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Name: In re Dakota H.
Case #: D045824
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 08/26/2005

The minor, who was autistic, was removed due to inadequate supervision and domestic violence. Mother visited consistently and had a genuine interest in reunification, but failed to attend domestic violence counseling and continued living with the partner who engaged in domestic violence. Mother’s services were terminated and a permanency planning hearing was set. The minor was difficult to place, but the Agency identified an adoptive home in Michigan after a long delay. An uncle was also identified, but he wished mother and the minor to live with him under his supervision. He did not wish to adopt. A psychologist opined that the minor was bonded to his mother, but that it would not be detrimental to him to terminate the bond. The minor was placed in the adoptive home, where he was doing well at the time of the 366.26 hearing. The court found adoption to be in his best interest, and terminated parental rights. On appeal, mother asserted that her due process rights were violated by the lack of a current finding of parental unfitness, because the 15 month delay after the 366.26 hearing was set rendered stale the finding that return to mother would be detrimental to the minor. The appellate court found the issue waived for failure to raise it below. Even if the doctrine of forfeiture did not apply, the court would reject the claim. Mother did not demonstrate any prejudice by the delayed proceedings. Mother did not avail herself of services either before the termination of services or during the long delay following. She did not go to a domestic violence program or attend parenting classes. Mother had the opportunity to raise these issues had she filed a 388 petition prior to the termination hearing. Therefore, the court gave her a full opportunity to be heard. Further, mother’s close relationship with the minor did not outweigh the minor’s exceptional needs for a stable home and a highly competent caregiver.