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Name: In re S.S.
Case #: E074852
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 10/02/2020

The juvenile court may not terminate parental rights based on problems arising from a parent’s poverty. The minor was detained from her mother based on mother’s substance abuse and mental health issues. After the child was detained, father came forward but could not take custody of his daughter because his housing, transportation, and employment were not stable. No allegations were sustained against father. Family reunification services were ordered for both parents. At the six-month review hearing, the court terminated both parents’ reunification services. Father filed a section 388 petition stating that he had gained employment and housing but the court denied his motion, finding that his circumstances were changing, and not changed. The court subsequently terminated both parents’ rights. Father appealed and the appellate court reversed. “Poverty alone is not a valid basis for assertion of juvenile court jurisdiction.” (In re G.S.R. (2008) 159 Cal.App.4th 1202, 1212.) Where family bonds are strained by the incidents of poverty, the department must actively seek to assist a parent suffering from poverty in obtaining adequate housing and trial courts may not terminate reunification services for failing to do so. Here, the reviewing court found that this case was “remarkably similar” to In re G.S.R. Father was initially unable to take custody of his daughter because he lacked housing and transportation. The Department did not make any provision for helping father obtain aid in finding and paying for a residence. While father made some progress, it was not quick enough. Additionally, the Department did not work with father to make visits fit into his work schedule when it insisted that he visit during weekdays at a location that was one and a half hours away by bus, and was unwilling to supplement in-person visitation with video visits. The court noted that the Department’s failures have deprived father and daughter of years of an established, loving relationship and created turmoil in the minor’s life. While the remedy is not completely satisfactory, it is necessary to reset the clock on the reunification services because the court will not permit the termination of father’s parental rights under these circumstances.