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09/30/93 I.B. W.B. S.B. W.B.

September 30, 1993


Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; (Hon. Jose M. Lopez, Trial Judge)

Before Terry, Wagner, and King, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terry

TERRY, Associate Judge: This termination of parental rights (TPR) case involves two young boys, now fourteen and eleven years old, who have lived most of their lives under the protection of the child welfare authorities. They are children of the same mother but different fathers. Appellant, their mother, appeals from an order granting a petition for termination of her parental rights which had been filed by their guardian ad litem. Her only claim on appeal is that the trial Judge failed to make findings of fact and Conclusions of law concerning the children's opinions as to their own best interest or, in the alternative, a specific finding that it was not feasible to consider their opinions, which she contends is required under D.C. Code § 16-2353 (b)(4) (1992 Supp.).

Appellant's parental rights were terminated following a three-day evidentiary hearing, which ensued from the filing of a TPR petition by the children's guardian ad litem and was the culmination of almost eight years of governmental involvement with the welfare of I.B. and S.B. Present at the hearing were appellant, *fn1 the guardian ad litem, C.L. and H.L. (the foster parents of I.B. and S.B.), *fn2 and counsel for the putative fathers of both boys. *fn3 I.B. and S.B. were not present and did not testify. *fn4 After the testimony was completed, the trial Judge heard oral argument and granted the parties leave to file further pleadings. A few weeks later he filed a seventeen-page order containing extensive findings of fact and concluding that termination was in the best interests of the children. See D.C. Code § 16-2359 (f) (1989). We hold that the Judge's findings and Conclusions were legally sufficient and accordingly affirm the TPR order.


A. Background

The District of Columbia Department of Human Services (DHS) first became involved with I.B. and S.B. in 1983 after two reported incidents of neglect involving appellant's care of them. In April 1984, following a third such incident stemming from appellant's failure to provide necessary medical treatment for I.B., the boys were placed temporarily in a DHS foster home until they were transferred to the care of their aunt. They stayed with their aunt until August 24, 1984, when a stipulation of neglect was entered against appellant. On the same date they were returned to appellant's care, but under the protective supervision of the court. See D.C. Code § 16-2320 (a)(2) (1989) (authorizing court to order protective supervision); id. § 16-2301 (19) (defining protective supervision).

In March 1985 the boys were again taken from appellant after yet another reported incident of neglect. They were temporarily placed in a foster home and then once again transferred to the care of their aunt. While the children were living with their aunt, the court entered an order imposing certain conditions on appellant's reunification with her children, e.g., receiving therapy and attending classes on parenting skills. The record shows that appellant only marginally complied with the terms of that order; nevertheless, in December 1985 the boys were again returned to her.

Appellant moved frequently during the next several months, causing I.B., who was then seven years old, to miss a substantial period of time from school. *fn5 As a result, an order was entered in May 1986 revoking protective supervision *fn6 and committing both boys to foster care. Appellant refused to surrender the children in compliance with this order; however, the children were ultimately found and taken from her by DHS in August 1986. *fn7 A new stipulation of neglect was entered on August 26.

Appellant's contact with the boys since that date has been restricted and monitored by the court. From 1986 to 1989 she had weekly unsupervised visits with them. Her right to unsupervised visitation was suspended temporarily in January 1988 after social workers concluded that appellant's home environment was not safe because she was hitting the children, leaving them unsupervised, and permitting them to engage in dangerous activities such as crossing busy intersections late at night. From early 1989 until the date of the hearing in March 1991, appellant visited with the children at a DHS facility approximately every other week, except for a period from April 1990 to October 1990, during which all visitation again had to be suspended because of appellant's conduct during several of those visits.

In the spring of 1989, the social worker who had been trying to assist appellant concluded that reunification of the family was not a realistic goal because of appellant's failure to make any progress in meeting the conditions set by the court for reunification. As a result, the guardian ad litem initiated proceedings to terminate the parental rights of appellant and the boys' fathers.

B. The Testimony at the Hearing

The guardian ad litem advised the court and other parties in her opening statement that, because of the ages of the children, "we will not be asking their testimony today or their opinion as to what they feel is in their best interest, we will have testimony from social workers and clinical psychologists as to what is in the best interest of the children." Counsel for appellant made no objection.

Andrea Pinnow, a social worker, was qualified as an expert in the field of "family relations and assisting reunification of natural families." She provided most of the testimony about the general background of the case which we have already summarized. She also recounted her efforts over the years to help appellant become reunited with her children by obtaining a permanent residence, steady ...

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