Where father’s failure to reunify with the minor was due solely to poverty, the juvenile court abused its discretion by denying father additional time to secure stable housing. Minor was detained from his mother in 2013 due to mother’s substance abuse. When father was located, he sought custody, but did not have stable housing. Father received reunification services, but despite “sincere efforts” he continued to have challenges with housing and transportation. Father had a good relationship with the minor, who wanted to live with him. Minor, who was a teenager, was failing in group and foster placements. The Department recommended termination of reunification services, which would result in a plan of long term foster care for the minor. At a permanency review hearing, the juvenile court commissioner found it would be in the minor’s best interest to extend reunification services because extenuating circumstances existed: father had fully complied with services and the only barrier to reunification was housing. The Department sought a rehearing, and the juvenile court terminated services, suggesting that father could file a 388 petition when he obtained housing. Father appealed. Held: Reversed. The appellate court found that the juvenile court abused its discretion when it erroneously believed it lacked authority to extend reunification services beyond 24 months and because a continuation of services was in the minor’s best interest. The court has the discretion to extend services for good cause where it is in the minor’s best interests. The undisputed facts established that good cause supported the request because father needed additional time to secure suitable housing. The appellate court also found that the appeal was not moot, even though the minor had been placed with his mother, because the finding of substantial risk of detriment to return the minor could cause collateral consequences for father. Father’s failure to reunify with the minor was due solely to poverty, and termination of reunification services was not in the minor’s best interests.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/B302910.PDF