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Name: In re M.C.
Case #: A165424
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 02/06/2023

There was insufficient evidence to support a finding by clear and convincing evidence that placing the minor with Father would be detrimental. The minor came to the attention of the Agency when his half-brother was born testing positive for drugs. The minor was in the care of a family friend while Mother gave birth because Father was a trucker who often had to travel for days at a time. Father offered to make arrangements for placement with his relatives until he could return to California. At a contested jurisdiction and disposition hearing, the court found true allegations against Father, finding that Father knew or reasonably should have known that Mother was using drugs and still left the minor in her care. The juvenile court then found that placement with Father would be detrimental to the minor noting that Father’s job interfered with his ability to visit regularly and made the logistics of placement with Father more difficult. The juvenile court ordered reunification services for Father. On appeal, the court reversed the dispositional orders. There was sufficient evidence for jurisdiction because Father was not diligent in ensuring that the minor was not at risk from a relapse by Mother. Had Father been a more consistent parental presence, he would have known about Mother’s substance use. However, there was no indication that Father would give the minor back to Mother if he was given custody. Despite the plan put forth by Father being potentially challenging due to his work situation and language barriers with the childcare available, the law does not take a child away from a parent based on a “less than ideal” situation. The juvenile court erred when it flipped the burden onto Father by requiring him to engage in services before placing the minor in his care. There was insufficient evidence to support the juvenile court’s finding of detriment on disposition.

The juvenile court abused its discretion when it ordered Father to engage in reunification services without any factual basis to support that order. The court ordered Father to engage in reunification services, including a parenting education class and substance abuse testing. When the court orders a parent to participate in a program, it must be designed to eliminate those conditions that led to the court’s finding that the child is a person described by section 300. The court cannot arbitrarily order services that are not reasonably designed to eliminate the behavior or circumstances that led to the court taking jurisdiction of the child. Here, there was no evidence that Father had substance abuse issues. Father’s decision to leave the minor with Mother was based on his employment, not on any prior or current substance abuse issues. Thus, the inclusion of substance abuse testing in Father’s reunification case plan was an abuse of discretion. Additionally, any inclusion of participation in a parent partner program would also be an abuse of discretion.