Before Schwelb and Washington, Associate Judges, and Pryor, Senior
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Washington, Associate Judge
Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (Hon. Brook Hedge, Trial Judge)
The sole issue on appeal is whether there was sufficient evidence in the record to terminate the parental rights of L.P. ("mother") and T.F. ("father") (collectively, "appellants"). On January 3, 1995, the guardian ad litem for appellees, K.P., T.P., and Tw.P., filed motions to terminate the parental rights of L.P. and T.F. After a hearing conducted on March 26 and March 28, 1996, the trial court issued an order terminating appellants' parental rights. On February 17, 1998, appellants' motion to vacate and reopen the termination of parental rights (TPR) hearing was granted and a supplemental hearing was held on March 13 and March 19, 1998. On April 24, 1998, the trial court again issued an order terminating appellants' parental rights, and timely appeals were filed in this court. Appellants argue on appeal that the trial court's decision to terminate their parental rights was not supported by clear and convincing evidence. We discern no error with the trial court's ruling, and thus we affirm.
Tw.P., T.P., and K.P. are the children of L.P. and T.F. Tw.P. and T.P. are sisters born on August 31, 1986, and August 2, 1988, respectively. Their brother, K.P., was born on June 12, 1989. At the time the mother entered a stipulation of neglect on April 7, 1992, the children were five, three and two years of age, respectively.
This case first came to the attention of the District of Columbia Department of Human Services ("DHS") when the shelter facility where L.P., Tw.P., T.P., and K.P. were residing contacted the agency to report that L.P. had left the children alone on several occasions. Although the case was referred to Laraine Adams, a DHS social worker, on July 4, 1991, nothing came of the matter until September 1991, when the shelter facility contacted DHS requesting a placement for the three children because L.P. had been arrested for stabbing her boyfriend. Since L.P. was unable to care for the children because of her legal difficulties, DHS sought an interim placement. At that time, the three children were placed in the home of their birth father, T.F., and his mother J.F. However, after two weeks, the children were returned to DHS because the house was too small to accommodate both the children and J.F.'s daughter who had been shot and was convalescing in the home. At that time, DHS suggested that T.F. enter a shelter with his children to wait for a permanent housing placement. However, T.F. decided against entering a shelter with the children.
In November of 1991, the children were placed with a maternal cousin, S.B. However, they were removed from the home and placed in foster care in December 1991 because S.B.'s boyfriend burned Tw.P. on her finger for allegedly stealing, while S.B. held her hand over an open flame.
Although L.P.'s legal troubles were apparently resolved around this time, DHS felt that she was still unable to care for the children. A major concern for DHS was that L.P. did not have permanent housing and had been evicted from several shelters because of her violent relationships with men. In addition, all of the children evidenced special needs and exhibited behavioral problems. Tw.P. had the most severe problems of the three children and is described as a very difficult, emotionally disturbed child. For this reason, Tw.P. was placed in a therapeutic day nursery at the age of five and a half. T.P. also had emotional needs, but was also described as a very happy, talkative, and outgoing girl. K.P. had a speech problem and special education needs at the time he entered the foster care system.
On April 7, 1992, L.P. entered into a stipulation of neglect conceding that she was unable to care for the children. DHS set up a reunification plan with L.P. that required her to participate in a parenting program and a counseling program. Her other obligation was to maintain contact with the social worker. Ms. Adams testified that the mother did not follow through with the reunification plan. As an example, Ms. Adams related that although L.P. made an initial appointment for counseling, she did not follow up on the appointment. Ms. Adams also testified that L.P. continued to be involved in abusive relationships with men, most times with M.R., the boyfriend she had previously stabbed. In addition, despite having liberal visitation rights, L.P. failed to maintain regular contact with the children. There were several occasions where L.P. would totally disappear and could not be reached at any of her known contact numbers.
Ms. Adams testified that T.F. also rarely visited the children. In fact, T.F. visited the children only twice from the time they entered foster care until May of 1993. However, the father's few visits were described as positive. He apparently responded well to the children, particularly to K.P. At some point T.F. expressed an interest in having the children live with him. He had moved out of his mother's house and was living with his girlfriend, A.J., and her three children. Ms. Adams testified that although A.J. appeared pleasant, the home in which they were living was very small and unsuitable for six children. Ms. Adams testified further that some comments by T.F.'s mother, although she could not recall the substance of the comments, raised some concern in her mind regarding the stability of the relationship between T.F. and A.J. and their ability to care for children with special needs. Finally, because T.F. did not have a stable income and rarely visited with the children, placement of the children with him was not seen as a viable alternative.
Between October 1993 and April 1994, L.P.'s living arrangements remained unstable, and her visits remained sporadic. By this time, she had additional children, and according to Mr. Benoy Thomas, the new DHS social worker assigned to the case, she would contact him to request diapers for her younger children, transportation tokens, emergency food assistance, and day care services, but never expressed a strong desire to become reunited with her older children. Despite her apparent lack of motivation, DHS again developed a reunification plan for her. This plan included a mental health evaluation, which she completed; counseling for her abusive relationships with men, which she refused; parenting classes, which she completed but reportedly did not benefit from; and housing, which she applied for but never received. L.P.'s visits did increase in frequency to twice a month from December 1993 until February 1994. However, in February 1994, L.P. again disappeared and no further arrangements for visitation were made until April 1994.
When visitation did resume, L.P. brought along a friend, V.H. She also brought along two of her younger children. During the visits, L.P. was described as distant from the respondents, she did not interact well with them; she simply sat and observed T.P. and K.P. play. Mr. Thomas unsuccessfully attempted to show L.P. how to talk and play with the children. According to Mr. Thomas, T.F. also visited with the children during this time frame and interacted well with the children, talking and playing, and engaging them throughout the visitation period. He would also bring something for the children when he visited. However, Mr. Thomas believed that T.F. acted more like a friend than a father to the children.
Although the goal was reunification when Mr. Thomas was assigned the case, the goal was changed to adoption in April 1995. It was decided that despite efforts to provide L.P. with the services necessary to remedy her parenting deficiencies, she had made little progress towards reunification. DHS believed that she lacked an understanding of the special needs of the children, and because she had two other children and was pregnant with another child, she would not be able to provide for the needs of the respondents. Mr. Thomas testified that at that time he believed that the respondents had bonded with their foster parents and that the foster parents might be willing to adopt ...