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Name: In re A.E.
Case #: E070578
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 08/21/2009

Court abused its discretion by ordering reunification services where there was no evidence that services would be in minors’ best interest. The six minors, who were adopted by mother and father, were detained after one of the minors, A.E., was seen at a hospital for a skull fracture. The minors said that mother had disciplined A.E. by throwing him at a wall. The minors said that they were disciplined by being thrown at the walls or on the floor, and that parents spanked them with a wooden spoon or hit them. Section 300(a) and (j) petitions were sustained as to all the minors, and the court also found true allegations under subdivision (e) for A.E. The minors were removed from the parents. The juvenile court found the reunification bypass provision under section 361.5 (b)(5) applied as to A.E., and section 361.5(b)(6) applied as to the other minors. However, the court stated that the minors had been to many homes before they were adopted by mother and father, that they were special needs children, and that they were positively attached to the parents. It found therefore that it would be in the minors’ best interest to offer reunification services to the parents, and that the minors could safely be returned within 12 months. The minors appealed, contending that the record did not support a finding that reunification would be in their best interest, or that services would likely prevent reabuse. The appellate court agreed, finding that the juvenile court abused its discretion by ordering services. Although parents engaged in services, both continued to deny that they had ever abused the children or even had physically disciplined them. The record contained no evidence to suggest that reunification services would be effective in modifying the parents’ behavior. Further, the only evidence in the record that A.E. was positively bonded to his parents was a single statement from an instructional aide that the children “adored” their parents. Viewed in the context of the rest of the evidence in the case, including the relatively brief time that A.E. had spent in his parents’ care and the evidence of his fear of them, that statement could not constitute substantial evidence of a close and positive attachment. The record did not contain competent testimony in support of the juvenile court’s order granting services, and remand was required with instructions to deny reunification services and set a 366.26 hearing.