Case Law

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Shelter Care

In re Dependency of H., 71 Wn. App. 524, 859 P.2d 1258 (1993): The right of parents to due process at a shelter-care hearing conducted under RCW 13.34.060 is subject to appellate review even if the issue is rendered moot because a fact-finding hearing on the dependency petition was conducted before appellate review could be completed.

In re Dependency of L.C.S. No. 99792-6 (2022): Trial court’s finding regarding the need for shelter care was reversed, although the case was not remanded, due to mootness (father had subsequently agreed to a dependency order). There is no emergency exception to the requirement of reasonable efforts, which must be made for both parents. Here the Department failed to make reasonable efforts to determine whether the father could be a viable placement option. “Although the child’s safety is of paramount concern, a perceived safety risk is an insufficient reason to excuse reasonable efforts.”


In re Welfare of Key, 119 Wn.2d 600, 836 P.2d 200 (1992). Mother appealed finding of dependency where her child had extreme needs which necessitated foster care placement at times, but she was not unfit. Supreme Court of Washington affirmed the lower court’s finding of dependency.  A dependency determination requires a showing of parental deficiency. It should be noted, however, that a finding of parental unfitness is not an absolute prerequisite to dependency.

In re Dependency of Schermer, 161 Wn.2d 927, 169 P.3d 452 (2007). Supreme Court affirmed intermediate appellate court’s overruling of trial court’s finding that dependency not warranted where parents were fit but could not meet the special needs of their child.

In re Welfare of X.T., 174 Wn. App. 733, 300 P.3d 824 (2013) Court of Appeals reversed finding of dependency which was largely based on inadmissible hearsay provided through the assigned social worker’s testimony about the file.

In re Dependency of Q.S., 22 Wn. App. 2d 586 (2022). Court of appeals reversed finding of dependency due to insufficient evidence to support a finding that father’s continued custody would constitute a danger of substantial damage to the children’s mental or physical development. The father in this case was found to be overly aggressive, angry, reluctant to listen to DCYF social workers and was accused of wrongfully accusing others of racism.  The state heavily relied on hearsay in its argument. The court of appeals shared the father’s concerns regarding implicit racism and cited to the following study:


Matter of Dependency of Z.J.G., 196 Wn.2d. 152, 174 & 167, 471 P.3d 853 (2020) (partially reversed in J.M.W). When a court has reason to know a child is or may be an Indian child it must apply ICWA and WICWA standards.  The court must inquire about Indian heritage of every participant at the commencement of a child custody proceeding and when any participant indicates tribal heritage that shall constitute “reason to know.” “In a 1976 report, Washington was listed as one of the 10 worst states by rate of Indian placements, with 13 times more Indian children placed in foster and adoptive care compared to non-Indian children.”

In re Dependency of G.J.A. 197 Wn.2d 868, 876 (2021): The doctrine of futility does not apply to cases governed by ICWA and WICWA.  The Department is not excused from providing active efforts to prevent the breakup of the Indian family unless it can demonstrate that sufficient efforts have been made and that these efforts were unsuccessful. In this case the Department provided untimely referrals and only passively engaged with the mother for a significant period of time. A parent’s action, inconsistency, or inaction does not excuse the Department from providing active efforts.

In re Dependency of J.M.W., 199 Wn.2d 837, 514 P.3d 186 (2022): Washington Supreme Court overruled and partially reversed Z.J.G. case above.  This case remanded a shelter care case for failure of Department to show that active efforts to prevent breakup of the Indian family were attempted and unsuccessful and for failing to find that child’s placement was no longer necessary. “Under RCW 13.38.160, if the State fails to demonstrate that it has made “active efforts,” the child must be returned to the parent unless the State establishes that doing so would subject the child to substantial and immediate danger or threat of such danger. (In re Dependency of Z.J.G., 10 Wn. App. 2d 446 (2019), is overruled insofar as it is inconsistent.)” “Prior active efforts may not be required at least in some instances when, for example, [when] a court orders law enforcement of Child Protective Services to take a child in to custody in an emergency.


In re Dependency of T.L.G, 139 Wn. App. 1, 17 (2007): To justify suspension of visitation, “[t]he legislatively-mandated risk of harm must be an actual risk, not speculation based on reports like those relied on here. Nor does the statute require parents to prove the absence of risk,”

In re Dependency of Tyler L., 150 Wn. App. 800, 803 & 805, 208 P.3d. 1287 (2009): “[S]evere physical and emotional responses before and/or after visits” is not a reason to suspend visitation. Therapeutic Visitation should be considered in lieu of suspension and termination is premature without having done so.


In re Eaton, 110 Wn. 2d 892, 757 P.2d 961 (1988) DCYF appealed a Court of Appeals decision requiring them to place a child in a specific group home and provide payment for the placement.  Washington Supreme Court reversed the judgement regarding the order for a specific facility, but affirmed the judgement requiring DCYF to pay for the placement.

In re Dependency of J.B.S. 123 Wn. 2d 1,13, 863 P.2d 1344 (1993) citing RCW 13.34.130(a): The legislative preference is for those placements “that least disrupt a child’s attachments and sense of stability” and “least interfere with family autonomy, provided that the services are adequate to protect the child.”

Braam v. State, 150 Wn. 2d 689, 715, 81 P.3d 851 (2003): “[F]oster children have substantive due process rights to be free of unreasonable risk of harm, and a right to reasonable safety.”

In re Dependency of R.W., 143 Wn. App. 219, 177 P.3d 186 (2008). Father appealed the juvenile court’s order permanently placing the children with their maternal grandmother until they could be reunited with their mother due to it being based on consideration of potential reunification with the mother, rather than the best interests of the children.  Case was reversed and remanded to the juvenile court for it to determine placement in the children’s best interests without regard to possible reunification with their mother, who had custody of them at the time of the dependency.

In re K.W., 1999 Wn.2d 131, 504 P.3d 207, 220-222 (2022): Supreme court of Washington reversed trial court’s decision denying youth’s motion for relative placement. “Courts must afford meaningful preference to placement with relatives.”   “[D]anger of improper biases about ‘best interests’ contaminates the decision-making process.” “Prior involvement with child welfare agencies, without more, can serve as a proxy for race or class, given that families of Color are disproportionately impacted by the child welfare system.”

 D.S. v. Washington State Department of Children Youth and Families pending class action settlement (2022)


In re Dependency of D.F.-M., 157 Wn. App. 179, 236 P.3d 961 (2010). Court of Appeals upheld trial court’s decision placing child with out of state father. “The interstate compact on the placement of children (RCW 26.34) governs only the placement of children in substitute arrangements for parental care and does not apply to interstate parental placements. Under article III of the compact (RCW 26.34.010), the scope of the compact is limited to placements in foster care or as a preliminary to an adoption.”


In re Dependency of K.R., 128 Wn.2d 129, 141–42, 904 P.2d 1132 (1995). Court of appeals decision reversing termination of parental rights (In re Dependency of K.R. 75 Wn. App 781, 880 P.2d 88 1994) was reversed by Supreme Court of Washington.  A finding of current parental unfitness is necessary to sustain a judgment terminating parental rights, but “no explicit finding of current parental unfitness is required” because such a finding is implicit once statutory elements are met. Clear, cogent, and convincing evidence exists when it shows that an ultimate fact in issue is highly probable and lower court “findings will not be disturbed unless clear, cogent, and convincing evidence does not exist in the record.”

In re Welfare of J.M., 130 Wn. App. 912, 125 P.3d 245 (2005). Termination of parental rights reversed by Court of Appeals.  Mother was not present for trial, but prejudiced by her counsel’s failure to object to the introduction of crucial evidence provided by witnesses who were not present and stipulation to damaging reports proffered by non-testifying witnesses.

In re Welfare of C.S., 168 Wn.2d 51, 225 P.3d 953 (2010): Mother’s child was initially removed due to her substance abuse, which was successfully addressed.  Mother’s parental rights were still terminated based on her alleged inability to meet her child’s needs.  Because the Department provided the foster parents with training “deemed necessary” to effectively deal with the child’s special needs without ever offering the mother similar services, our Supreme Court reversed termination of parental rights.

In re the Welfare of S.J., 162 Wn. App. 873, 256 P.3d 470 (2011): Reversed termination of parental rights due to Department’s failure to timely provide court-ordered mental health service that might have helped the parent progress in other services at an earlier stage and would not have been futile. The dispositional order reflected that mental health services would only be provided once the mother achieved sobriety. Mother was not timely provided with mental health or attachment and bonding services.

In re Welfare of R.H., 176 Wn. App. 419, 309 P.3d 620 (2013): Termination of parental rights reversed because the juvenile court erred by denying father’s timely motion to continue trial in order to investigate relative guardianship, thereby failing to properly address whether continuation of father’s relationship diminished his children’s prospects for early integration into a stable and permanent home.

In re the Welfare of A.B.v. E.I., 181 Wn. App 45, 323P.3d 1062 (2014): Order terminating mother’s parental rights reversed because the existence of cognitive impairments is not proof that a parent is unfit unless the cognitive impairment directly impacts the ability to parent, and thus the question is whether the resulting parenting deficiencies can be corrected.

In re Welfare of L.R., 180 Wn. App. 717, 324 P.3d 737 (2014).  Affirmed Court of Appeals holding that an incarcerated mother’s due process rights were not violated when she was absent from the first day of trial but participated in the rest of trial by phone.

In re Parental Rights to K.M.M., 186 Wn.2d 466, 379 P.3d 75 (2016): Ruling upheld termination of parental rights because even if the parent-child attachment could be restored at some point in future, there was nothing in the record to indicate that such restoration could be accomplished within a time frame that would be “conducive to K.M.M.’s emotional development and well-being.” If a child is unwilling, reunification services cannot be forced on the child.

In re Dependency of D.L.B., 186 Wn.2d 103, 376 P.3d 1099 (2016). Washington Court of Appeals upheld termination order.  The incarcerated parent factors in in Wash. Rev. Code § 13.34.180(1)(f) only apply when the parent is incarcerated at the time of the termination hearing.  If a parent is released from incarceration prior to the termination the fact of their incarceration will still be relevant and the law still suggests that special considerations be made for incarcerated parents at three separate points prior to termination for any parent incarcerated at some point during the dependency.

In re Dependency of A.N.G., 12 Wn. App. 2d 789, 459 P.3d 1099 (2020). Termination of parental rights was reversed by the Court of Appeals because the termination judge failed to recuse himself despite having previously served as an Assistant Attorney General who sought termination of mother’s parental rights as to her two older children. This violated mother’s due process rights as evidence from the previous cases was relied upon in the proceeding.

In re Welfare of M.B.¸195 Wn.2d 859, 467 P.3d 969 (2020): Termination of parental rights was reversed after an incarcerated father’s rights were terminated and he was only allowed to patriciate by phone in a small portion of the trial, which violated his due process rights. “If an incarcerated parent is not physically present, they must be given a meaningful opportunity to be heard and defend through alternative procedures.”

In re Dependency of J.D.E.C., 18 Wn. App. 2d 414, 491 P.3d 224 (2021): Affirmed termination of parental rights where trial was conducted via Zoom even though the father could not access Zoom and instead appeared by phone.

In re the Welfare of D.H. and A.K., 25 Wn. App. 2d 502 (2023): Reversing termination of parental rights where there was insufficient evidence to support trial court’s finding that DCYF tailored its offer of services to mother’s intellectual disability, and even if trial court had made reviewable finding that additional services would have been futile, there was insufficient evidence to sustain such finding.

Unpublished Opinion. In re the Dependency of AA.D.Y and AI.D.Y., 2023 WL 3721640: Distinguishes In re D.H. and A.K. The Court of Appeals upheld a termination, finding against the appellant’s argument that they may have had an intellectual disability. In a very fact specific opinion, the Court of Appeals distinguished MASC, IM-M, and DH
and concluded that the Department made reasonable efforts to ascertain the extent of the disability, tailored its offer of services, and the tailoring was informed by
current professional guidelines. A key factor in the opinion appeared to be the parent’s lack of engagement without a nexus to a disability. While unpublished, the facts of the case bear scrutiny should you have a client with alleged intellectual disability.

In the Matter of the Dependency of AMF, 526 P.3d 32 (2023): The Washington State Supreme Court addressed the issue of compulsory testimony, invocation of the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, and the drawing of a negative inference therefrom. The Supreme Court upheld the termination, holding that the Court’s reliance on a negative inference was not error. However, the Supreme Court stressed “that such a negative inference must not be the only evidence supporting termination.”

Courtroom Closure

Seattle Times Co. v. Ishikawa, 97 Wn. 2d 30, 37 (1982): Ishikawa Factors: “If closure and/or sealing is sought to further any right or interest besides the defendant’s right to a fair trial,” a 1) “serious and imminent threat to some other important interest” must be shown; 2) anyone present must be given an opportunity to object; 3) closure method must be In re Dependency of C.R.O’F., 19 Wn. App. 2d 1, 493 P.3d 1235 (2021) the least restrictive option; 4) court must weigh competing interests of closure proponent and public; and 5) order must be no broader in its application or duration than necessary to serve its purpose.


In re Dependency of A.K., 162 Wn. 2d 632, 174 P.3d 11 (2007): Juvenile court is required to find the statutory remedies for criminal contempt inadequate before using its inherent power to punish a juvenile for violating a court order, but such a finding is not required before exercising its inherent power to impose a remedial, coercive contempt sanction.

In re Interest of J.L., 140 Wn. App. 438, 166 P.3d 776 (2007): Juvenile court’s order imposing contempt was vacated due to  the contempt order being punitive, not containing a proper purge condition and imposing a suspended sentence without providing the juvenile criminal due process.

In re Interest of Silva, 166 Wn. 2d 133, 206 P.3d 1240 (2009).  Washington Supreme Court vacated a juvenile court’s punitive sanction in this at-risk youth case.  The trial judge utilized inherent contempt power to imposed a sentence of 45 days of detention and involuntary inpatient treatment on a youth for violating the dispositional order.  Youth are entitled to due process pursuant to RCW §7.21.040 and inherent contempt cannot be imposed until all statutory criminal contempt sanctions are determined to be inadequate. Also, inpatient treatment is not a valid purge condition.

Appointment of Children’s Attorneys

In re Dependency of E.M., 197 Wn. 2d 492, 484 P.3d 461 (2021): Privately retained attorneys are not required to seek appointment by the court in dependency proceedings under RCW 13.34.100 when the child has capacity to consent to the relationship. If the plain meaning of a statute is “unambiguous,” the court ends its inquiry.

De Facto Parentage

In re Dependency of C.R.O’F., 19 Wn. App. 2d 1, 493 P.3d 1235 (2021).  Trial court’s denial of aunt’s motion to intervene in her nephew’s dependency case was reversed by the Court of Appeals. Her case met the statutory requirements of Wash. Super. Ct. Civ. R. 24(a)(2), and she had submitted a sworn statement supporting her motion asserting de facto parentage.  She was therefore a party pursuant to Wash. R. App. P. 2.2 and 2.3.

Best Interests

In re Dependency of J.S., 111 Wn. App. 796, 46 P.3d 273 (2002). Parents appealed trial court’s decision allowing for relative adoption of their child, despite their opposition and preference for suitable other adoption. “The ultimate determination of the placement of a child is by the court, not by the Washington Department of Social and Health Services or by the parents.” “A trial court should not allow the rights of the biological parents to override a child’s best interests when determining placement under the dependency statute. The criteria for establishing the best interests of the child are not capable of exact specification because each case is largely dependent upon its own facts and circumstances. Courts have broad discretion and are allowed considerable flexibility to receive and evaluate all relevant evidence in order to reach a decision recognizing both the welfare of the child and the parental rights.”