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§5.17 Ordering Reunification Services

[1] Right to Services
[2] No Right to Services
[3] Length of Services
[4] Social Worker’s Report on Reunification
[5] Advisements

[1] Right to Services

You generally must order reasonable reunification services designed to facilitate reunification for both a child and the child’s parents or guardian when you order the child removed from the home. [WIC §361.5(a); CRC 5.695(h)(1); In re Kristin W. (1990) 222 CA3d 234, 254.] A noncustodial parent interested in custody may be entitled to services. [See WIC §361.2(b)(3); Robert L. v Superior Court (1996) 45 CA4th 619, 628.] An incarcerated or institutionalized parent has a right to services unless you determine by clear and convincing evidence that the services will be detrimental to the child. [WIC §361.5(e)(1).] Among factors you should consider includes the likelihood of the parent’s release within the period of reunification. [WIC §361.5(e)(1).] An incarcerated parent may be required to attend counseling, parenting classes, or vocational training for reunification if access is available, and the social worker is required to report on barriers to services that confront incarcerated or institutionalized parents and the ability to maintain contact with the child. [WIC §361.5(e)(1).]

You may grant a request for reunification services to a natural Kelsey father who demonstrates a full commitment to his parental responsibilities during the reunification phase and within a reasonable time of learning of the child’s existence, is a fit parent, and has had his due process rights violated by the department’s dilatory tactics. [In re Andrew L. (2004) 122 CA4th 178, 190–193, 195.]

As between presumed, natural, and alleged fathers, only a statutorily presumed father is entitled to reunification services and custody of the child. [In re Cody B. (2007) 153 CA4th 1004, 1009; In re Mary G. (2007) 151 CA4th 184, 197.]


[2] No Right to Services

A biological father who is not a presumed father is not entitled to services, but you may order services when they are in the child’s best interests. [In re Zacharia D. (1993) 6 C4th 435, 451–456.] Stepparents, de facto parents, or grandparents also do not have a statutory right to services. [See In re Jodi B. (1991) 227 CA3d 1322, 1329; In re Jody R. (1990) 218 CA3d 1615, 1628; In re Albert B. (1989) 215 CA3d 361, 381.] A foster parent or relative with whom a child is placed, although not necessarily entitled to services, may be required to participate if you deem it appropriate and in the child’s best interest. [WIC §362(c).]

[3] Length of Services

Reunification services presumptively may not exceed:

  • Six months, if the child was under three years of age on the date of initial removal, beginning at the disposition hearing, but no longer than 12 months from the date the child entered foster care as defined in WIC §361.49 [WIC §361.5(a)(1)(B)];
  • Twelve months, if the child was three years of age or older on the date of initial removal, beginning at the disposition hearing and ending 12 months after the child entered foster care [WIC §361.5(a)(1)(A)]; or
  • Six months, if a child is a member of a sibling group whose members were removed from parental custody at the same time, and in which one member of the sibling group was under three years of age on the date of initial removal with application of the same time limitations for a child under the age of three on the date of initial removal [WIC §361.5(a)(1)(C)].

You may extend the services for up to 18 months from the date of the original removal if the parents show a substantial probability of reunification within the extended period, or you determine that reasonable services were not provided. [See WIC §361.5(a)(3); see Tracy J. v Superior Court (2012) 202 CA4th 1415, 1428 (developmentally disabled parents did not receive reasonable family reunification services).] In making this determination, you must consider any special barriers and factors impacting the ability to maintain contact with the child for incarcerated, institutionalized, or court-ordered residential treatment parents, and good faith efforts to maintain contact with the child. [WIC §361.5(a)(3).]

You may further extend reunification services up to 24 months from the date of removal, but only on finding that it is in the child's best interest to have the time period extended and there is a substantial probability that the child will be returned to the physical custody of his or her parent or guardian within the extended time period, or that reasonable services were not provided to the parent or guardian. You must specify the factual basis for a conclusion of substantial probability, along with other specified findings. [WIC §361.5(a)(4).]

You also have the discretion, depending on the circumstances, to terminate reunification services at any time when continued services are not in the child’s best interests and the likelihood of reunification is extremely low. [In re Aryanna C. (2005) 132 CA4th 1234, 1242–1243; In re Derrick S. (2007) 156 CA4th 436.] Any motion seeking to terminate reunification services prior to the presumptive statutory timelines, depending on the child’s age, must be made pursuant to WIC §388(c). [WIC §361.5(a)(2); see Part 1, §2.12.]

An exception to the section 388 motion requirement to terminate reunification services is at the six-month review hearing if the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that [WIC 361.5(a)(2)]:
  • The child was removed initially under WIC 300(g) and the whereabouts of the parent are still unknown; or
  • The parent has failed to contact and visit the child; or
  • The parent has been convicted of a felony indicating parental unfitness.


[4] Social Worker’s Report on Reunification

In deciding whether to order reunification, review the social worker’s report, which must discuss [WIC §361.5(c)]:

  • Whether reunification must be provided;
  • Any circumstances that indicate whether reunification is likely to be successful or unsuccessful; and
  • Whether the failure to order reunification is likely to be detrimental to the child.

Factors indicating reunification services are unlikely to be successful include [WIC §361.5(c)]:

  • The parent’s failure to respond to previous services;
  • The fact that the child was abused while the parent was under the influence of drugs or alcohol;
  • A past history of violent behavior; or
  • If the parent is suffering from a mental disability, testimony by two competent professionals that the parent’s behavior is unlikely to be changed by services.

[5] Advisements

If the child was under age three when first removed, or is a member of a sibling group in which one sibling is under three, you must advise the parent or guardian that efforts to reunify may be terminated six months from the disposition hearing if he or she does not regularly participate in treatment programs or use services. You must also inform the parents of the factors you used to limit services to six months for any member of a sibling group. [WIC §361.5(a)(3).]

If you order reunification services, you must advise the parents about the .26 hearing [see Part 3, §7.01] and that their parental rights may be terminated. [WIC §361.5(a)(4).]

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© 2006 by Judicial Council of California
updated as of January 1, 2012