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Name: In re M.S.
Case #: D075278
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 10/30/2019
Summary

Termination of parental rights was reversed where the Department did not establish that mother’s whereabouts were unknown when it bypassed services and set a 366.26 hearing. The infant minor was detained at birth in an El Centro hospital when she was born testing positive for amphetamines and methamphetamines. Mother did not appear at a subsequent disposition hearing, and she was denied reunification services based on the juvenile court’s finding that her whereabouts were unknown. On appeal, mother contended that there was insufficient evidence to support the court’s finding that her whereabouts were unknown at the time of the jurisdiction/disposition hearing. The appellate court agreed, and reversed the order. First, while in the hospital after giving birth, mother told a social worker that she was unemployed and lived with her parents and three other children at her parents’ house in Mexicali. The Department confirmed the address and the parents’ contact information. Second, the Department knew that mother resided in Mexicali and had contacted the Mexican Consulate regarding its investigation. Third, the Department had sent notice of hearings by mail to mother at the Mexicali address. Neither the Department nor the juvenile court could reasonably conclude that mother’s whereabouts were unknown at the time of the jurisdiction and disposition hearing. If the Department believed that mother had moved away from the Mexicali address, it could have requested the assistance of the Mexican Consulate. It did not do so, and instead waited until two weeks before the hearing to make cursory phone calls to local jails and hospitals. Since mother was wrongly denied reunification services, the order setting the 366.26 hearing was also error. The court’s errors in denying mother services and subsequently terminating mother’s parental rights were prejudicial. Mother and the minor were never given a reasonable opportunity through reunification services to create a parent-child bond or reunify. Remand of the matter to the juvenile court was required, with directions that mother be provided with a minimum of six months of reunification services.