A parent who has not received reasonable services during the 12-18 month review period may seek an extension of services beyond 18 months, but such extensions are not automatic. The minor was removed from Father and a dependency petition was sustained. The juvenile court found that reasonable services had been provided at the 6 and 12-month review hearings and extended services to an 18-month review hearing. At the 18-month review hearing, the juvenile court found that reasonable services had not been provided, but declined to order additional reunification services, and set the matter for a permanency hearing. Father filed a writ petition, which the Court of Appeal denied. The California Supreme Court granted review and affirmed. Unlike the statutory provisions governing the 6 and 12-month hearings, the statutory provision governing the 18-month hearing contains no requirement that the court extend services if it concludes that reasonable services have not been offered or provided. However, dependency law does not categorically forbid courts from extending services past 18 months. Once a child has already been out of the parent’s custody for 18 months, the law vests the juvenile court with responsibility for determining how to proceed after considering the circumstances of the case and the best interests of the child. The juvenile court has the discretion, under section 352, to continue a section 366.26 permanency planning hearing, and in the meantime, to extend reunification services past the 18-month mark, in extraordinary cases. This section 352 “escape valve” is available to all parents in exceptional situations in which the court determines that extending services and continuing reunification efforts beyond 18 months is not contrary to the child’s interests. Even though the statutory scheme may not offer automatic extensions beyond the 18-month mark, the statutory scheme provides adequate safeguards against the risk of the erroneous deprivation of parental rights.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/S271809.PDF