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In re T.W. S.A.

July 15, 1999

IN RE T.W. S.A., APPELLANT.


Before Steadman and Schwelb, Associate Judges, and Gallagher, Senior Judge.

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

Notice: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the Atlantic and Maryland Reporters. Users are requested to notify the Clerk of the Court of any formal errors so that corrections may be made before the bound volumes go to press.

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia

(Hon. Linda K. Davis, Trial Judge)

Argued May 25, 1999

The "Wednesday's Child" television program, a weekly segment of Channel 4 news, is designed to bring potentially adoptable children to the attention of prospective adoptive parents who have room for them "in [their] homes and in [their] hearts." The program highlights one child (or a group of siblings) and invites viewers to consider adopting the child or children depicted on the screen. It is undisputed that Wednesday's Child has generated increased interest in the adoption of children who have appeared on the program. *fn1

On December 15, 1998, the trial Judge issued an order authorizing the appearance on Wednesday's Child of respondent T.W., a neglected child who is in the custody of the Department of Human Services (DHS). T.W.'s biological father, S.A., appeals, contending that the Judge erred by permitting the presentation of T.W. to the viewing public as available for adoption when the father's parental rights remain intact. We affirm.

I.

PRIOR PROCEEDINGS

T.W. was born on May 9, 1994. His parents were not married. For the first three months of his life, T.W. lived with his biological mother. The mother was unable to provide appropriate care for T.W., however, and child neglect proceedings were instituted in May 1995. In June 1996, in conformity with a stipulation signed by his mother, T.W. was committed to the custody of DHS, and he was placed in a residential facility known as Grandpa's House. T.W. has an extensive medical history and "significant cognitive and physical delays." He has lived in various medical and child care institutions for most of his life.

Following T.W.'s commitment, DHS initially adopted a case plan aimed at achieving T.W.'s reunification with his mother. The mother agreed to the case plan, but she apparently failed to follow through. In March 1997, DHS concluded that the mother had made no progress toward the objectives outlined in the case plan. DHS therefore changed the goal of its planning for T.W. from reunification with the mother to adoption. The revised goal was approved by the Superior Court.

In December 1997, T.W.'s guardian ad litem (GAL), working in collaboration with a DHS social worker, filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of both of T.W.'s parents. It was apparently in connection with the TPR proceeding that T.W.'s biological father was identified and located. At the time, the father was incarcerated. The father had never had any contact with T.W., and he claims that he had been told that T.W. was dead.

On October 9, 1998, the court in the TPR case issued an order terminating the mother's parental rights. The petition to terminate the father's rights was dismissed. The mother filed a timely appeal from the order terminating her rights. That appeal is presently pending in this court. See No.98-FS-1663.

Meanwhile, in pursuit of the goal of achieving T.W.'s adoption, the GAL filed a motion to waive confidentiality so that T.W. could be interviewed on Wednesday's Child. The father opposed the GAL's motion. *fn2 Although he remained incarcerated, the father claimed that T.W.'s paternal relatives (and especially T.W.'s paternal grandmother, who lives in North Carolina) were seeking to establish a relationship with T.W., and that placement with a relative "and perhaps custody" was "a distinct possibility." The father argued that the Judge lacked authority to "waive confidentiality" and that, even if such authority existed, its exercise would be an abuse of discretion in light of the circumstances before the court.

On December 15, 1998, the trial Judge issued a written order granting a "limited" waiver of confidentiality. After summarizing the facts set forth above, the Judge held that "it is in the respondent's best interest, given his special medical needs and his three-and-a-half years of institutionalization in the foster-care system, to exercise vigorous efforts to ...


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