Persons Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. L. A. Cnty. Dep't of Children v. A.T. (In re J.S.)

Decision Date02 March 2021
Docket NumberB301715
Citation276 Cal.Rptr.3d 876,62 Cal.App.5th 678
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
Parties IN RE J.S. et al., Persons Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. A.T., Defendant and Appellant.

Certified for Partial Publication.*

Judy Weissberg-Ortiz, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, Orange, for Defendant and Appellant.

Mary C. Wickham, County Counsel, Kristine P. Miles, Assistant County Counsel, and Kim Nemoy, Principal Deputy County Counsel for Plaintiff and Respondent.

DILLON, J.**

INTRODUCTION

A.T. (Mother) appeals from the juvenile court's jurisdiction findings and disposition orders declaring her 16-year-old daughter J.S. and her 12-year-old son M.S. dependents of the court pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code 1 section 300 and removing J.S. and M.S. from her custody under section 361, subdivision (c). Mother contends the evidence was insufficient to support the jurisdiction findings and removal orders. Mother also contends the juvenile court and the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (Department) did not comply with the inquiry and notice requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) ( 25 U.S.C. § 1901 et seq. ) and related California law. In the published portion of this opinion, we hold the Department conducted an appropriate further inquiry, as required by section 224.2, subdivision (e), and California Rules of Court, rule 5.481(a)(4), into the children's possible status as Indian children, including with respect to the paternal relatives’ ancestry.com results showing "Native American" ethnic origin. In the unpublished portion, we conclude substantial evidence supported the jurisdiction findings and removal orders. Therefore, we affirm.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Mother and M.S., Sr. (Father) are the parents of J.S. and M.S. Mother also has an adult daughter from a prior relationship.

A.-D.***
Unpublished Text Follows

In June 2006, the juvenile court sustained a dependency petition on behalf of J.S. and A.T. finding that Mother had "placed [A.T.] in a detrimental and endangering situation in that [Mother] caused [A.T.] to accompany [Mother] while [Mother] committed the crime of theft." The juvenile court also found that Mother had "a history of substance abuse and [was] a current user of alcohol, including DUI's which render[ed] [Mother] incapable of providing regular care and supervision for the children." The juvenile court further found that Mother and Father "have a history of engaging in violent altercations in the presence of [A.T.]." The juvenile court declared A.T. and J.S. dependents of the court and removed them from their parents’ custody. In April 2008, the juvenile court terminated Mother's family reunification services. In November 2008, Mother agreed to a "non-court case" for newborn M.S. In January 2009, the juvenile court granted Mother's section 388 petition and ordered the children returned to Mother. The court also ordered the Department to provide family maintenance services. In June 2009, the juvenile court closed the voluntary case for M.S. because "[Mother's] family situation stabilized." In August 2009, the juvenile court terminated jurisdiction over A.T. and J.S. and released the children to Mother.

On October 31, 2018, the Department received a referral alleging Mother and her boyfriend Robert neglected and emotionally abused M.S. According to the referral, with M.S. in their vehicle, Mother and Robert stole a mail package from a residence. The police stopped the vehicle and arrested Mother and Robert. Although the police did not find drugs or alcohol in the vehicle, there was "a digital scale was found in the front passenger seat where [M.S.] was sitting." The police charged Mother and Robert with child endangerment (felony) and package theft (felony). The police released M.S. to Leticia C., the maternal grandmother. J.S. was living with maternal grandfather Ernest T. and maternal step-grandmother Beatrice T. According to the Department, Mother "agreed and admitted that the children are better off in the care of her family." Although the Department found the general neglect allegation to be "substantiated," the Department submitted the referral for "closure" because "the family had made an appropriate plan and the children are safe."

B. Current Dependency Proceeding

1. June 2019 Incident and the Department's Investigation

On June 13, 2019, the Department received a referral alleging that Mother and M.S. were "homeless and currently residing" in a motel and that Mother and Robert used "crack" cocaine in M.S.’s presence. According to the referral, while visiting the motel room, J.S. "witnessed [M.S.] alone in the motel room in the presence of drug paraphernalia including pipes." According to the referral, "[Robert] was heard yelling at the top of his lungs at [M.S.].... Mother [was] allegedly verbally abusive towards [M.S.]. Mother may have mental health concerns and [she] stated that people are spying on her." At the time of the referral, J.S. continued to live with Ernest and Beatrice.

On June 18, 2019, Leticia told the Department that M.S. had lived with her for about six months while Mother was incarcerated. Upon Mother's release from jail, Leticia returned M.S. to Mother. Leticia reported Mother had told her that M.S. "was misbehaving and having tantrums since his return to [Mother's] care." When speaking with Mother, Leticia heard M.S. yelling in the background that Mother "was using crack." Although Leticia stated Mother was "mentally unhinged," she did not know Mother's diagnosis. Leticia reported that J.S. had "found [M.S.] in the room alone and drug paraphernalia around the room, such as, crack pipes."

The Department and police officers made an unannounced visit to Mother's motel room. After the police asked Mother for identification, Mother became "visibly upset" and stated to M.S., "[S]ee what you have done. You see what happens." Mother told the Department that, after M.S. overheard a conversation in which a man at the motel was "accusing residents of dealing drugs and knocking on doors," M.S. "went outside yelling [that Mother] was dealing drugs." Mother reported "since they have been homeless [M.S.] has not gone to school." The social worker observed M.S. to be in good health with no visible marks or bruises.

Mother reported that she felt frustrated because she knew Leticia had made the referral to the Department and that Leticia did not like Robert and caused problems for her and Robert. Mother "denied all allegations of drug use, Robert yelling at [M.S.], and [M.S.] being left alone" in the motel. Mother stated that "she was not willing to drug test as she has gone through this before." The social worker "informed [M]other again since the allegations were new we needed a new drug test and it was a red flag she was not willing to submit a drug test." Mother stated "it should not be a red flag her unwillingness to drug test."

After Mother told the Department she was bipolar, Mother stated she had been prescribed medication for the disorder, but she needed to have the prescription refilled. Mother reported that M.S. "has been acting out" and that she would take M.S. to see a therapist. In response to the social worker's inquiry about where Robert was living, Mother responded that she and Robert "were not together." However, the social worker observed "a tool box and men's boots" and "a men's pair of shorts" in the room. Mother denied domestic violence in any of her relationships. Although Mother told the Department "she did not have a personal telephone," the social worker saw "a cell phone sitting on the bathroom sink counter charging."

After the Department made many attempts to contact Mother through the motel's office, on June 26 when the Department made an unannounced visit to Mother's motel room, Mother reported that the social worker "had just missed [M.S.] acting out." The Department observed that Mother "had a cell phone in her hand" and that Robert was present. During an interview with the Department, Robert reported that he drank alcohol and smoked marijuana previously, but "denied using substances now." When asked if he would drug test, Robert replied he had "drug tested for a past [Department] referral and did not feel he should do so again." Robert stated that, during a 2008 dependency proceeding involving his three-year-old daughter, Robert "was incarcerated and attempted to get his daughter back." However, while his daughter was in the care of a foster parent, his daughter died in a car accident. Mother "reported this is why we have a bad taste in our mouths regarding [the Department]." In response to the Department's request, Mother again declined to drug test.

On July 10, 2019, Mother told the Department that "she [was] a victim of domestic violence and had mental health" issues. Mother reported that there was a domestic violence incident between her and Robert about one year ago. Mother admitted that she argued with Robert "over financial matters." Mother reported that she had scheduled a mental health appointment for M.S., but they "missed it." Mother inquired "about options of opening a non-court case with the Department" and "reported she did not have a problem drug testing, but that she was busy today and could not go today." Mother reported J.S. stopped visiting her and "has been upset with [Mother] for unknown reasons." Mother also reported that she planned to take M.S. to see a doctor and that M.S. "will start school at a nearby school instead of going to his previous school in El Monte."

M.S. told the Department "[h]e felt safe in [Mother's] care." M.S. stated that Mother and Robert argued and that he did "not know what they argue about." M.S. reported that Mother "disciplined" him by hitting "him with a belt or hanger" and that Mother last hit him during...

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