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Name: In re A.F.
Case #: E058270
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 06/06/2014

Removal of minors from de facto parents was error where juvenile court failed to properly consider whether removal and a new placement was in their best interests. Appellant was granted de facto parent status of twins who were born premature and were medically fragile. After the twins had been living with appellant and her family for 14 months and were nearly two years old, the Department removed them and placed them with a family who were willing to adopt them. The twins were removed solely because appellant and her husband had once hesitated to adopt the minors, even though they renewed their commitment to adoption before the twins were removed. By all accounts, the twins were strongly bonded to appellant and her family. At a 366.26 hearing, the juvenile court refused appellant’s request for return of the minors, vacated her de facto parent status, and denied her request for appointed counsel. A subsequent 388 petition was denied. On appeal, appellant contended that the court erroneously failed to exercise its discretion and also denied her procedural due process rights in summarily denying her section 388 petition without a hearing. The appellate court agreed that the court erred, but found that the error was made at the 366.26 hearing, prior to the denial of the 388 petition. At that hearing, the court lost sight of appellant’s primary role as de facto parent: providing information to the court concerning the minors’ best interest, as well as the key question of what placement was best for them. Remand was necessary for the court to consider whether it is in the minors’ best interests to be returned to appellant and her family, and for that family to be given a chance to adopt them.