Before Terry and Steadman, Associate Judges, and Gallagher, Senior
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terry, Associate Judge
Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia
(Hon. Ronna Lee Beck, Trial Judge)
(Submitted January 21, 1999
This is an appeal from an order adjudicating B.B.P. a neglected child. Appellant J.P., the child's mother, claims that this ruling was erroneous because the District of Columbia filed its neglect petition too soon. The District argues that even if the petition was premature, the mother's conduct between the time of the child's birth and the neglect hearing justified the court's ultimate decision. Because we conclude that the petition was timely, we affirm.
The pertinent facts are not in dispute. Late in November of 1996, J.P. moved to the District of Columbia from Buffalo, New York. On January 30, 1997, she was taken by ambulance to Providence Hospital, where she gave birth to B.B.P. When J.P. left the hospital the next day, she told Melanie Sachs, a hospital social worker, that she would be staying with her mother at an address on Second Street, N.E., even though her four other children were all living in Buffalo. J.P. said that B.B.P., who had been born prematurely and weighed less than four pounds, would join her at her mother's apartment when he was ready to be discharged from the hospital. *fn1
During the next two weeks, J.P. neither visited B.B.P. nor returned to the hospital to make plans for his discharge, though she did call the nursery three times to ask about him. Sylvia Jefferson, a social worker with the Department of Human Services (DHS), made repeated attempts to contact J.P. at her mother's address, *fn2 but the only response she ever received was a telephone message from J.P. on February 13 which contained no information as to how J.P. could be reached. *fn3
On February 13 the District filed a neglect petition on B.B.P.'s behalf under paragraphs (A) and (G) of D.C. Code § 16-2301 (9) (1996). *fn4 The trial court appointed counsel for J.P., scheduled a status hearing for March 11, and ordered B.B.P. placed in shelter care. B.B.P. was discharged from the hospital into the care of DHS on February 18.
Finally, on March 5, J.P. called Ms. Sachs at the hospital to find out "what was going on" with B.B.P. She explained that the reason she had not been in contact with Ms. Sachs previously was that she had gone to Buffalo to take care of some family problems. Ms. Sachs informed J.P. that B.B.P. had been placed in the care of DHS and instructed her to contact Sylvia Jefferson, the DHS social worker assigned to the case.
A fact-finding hearing on the neglect petition was held on May 12. Although J.P. did not appear personally, she was represented by counsel, who conceded that J.P. had notice of the hearing date and did not object to going forward with the hearing without her presence. The trial court, after receiving testimony from Ms. Jefferson and Ms. Sachs, found that B.B.P. had "resided at the [hospital] for more than ten calendar days following his birth despite a medical determination that he was ready for discharge" and ruled that the mother's three telephone calls to the hospital were insufficient to satisfy the statute's requirement of "reasonable efforts to maintain a parental relationship." The court concluded that B.B.P. was both "abandoned" within the meaning of D.C. Code §§ 16-2301 (9)(A) and 16-2316 (d)(4) and "neglected" within the meaning of D.C. Code § 16-2301 (9)(G). At a disposition hearing a few weeks later, on June 23, B.B.P. was committed to the custody of DHS. *fn5
D.C. Code § 16-2316 (d) provides in part:
Where the petition alleges a child is abandoned as referred to in section 16-2301 (9)(A) . . . the following evidence shall be sufficient to ...