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Name: In re Lauren R.
Case #: G037590
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 3
Opinion Date: 03/19/2007

The relative preference is only applicable to temporary placements; where adoption is at issue, the caretaker preference applies. The ten-year old minor had been placed with a non-relative extended family member who had been her day care provider and Sunday school teacher. Prior to the 366.26 hearing, a maternal aunt in Oregon expressed an interest in taking custody of the minor. The minor visited and found it to be “fun.” However, she did not want to move and live with her aunt. The minor’s therapist opined that it would be detrimental to the minor to be removed from her current placement because she was bonded to her caretaker, community, church, and school. The caretaker was granted de facto parent standing, and began the paperwork to initiate an adoption homestudy. The aunt moved for de facto parent standing and for relative placement preference under section 361.3(d). At the 366.26 hearing, the court ordered the minor placed with her aunt, because she was a blood relative, and terminated parental rights. The minor and her caretaker appealed. The appellate court reversed the order. Section 361.3(d) only applies to the temporary placement of a child, not to adoption. The juvenile court applied the wrong standard; the applicable statute was section 361.3(k). This section specifically allows a caretaker’s application to be processed before any other person’s application. If the preference had applied here, the caretaker’s application for adoption should have applied prior to the aunt’s application. Remand was required to determine whether the caretaker met the requirements of that section. If she does, then her application must proceed before a new placement hearing is held. If she does not, then the court must hold a new placement hearing with neither applicant having a preference.