In re F.A.Annotate this Case
Six days after F.A. (F.) was born exposed to methamphetamine, she was placed with Mr. and Mrs. S., foster parents who hoped to adopt her. Unfortunately, when F. was almost seven weeks old, the Orange County Social Services Agency (SSA) removed F. from the S.s’ care, mistakenly believing exigent circumstances required the removal, and immediately placed the baby with Mr. and Mrs. M., who were also foster parents who hoped to adopt her. When SSA realized its mistake and decided to re-place F. with the S.s, the M.s filed a grievance, which kept F. in the M.s’ home during the grievance process. The S.s and the M.s filed competing Welfare and Institutions Code section 388 petitions. The court ordered SSA not to remove F. from the M.s’ home pending the court’s decision on the competing petitions, and granted visitation rights to the S.s. After many continuances, the court found both couples would be excellent adoptive parents, but granted the M.s’ petition and denied the S.s’ petition, finding the M.s had a “slight edge” because the M.s had an approved adoptive home study and because the baby had flourished under the M.s’ care for the last 100 days. On appeal, the S.s contended: (1) this appeal should have been treated as a writ petition; (2) SSA should have returned F. to the S.s before the M.s could file a grievance; (3) the court abused its discretion by granting so many continuances; (4) the court exceeded its authority by overriding SSA’s decision to return F. to the S.s, rather than reviewing SSA’s choice for an abuse of discretion; and (5) this case was not moot because it presented an issue of continuing public importance which is capable of repetition, yet evading review, and therefore the Court of Appeal should offer guidance to prevent future heartbreak to foster parents from whom a child is wrongly removed. After review, the Court of Appeal found no merit as to the S.s’ first four contentions, but concluded that what happened to the S.s was wrong, and potentially could have been prevented had regulations and policies been in place allowing the foster parents to promptly challenge the grounds for removal before SSA placed the child with another couple. The Court nevertheless concluded the court did not abuse its discretion under the difficult circumstances presented, and accordingly affirm the court’s orders.