Meranda P., In re

Citation56 Cal.App.4th 1143,65 Cal.Rptr.2d 913
Decision Date29 July 1997
Docket NumberF027095,Nos. F026419,s. F026419
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
Parties, 97 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 6024, 97 Daily Journal D.A.R. 9853 In re MERANDA P., a Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. STANISLAUS COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. NOELINE P., Defendant and Appellant. In re NOELINE P., on Habeas Corpus.
OPINION

DIBIASO, Acting Presiding Justice.

By appeal and by petition for writ of habeas corpus, Noeline P. ("the mother") challenges the order terminating her parental rights (Welf. & Inst.Code, § 366.26) to her daughter, Meranda P. 1 On her appeal and in her petition, the mother contends the termination order was wrongly entered because it was the inevitable product of a collection of erroneous orders--detention, jurisdiction, disposition and review--that preceded it. According to the mother, when the superior court made each of these prior orders she was either wrongly denied counsel or was incompetently represented by appointed counsel. We will conclude the mother is barred from raising, by her appeal, the propriety of the orders antedating the termination order and from collaterally attacking, by her petition for writ of habeas corpus, the termination order or the orders antecedent to it. We will therefore affirm the juvenile court's termination order and deny the mother's habeas corpus petition. We will also decline the mother's request that we treat her appeal as a petition for extraordinary relief.

I.

In September 1994, the Stanislaus County Superior Court, sitting as the juvenile court, adjudged Meranda, born June 5, 1994, a juvenile dependent under section 361. The mother was unrepresented by counsel at the detention hearing and thereafter throughout the first 12 months of the reunification period; she had informed the court at the initial detention hearing that she did not want counsel.

The mother was a teenager with a history of substance abuse. Both she and Meranda had tested positive for methamphetamine when Meranda was born. At the September 1994 dispositional hearing, the court ordered Meranda removed from parental custody and approved a reunification plan for the child's parents. The reunification plan focused on the mother's substance abuse. It required her to: (1) complete a substance abuse evaluation and follow the recommendations of the counselor; (2) submit to drug testing on a random basis, as required by the substance abuse program; and (3) attend "NA/AA" meetings as required by the substance program. The plan also addressed the mother's need to provide a clean, healthy, and safe home for Meranda; the mother was to cooperate with a teaching homemaker and to attend and successfully complete a parenting program.

Between the dispositional hearing and the six-month review hearing (§ 366.21, subd. (e)), the mother had not maintained contact with her social worker, kept the social worker apprised of her whereabouts, or begun any reunification program. In addition, the mother infrequently visited with Meranda, even though weekly visits were authorized. When she did visit with the child she refused to hold the baby or pay attention to her needs or well-being. The mother did not personally attend the review hearing.

At the six-month review hearing, the juvenile court found that (1) reasonable services had been offered and made available but neither parent had satisfied the reunification plan, and (2) return of Meranda to either of her parents would pose a substantial risk of detriment to the child. The juvenile court therefore continued Meranda's out-of-home placement with her paternal grandparents and the provision of reunification services to the parents.

During the second six-month period, the mother gave birth to another child. While pregnant with this child, the mother appeared for an assessment appointment at the First Step Perinatal Substance Abuse Program. She attended some of the orientation groups offered by the Program, but appeared resistant to services. In April 1995, First Step dismissed the mother from the program because of her spotty attendance and apparent unwillingness to fully participate.

The mother did little else to comply with the reunification plan, and she made no serious effort to establish a parental bond with Meranda. No social worker had any contact with the mother until a few weeks before the 12-month review hearing. The parents' whereabouts had been unknown for the majority of the preceding year. The parents were reported to have said that if Meranda could not be with them, then they would rather she be with the paternal grandparents.

On the day of the 12-month review hearing, the department of social services took Meranda's infant brother into protective custody due to an apparent lack of proper medical care. The department also recommended that the court terminate services with respect to Meranda and refer her case for permanency planning. The mother attended the hearing and asked the court to extend her additional time for reunification and drug rehabilitation.

The court took the matter under submission pending the detention hearing in the dependency proceeding involving the mother's newborn son. At the August 11, 1995, detention hearing in that second proceeding, the mother said she wanted a court-appointed lawyer. The court appointed counsel for the mother in both proceedings. It also ordered another six months of reunification services with respect to Meranda.

During the last six months of reunification, the mother reappeared at the First Step program and attended a few orientation groups between August and early October 1995. According to the program administrators, the mother seemed isolated, withdrawn and unmotivated. She did not participate in the services nor did she appear to have any insight into the consequences of her behavior. The program recommended to a social worker that the mother enter a residential treatment facility for teen substance abusers. The paternal grandmother obtained information for the mother about a nearby center which offered such services, but the mother was not interested in enrolling.

In January 1996, the mother was assessed for the Reality Program, a 28-day in-patient substance abuse program. She failed to qualify, however, because she denied she had a drug or alcohol problem. The mother did nothing else to further reunification. She saw Meranda on approximately 10 occasions after the last court hearing; with the exception of a Christmas visit, the mother usually stayed 10 minutes or less.

At the 18-month review hearing the mother testified she was willing to enter the Reality Program. She understood that before she could be re-evaluated for Reality, she would have to attend a series of "NA" ("Narcotics Anonymous") meetings. She said she wanted "a fighting chance" to regain custody of Meranda and appreciated the need to deal with her substance abuse. When asked why she waited so long to accept treatment, the mother blamed: (1) the Reality program because it would not accept her until she turned 18; (2) her husband because he had not shared with her certain information her mother-in-law had obtained about the residential treatment program for teenagers; and (3) the teacher at First Step who, according to the mother, did not like her.

The court found: (1) the mother had received reasonable services but had made only minimal progress towards reunification; and (2) return of Meranda to parental custody would create a substantial risk of detriment to the child's physical and emotional well- being. The court therefore terminated reunification services and set the matter for a section 366.26 hearing (.26 hearing) in May 1996. The court also gave the mother notice of her right to seek writ review of these orders.

At the .26 hearing, it was undisputed that Meranda was adoptable and that her paternal grandparents wished to adopt her. The mother testified she had occasionally visited with Meranda and expressed her opposition to the selection of a permanent plan of adoption. The mother's counsel urged the court to select guardianship over adoption as the permanent plan, based on the mother's recent efforts to rehabilitate herself.

The court terminated the mother's parental rights to Meranda, finding by clear and convincing evidence that Meranda was adoptable and that the severance of the mother's rights would not be detrimental to the child.

The mother filed a timely notice of appeal in June 1996. On November 1, 1996, the mother filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus.

II.
A.

Dependency appeals are governed by section 395, which provides in relevant part:

"A judgment in a proceeding under Section 300 may be appealed from in the same manner as any final judgment, and any subsequent order may be appealed from as from an order after judgment; but no such order or judgment shall be stayed by the appeal, unless, pending the appeal, suitable provision is made for the maintenance, care, and custody of the person alleged or found to come within the provisions of Section 300, and unless the provision is approved by an order of the juvenile court. The appeal shall have precedence over all other cases in the court to which the appeal is taken."

This statute makes the dispositional order in a dependency proceeding the appealable "judgment." (In re Eli F. (1989) 212 Cal.App.3d 228, 233, 260 Cal.Rptr. 453.) Therefore, all subsequent orders are directly appealable without limitation, except for post-1994 orders setting a .26 hearing when the circumstances specified in section 366.26, subdivision (l ), exist. (In re Edward H. (1996) 43 Cal.App.4th...

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