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Name: In re Isabella G.
Case #: D068718
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 04/18/2016

Juvenile court erred when it failed to consider relative placement preference under section 361.3. The minor, Isabella, lived with her paternal grandparents off and on prior to her removal from her parents. Despite repeated requests by the grandparents for placement of Isabella following her detention, the Department did not evaluate their home, instead placing her with a nonrelative extended family member (NREFM). Eventually, the grandparents filed a 388 petition requesting a change in placement. It was clear that Isabella was bonded to her grandmother, but also was becoming bonded to the NREFM. The juvenile court denied the 388 petition, holding that the relative placement preference did not apply because reunification services had been terminated. The court found that the NREFM qualified for the caregiver adoption preference because she was the caregiver and the Department was recommending that she adopt Isabella. The court found that it would be detrimental to Isabella to remove her from the NREFM, and that the grandparents had not met the burden under section 388 to show that a change of placement was required. The juvenile court terminated parental rights and designated the NREFMs as her prospective adoptive parents. The appellate court reversed the juvenile court’s orders. The relative placement preference under section 361.3 applied to relatives seeking placement after the dispositional hearing even if no new placement was required. The Department did not comply with its obligation to assess the grandparents for placement. The court erred in determining that section 361.3 did not apply because services had been terminated. It also erred by requiring the grandparents to show that a new placement was necessary and that a change of placement was in the child’s best interest. Section 361.3 requires the court to give preferential consideration to a request by a relative for placement. The error here resulted in a miscarriage of justice, and therefore reversal was required. The matter was remanded for a hearing on the grandparents’ request for placement.