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Relative Placement in CPS Cases and WIC 361.3

When children are removed from their parents during a juvenile dependency case, the court must first look to placement of children with relatives. Where relatives are not available or appropriate, the court next looks to Non-Related Extended Family Members (NREFMs). These are individuals who may be more distant relatives, non-blood related relatives, or family friends. Placement with family or friends allows children to remain more comfortable and feel more secure than they would in any foster care alternative including the home of strangers or in a group home or shelter care.

The law that provides for relative placement is Welfare and Institutions code section 361.3, which states: “(a) In any case in which a child is removed from the physical custody of his or her parents pursuant to Section 361, preferential consideration shall be given to a request by a relative of the child for placement of the child with the relative, regardless of the relative's immigration status.”

The court must consider some factors in determining placement but is not limited to the factors in the code. These factors are the best interest of the child, including special physical, psychological, educational, medical, or emotional needs. The court must also consider the wishes of the parent, the relative, and child, if appropriate as well as the placement of the siblings in the same home if it is in their best interests. The court must consider the good moral character of the relatives and whether they have a history of violent crimes or child abuse. The court must also consider the nature and length of the relationship of the children and the relative and the relative’s desire and ability to provide for long-term care of the child if the parents fail to reunify. The court must also consider if the relative can provide adequate care for the child and meet the child’s needs, protect the child from the parents, and facilitate visitation with the parents. Finally, the court must consider whether the relatives’ home is safe. This requires that the social worker first evaluate the safety of the home and approve it for placement and submit that information to the court.

Relative placement is often to the advantage of families involved in the dependency system. Parents sometimes find relatives more willing to accommodate them in terms of visitation and that relatives may be more flexible for parents and supportive of their relationship with the child or children. This may not always be the case, however, if the parent has a problematic relationship with the caretaker or if the caretaker is the other’s parents relative. Of course, each case is different and whether the placement benefits the parents is driven by the nature of those relationships. Ultimately, the court looks to family and friends to provide children continuity of care. The children are presumed to already know their caretakers and may feel more comfortable as a result. If the child or children cannot be reunified with their parents, it is hoped to be more likely that they will continue to have a relationship with their parents in the event parental rights are terminated, a guardianship is put in place or the child or children remain in a plan of long-term foster care.

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