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Name: In re M.H.
Case #: A151964
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 3
Opinion Date: 04/06/2018

At a 366.26 hearing, the juvenile court did not abuse its discretion by denying request to change minor’s placement from his current nonrelative foster home to the home of his maternal great aunt. In a section 366.26 report, the Agency recommended adoption as the permanent plan for the minor. The minor was bonded to his foster family, but two different maternal relatives had traveled to meet him. The Agency recommended a change in placement to one of his relatives, E.W., a maternal great aunt who lived in Minnesota. Although the Agency acknowledged concerns regarding moving the minor, it opined that the minor would acquire his African American cultural heritage through his biological family. Minor’s counsel and counsel for the de facto parents argued that it was in the minor’s best interest to remain in his current placement. The foster parents were designated the proposed adoptive parents. The juvenile court rejected the proposed change in placement and terminated parental rights. The Agency and E.W. appealed, contending that the court erred by disregarding the statutory preference for relative placement under section 361.3 in favor of the statutory preference for caretaker placement under section 366.26, subdivision (k). The appellate court found that neither of those sections was applicable. It affirmed the orders, finding that the juvenile court did not err in denying the proposed change in placement. At this point in the proceedings the ultimate question is the best interests of the child. The uncontroverted evidence was that the minor was thriving in his current placement and was bonded to his foster parents. Given the uncertainty of how the minor would respond to removal from the parental figures he had known since birth, the court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that his continued placement was in his best interest.