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IN RE AN.C.

December 30, 1998

IN RE AN.C. IN RE SH.C. IN RE ST.C. S.W., APPELLANT.


APPEAL FROM THE SUPERIOR COURT, MARY ELLEN ABRECHT, J. [722 A2d Page 37]

Before Wagner, Chief Judge, Schwelb, Associate Judge, and King, Senior Judge.[fn*] [fn*] Judge King was an Associate Judge, Retired at the time of argument. His status changed to Senior Judge on November 23, 1998.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Schwelb, Associate Judge:

On August 8, 1996, following a contested fact-finding hearing, the TPR judge *fn1 issued an order terminating the parental rights (TPR) of the father (S.W.) and the mother (A.C.) with respect to their three minor children, respondents Sh.C (born April 23, 1988), St.C., Jr. (born February 23, 1991) and An.C. (born February 23, 1992). On appeal, the father contends that the TPR petition was prematurely filed and that the trial judge gave inadequate consideration to an alternative placement proposed by the father. We affirm.

I.

On August 10, 1993, a fact-finding hearing was held before the neglect judge on a petition by the Office of Corporation Counsel alleging that both parents had neglected the three respondents. At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge orally found that each respondent was a neglected child. Entries to that effect were made on each respondent's jacket. On October 4, 1993, the neglect judge entered written disposition orders reflecting that each child "has been found to have been neglected and in need of protection pursuant to D.C.Code § 16 — 2301(9)(B), (C) and (F)," and committed the children to the Department of Human Resources. The neglect judge did not, however, enter his written Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order finding the children to be neglected, until July 25, 1996, three days after the TPR judge had held a hearing on the motion of the children's guardian ad litem (GAL) to terminate the parental rights of both parents. [722 A2d Page 38]

The GAL's TPR motion was filed on December 1, 1995. The District's TPR statute provides, with exceptions not here applicable, that such a motion "may be filed only when the child who is the subject of the motion has been adjudicated neglected at least six months. . . ." D.C.Code § 16-2354(b) (1997). The father now contends that the GAL's petition was premature. The father relies on Super. Ct. Neg. R. 16(b) (1998), which provides in pertinent part that "[a] finding of neglect shall be supported by a preponderance of the evidence, and shall be accompanied by a written statement of the specific facts on which the finding is based. . . ." The father points out that the neglect judge's written findings were not entered-until seven months after the TPR motion was filed. He claims that the children therefore were not "adjudicated neglected" within the meaning of § 16-2354(b) until the neglect judge's written findings were entered, and that the TPR motion could not properly be filed until January 25, 1997, six months after the entry of these written findings.

The TPR judge rejected the father's contention, both as a matter of construction of the applicable statute and Rule, *fn2 and because the parents had failed to raise the issue in timely fashion. *fn2 The judge concluded that

the parents' current contention is unfounded and, in any event, has been waived by their previous acquiescence. Moreover, the children's need for stability and permanency should not be delayed because of the court's delay in complying with a rule where no one was prejudiced.

We agree with the judge's analysis. The adjudication of neglect in these cases occurred in August 1993, when the first trial judge's oral findings were entered on the jacket, and not in 1996, when the judge formally issued his written findings of fact. The parents' objection to the lack of any written findings was not raised at the appropriate stage of the proceedings, and the defect could readily have been cured if a timely objection had been made. See, e.g., Miller v. Avirom, 127 U.S.App. D.C. 367, 369-70, 384 F.2d 319, 321-22 (1967) (contentions not timely raised in the trial court are normally spurned on appeal).

II.

This case began in 1992, after two citizens acting as "good Samaritans" reported that the parents, both of whom were abusing unlawful drugs, were repeatedly engaged in panhandling on the street. The children, the youngest of whom was only a few months old, were with the parents. The neglect judge subsequently found that the children were "filthy, unwashed, malodorous, and ravenously hungry." The judge concluded that "[t]he children were deprived of food, clothing, shelter, and emotional security and stability not due to lack of financial resources."

In November 1992, the two girls, Sh.C. and An.C., were placed in the home of their foster mother, S.H., a licensed day care provider. The boy, St.C., Jr., was placed in the same home in January 1993. The ages of the respondents at the time that they began to live with the foster mother were as follows: [722 A2d Page 39]

Sh.C. four years, seven ...


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