother. The dependency was terminated following the filing of family law orders.

The incidents leading up to the current proceedings occurred in December 2009, when the Department received a report that Mother had hit C.N. in the face with a studded leather belt, which left a one inch long by one inch wide reddish-purple mark on the side of his face.

C.N. told a social worker that Mother frequently hit him with a belt. C.N. also told the social worker that he had seen Mother threaten R.D. with a knife. Another time, Mother had punched R.D., giving him a black eye, because he was drunk.

G.D. told the social worker that Mother often used a belt to hit the children and had knocked the children's heads together when they misbehaved. G.D. frequently witnessed her parents fighting and at times felt that she should call the police to intervene. A.D. also said he witnessed numerous domestic violent episodes between his parents. He stated that Mother hit C.N. with a belt and occasionally hit X.N. with a belt as well.

A physician's examination supported C.N.'s account of the incident and confirmed the bruises on C.N.'s body were consistent with injuries inflicted with a belt.

In early December 2009, the Department removed the children from Mother's and R.D.'s custody, and the juvenile court found that probable cause supported their detention.

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The Department filed a jurisdiction/disposition report in late December 2009. In the report, the Department recommended denying reunification services to Mother pursuant to section 361.5, subdivision (b)(4), which states that reunification need not be provided when the court finds the parent has caused the death of another child—in this case, Y.N.—through abuse or neglect.

To support its allegations of physical abuse, the report included the children's statements taken after they were removed from Mother's custody. G.D. reported she was afraid when her mother lost her temper; Mother frequently called her derogatory and explicit names; both Mother and R.D. commonly used profanity around the children; R.D. drank heavily and became violent when drunk; and that Mother often slapped her in the face when she did not do her housework or talked back. A.D. stated that, although he loved his mother, she hurt the children and left bruises when she hit them with a belt, and that he was "a little scared" when he saw his parents fight. C.N. reported that if he had three wishes, one would be that Mother and R.D. would stop hitting him. He stated that when he witnessed his mother chasing R.D. with a knife, he hid under the table and was afraid Mother would kill him, and that Mother and R.D. frequently hit him all over his body and head.

In January and February 2010, the Department filed addendum reports. The January report stated Mother had visited the children and regularly spoke to them over the telephone. Mother had also enrolled in parenting and anger management classes and was on a waiting list for counseling. In the February report, the three eldest children stated that, although they enjoyed visiting their parents, they still did not feel safe

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returning to Mother's home. G.D. did not feel safe being placed in their maternal great-grandmother's home, where Mother would have unfettered access to them. G.D. said: "Really I don't believe that they will stop hurting us. They will take the classes and do what you tell them to do, but they won't learn anything.... Because they did everything before [after Y.N.'s death] and we are still being hit.... This is why I really don't know if Grandma Thelma can protect us from them."

At the contested jurisdiction hearing in late February 2010, the juvenile court sustained the allegations under section 300, subdivisions (a), (b), (g), 2 and (j) in the amended petition.

In March 2010, the court commenced the contested disposition hearing, and all of the Department's reports were admitted into evidence. The court took judicial notice that in 2002 the juvenile court had sustained an allegation that Mother had caused her child's death through abuse or neglect, pursuant to section 300, subdivision (f).

Both parties submitted to stipulated testimony that the children loved their mother and wanted her to have a second chance. The visitation monitor testified that she had taken the children to visit Mother and R.D. about eight times, and the children were always excited to see them. The social worker testified and confirmed what was in her reports: Although G.D. loved her parents, she was doubtful about whether they would alter their abusive behavior; A.D. was concerned about Mother yelling at him and hitting him; C.N. stated he was afraid of being hit and wanted to go live with his father.

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Mother's counsel conceded that the juvenile court could deny reunification services but requested reunification, because Mother believed it was in the "best interest" of her children pursuant to section 361.5, subdivision (c).

The juvenile court denied Mother reunification services. It stated: "I believe that it would not be appropriate, given [section 361.5, subd.] (b)(4), for the Court to grant the mother additional services when she has been through such a horrific and tragic event involving another child, she has been given services and an opportunity to improve her life, and she did not take advantage of those. Her parenting did not improve, and she has now subjected these children to the particular kind of terror that they have had to live through, so I will not be giving her services in this matter."

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

We do not disturb the juvenile court's determination that reunification services do not best serve the children's interests under section 361.5, subdivision (c), absent an abuse of discretion. Moreover, as long as there is substantial evidence to support the juvenile court's findings—upon which it based its best interests determination—we will not sustain an allegation challenging the sufficiency of evidence supporting those findings. (In re Ethan N. (2004) 122 Cal.App.4th 55, 64-65 (Ethan N.) [the parent has the burden of showing, by clear and convincing evidence, that reunification is in the best interests of the child]; § 361.5, subd. (c); In re William B. (2008) 163 Cal.App.4th 1220, 1227 (William B.).)

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IV. DISCUSSION

The Welfare and Institutions Code reflects a strong policy favoring the maintenance of family relationships. (Ethan N., supra, 122 Cal.App.4th at p. 63.) For this reason, section 361.5, subdivision (a) directs the juvenile court to order...

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