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Name: In re M.F.
Case #: D074260
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 01/11/2019
Summary

Juvenile court did not err by extending services past the 18-month review hearing date for a minor under three where the Agency did not provide reasonable services. At a 12-month review hearing, the juvenile court found that reasonable services had not been provided to father, and ordered the Agency to extend the reunification period for an additional six-month period, setting the 18-month review hearing more than 23 months after the two-year-old minor first entered foster care. The minor appealed, challenging the reasonable services finding, and contending that the juvenile court lacked the authority to order continued services beyond the 18-month review date absent special circumstances not present here. The appellate court affirmed the findings and orders. Although significant services were provided to father, the record contains substantial evidence to support the juvenile court’s finding. The Agency did not provide services that were specifically tailored to mitigate the risk to the minor caused by his parents’ volatile relationship and mother’s drug use. Although providing a list of therapists to father was a good starting point, appropriate services for him were inaccessible and the error was compounded by the social worker’s lack of response. The record shows that the social worker was aware of father’s problems securing therapy but did not assist him in a timely manner. Further, the social worker’s decision not to proceed with expanded visitation because of the conditions in the home supported the juvenile court’s order. If the Agency believed lack of electricity in the home presented a risk to the minor, it should have offered assistance to father instead of cancelling expanded visitation. The record contained substantial evidence to show the Agency did not provide reasonable services to father. The minor also contended there was no evidence in the record to show that an extended reunification period would mitigate the ongoing risk factors to the minor, and therefore the court erred by extending the reunification period beyond the 18-month review date. The appellate court rejected this argument as well, finding that where reasonable services have not been provided to the parent, the court is not required to assess the likelihood of reunification before it extends services. Even if such a finding were necessary, there was ample evidence to show a substantial probability that an extended time period would allow the minor to be returned to his father. The juvenile court may also continue services to the 24-month review date based on a no reasonable services finding.