Juvenile court order terminating reunification services and setting a 366.26 hearing was reversed where there was no evidence to support a conclusion that there was a risk to the minors if returned to their parents. Minors were removed from parents because father was incarcerated and mother was using drugs, was homeless, and had exposed the minors to domestic violence. The minors were removed, and reunification services were ordered. By the 12-month review hearing, both parents had made moderate progress, and the court continued reunification services and expanded visitation. The Department recommended termination of services at the 18-month review hearing. Although mother was participating in services, consistently testing clean, and visits went well, visits had not progressed beyond supervised and the parents still had conflicts between them. The juvenile court had no concerns about mother’s sobriety, but had concern about the parents’ continuing conflict, and mother’s relationship with her boyfriend. It agreed that the parents had made progress but questioned their “insight.” The court terminated services and set a 366.26 hearing. In this writ proceeding, parents argued that the court erred when it made those orders. The appellate court agreed and reversed. The Department needed to show that releasing the children to either mother or father’s custody would “create a substantial risk of detriment to the safety, protection, or physical or emotional well-being of the child.” Here, the Department failed to articulate why or how the children would be at risk if placed in either mother or father’s care. The juvenile court relied on the Department’s vague concerns that were unsupported by the evidence. The court based its concerns on a “hunch” that mother’s relationship with her boyfriend could threaten her sobriety, which contradicted its own statement that it had no concerns about mother’s sobriety. What the evidence did show was that both parents were clean and sober, had completed their services, and were having positive visits with the children. The appellate court expressed its “displeasure” at the social worker’s testimony and reports that ignored the parents’ progress towards reunification. The court granted the writ and ordered a new 18-month review hearing, at which the minors were to be returned to their parents absent any new developments which warrant a different conclusion.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/G058611.PDF