Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Wednesday, January 17, 2024


Page 1


Child Might Be Returned to Mother Who Is Fugitive in Mexico

Court of Appeal Countermands Judge Soto’s Order Setting Termination-of-Parental Rights Hearing


By a MetNews Staff Writer


The Court of Appeal for this district yesterday directed that an order be vacated setting a hearing to determine if a mother’s parental rights should be terminated although the mother, after being charged with federal drug offenses, fled to Mexico—with the child, at the age of 3, having been placed in foster care here following her arrest—and has refused to return to the United States to submit to drug testing.

The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services had sought the drug-testing in the United States, being unconvinced that testing by Mexico’s child protection agency, Desarrollo Integral de la Familia (“DIF”) was adequate.

Div. Seven, in an opinion by Justice Gail Ruderman Feuer, rejected the conclusion by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Philip L. Soto that there is a substantial risk that the child, “L.C.,” would be in danger of harm if he were returned to the custody of his mother, “D.C.” Soto, at a 12-month status review hearing, terminated reunification services and set a hearing to sever parental ties.

He ruled out sending the child to Mexico, observing that he is “a special-needs child” and it was not desirable for L.C. “to be transported to Mexico without knowing exactly what services and where and how and who will provide them and who will be responsible.”

The judge commented that “Mother has not consistently, regularly contacted or visited; not made significant progress in resolving problems that led to the removal; and not demonstrated capacity and ability to complete objectives of the treatment plan and provide for child safety, protection, physical, and emotional wellbeing.”

Feuer’s Opinion

In her opinion directing that a writ issue requiring that Soto’s order be vacated, Feuer said:

“Unlike the criminal justice system, with its punitive purpose and focus on rehabilitation of the offender, the juvenile dependency system is designed to serve the best interests of the child and to reunify the family when it is safe to do so. A parent’s decision not to return to the United States—whether in response to a criminal prosecution or the immigration laws, or for some other reason—should not prevent reunification with the parent’s child where reunification is in the best interests of the child. This is especially the case here, where Mother has diligently complied with her case plan and maintained a bond with L.C., and DIF can provide services to Mother and L.C. under the continued supervision of the Department.”

The mother had kept in contact with the child through video calls.

Feuer declared that “substantial evidence does not support the juvenile court’s implied finding Mother failed to maintain her sobriety, placing L.C. at a substantial risk of detriment” and “[s]ubstantial evidence likewise does not support the juvenile court’s finding that L.C. was a ‘special needs; child whose developmental needs could not be met in Mexico.”

Potential Penal Consequences

Noting that if convicted, D.C. would face a potential 10-year prison term, Feuer said:

“Although the juvenile court commented that if Mother had turned herself in she could have resolved her criminal case without jail time and completed her services in the United States, the court’s conjecture was not based on anything in the record. Moreover, the fact Mother was avoiding her criminal case obligations does not mean returning L.C. to Mother’s care in Mexico, with the support of the maternal grandparents (who were found to be suitable for placement), would be detrimental to L.C.”

A new hearing was ordered, with an instruction that “[i]f no new developments establish a substantial risk of detriment to L.C. if he is returned to Mother, he must be returned to her care, with any reasonable orders necessary to ensure a safe return.”

The case is L.C. v. Superior Court (Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services), 2024 S.O.S. 204.


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