The California Supreme Court affirmed an adjudication of dependency for two children in Los Angeles Co. Dep't of Children and Family Svcs. v. William C. A father had appealed the adjudication of dependency of his two surviving children based on a section of the dependency statute, California Welfare and Institutions Code § 300(f), that allows a dependency adjudication when a parent is found to be responsible, through abuse or neglect, of the death of another child. The Supreme Court held that the statute did not require a finding of criminal negligence, nor did it require proof of a present risk to the surviving children.
According to the court's opinion, William C. and Kimberly G. were the parents of three children: Ethan, Valerie, and Jesus. The parents separated in the spring of 2009, and the children lived with William in William's mother's home. On June 17, 2009, William noticed that Valerie's arm was injured, apparently due to falling off of a bed. He intended to take her to the hospital, but did not have a child safety seat in the car he was driving. Instead, Valerie, who was about two years old, sat in William's sister's lap while William drove. A car collided with William's car, and Valerie sustained fatal injuries. Although William was reportedly not at fault in the accident itself, he faced criminal charges for child endangerment. He reportedly admitted to transporting a young child without a safety seat and paid a $100 fine.
The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (the "Department") responded to a report of the neglect of Ethan and Jesus about a week later. The Department claimed the children "were dirty and seemed unsupervised." Opinion of the Court at 5. The Department said that it also learned that Kimberly had a history of mental health problems and cognitive impairments, and had an alleged pattern of domestic violence against William. Kimberly's family, meanwhile, alleged that William's family severely neglected the children.
Both parents initially participated in voluntary services with the Department. The Department eventually recommended that the juvenile court take jurisdiction over the children, based in part on allegations that William had not established a better living situation and had a criminal matter pending. The Department filed a dependency petition in August 2009. It claimed multiple grounds for dependency, including § 300(f), alleging that William’s neglect caused Valerie’s death. The juvenile court adjudged the children to be dependents in October 2009, and William filed an appeal.
The Supreme Court considered three issues related to § 300(f): whether the statute requires criminal negligence, whether the court must find a present risk of injury to the surviving children, and the precise meaning of “cause” as it relates to the parent’s role in a child’s death. The court concluded that § 300(f) can apply in the absence of a finding of a parent’s criminal liability, and that it does not require evidence of any further risk to the parent’s other children. Finally, it applied the “normal principles of ‘substantial factor’ causation” to § 300(f). Opinion at 36.
Thomas Huguenor is a divorce and child custody lawyer certified by the State of California. For more than 35 years, he has represented people in San Diego finding their way through the California family court system. Contact us today online or at (858) 458-9500 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.
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