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Name: In re Caden C.
Case #: A153925
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 4
Opinion Date: 04/09/2019

Juvenile court’s reliance on the beneficial relationship exception was an abuse of discretion. Mother’s services had been terminated by the time of the permanency planning hearing in this dependency action. The 10-year-old minor was doing well in his placement and had a relationship with his caretaker. He was not displaying any mental health or behavioral issues, and the caretaker expressed a desire to adopt. The social worker opined that the minor was doing better than he had ever been. Mother’s visits had been reduced to once a month, and were generally appropriate. Mother, however, continued to have difficulties with substance abuse. The minor had mixed feelings about the adoption, and was tearful when told he could not live with his mother. The Department believed the placement was appropriate, but that the minor would need ongoing support to address the trauma and separation from his mother. A bonding report concluded that the minor was strongly attached to his mother, consistently missed her, and longs to be with her. A loss of contact with mother would be traumatic and have a harmful effect on him. The juvenile court ordered the minor into a permanent plan of long term foster care. The minor and the Agency appealed, contending that the juvenile court erred when it determined that mother had successfully established the beneficial relationship exception to adoption. The appellate court agreed and reversed. The court found that substantial evidence supported the juvenile court’s implicit finding that a beneficial relationship existed between the minor and mother. However, the juvenile court abused its discretion when it found that the relationship provided a compelling reason to forgo termination of parental rights. The juvenile court gave short shrift to evidence that long-term foster care posed substantial risk of further destabilizing a vulnerable child, fostered the unhealthy interactions between mother and the minor, and robbed the minor of a permanent home with an exceptional caregiver. Long-term foster care was not in the minor’s best interests. The court reversed the judgment and remanded for a new permanency planning hearing.