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In re Antj. P.

December 19, 2002

IN RE ANTJ.P., MI.P., MA.P., & ANTH.P.
A.R. & L.P., APPELLANTS.



Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (TPR 1533-96) (TPR 1534-96) (TPR 1535-96) (TPR 1536-96) (Hon. Zinora Mitchell-Rankin, Trial Judge)

Before Farrell, Ruiz and Reid, Associate Judges.

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

Argued November 19, 2002

In this case, the biological mother of four children, and the biological father of one of those children, challenge the trial court's decision to terminate their parental rights. We affirm, concluding that the trial court's decision to terminate their parental rights is supported by clear and convincing evidence, and that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that termination of parental rights is in the best interests of the children.

FACTUAL SUMMARY

The record before us shows that L.P., who had a history of substance abuse, burned her son, Anth.P. with a heated knife on November 27, 1996, when she caught him playing with the stove. He was taken to Children's Hospital with "multiple second degree burns on his arms and stomach, chin and neck." Burns also were found on his back, and "multiple well-healed scars [were noted] on his trunk and legs." *fn1 Subsequently, all four of L.P.'s children were removed from her home and placed in shelter care, with the District of Columbia Department of Human Services ("DHS"). *fn2 On May 20, 1997, they were committed to the jurisdiction of the Child and Family Services Agency ("CFSA"), and placed in foster care.

Initially, CFSA pursued a goal of reunification of L.P. with her children; intensive reunification efforts were made by a contract agency, Family and Child Services ("F&CS"). In August 1997, when the initial intensive reunification efforts proved unsuccessful, L.P.'s case was turned over to another social worker at F&CS, Mari Iskowitz, *fn3 a reunification permanency planning worker, who continued "intensive reunification [efforts] . . . with a little bit more intense pressure." L.P. signed "service reunification agreement[s]" with Ms. Iskowitz. She completed prescribed parenting classes, but although individual therapy was arranged for her, L.P. attended those sessions "on a relatively sporadic basis," that is, "about 60 percent of the time." Through F&CS, L.P. entered the Job Corps, "but . . . was released . . . due to a positive drug test." *fn4 Since L.P. lived in her boyfriend's mother's apartment, F&CS attempted to help her obtain appropriate housing, but L.P. did not cooperate.

Because L.P. did not make a "substantial effort . . . to truly reunite with her family," CFSA decided that the goal of adoption was in the "best interests of the children," and the guardian ad litem moved for a termination of parental rights ("TPR"). On November 5, 1999, the trial court determined that D.C. (the alleged father of Anth.P.), *fn5 E.C. (the father of Mi.P. and Ma.P.) and A.R., (the father of Antj.P.) had all been served properly with the TPR notices. None of the fathers sought to visit his child(ren), and L.P. later indicated that she did not want to visit her children, allegedly because the agency told her that the children became "traumatized" when she visited them.

On June 8-9, 2000, the trial court proceeded with a TPR hearing for all four children instead of an announced show cause hearing. The father of the twins, E.C., and A.R., the father of the youngest child, were present and represented by counsel. *fn6 After the hearing, the court terminated all parental rights.

ANALYSIS

L.P. contends that DHS and F&CS "failed to provide adequate services geared to her special needs" so that she could be reunited with her children. She claims that D.C. Code § 7-1301.02 (2001) required DHS to provide such services because she is "borderline mentally retarded." As the District points out, this argument "is being made for the first time on appeal," and we are not required to consider it. See Miller v. Avirom, 127 U.S. App. D.C. 367, 369-70, 384 F.2d 319, 321-22 (1967) ("Questions not properly raised and preserved during the proceedings under examination, and points not asserted with sufficient precision to indicate distinctly the party's thesis, will normally be spurned on appeal."). *fn7

"A trial court may terminate the parent-child relationship when it determines, on the basis of the evidence presented and after due consideration of the best interest of all parties, that the termination is in the best interest of the child." In re Tw.P., 756 A.2d 402, 407 (D.C. 2000) (citations omitted). "The trial court's decision to terminate parental rights must be supported by clear and convincing evidence . . .," id. (citation omitted), and "may be reversed only for an abuse of discretion," id. (citations omitted). Moreover, D.C. Code § 16-2353 (b) (2001) sets forth several factors that the trial court must consider before deciding to terminate L.P.'s parental rights. *fn8

Here, the trial court found that Antj.P., Mi.P., and Ma.P. had been in the foster care system for almost their entire lives and that they "are doing well . . . in their current placements." It further determined that Anth.P. "specifically requested not to see [L.P.], [then] wanted to see her on one occasion and has not wanted to see her since." It acknowledged that L.P. visited her children until sometime in 1999, but also credited the testimony of her social worker that the "visitation was not always consistent," and that since her visitation ended, her "children . . . ha[d] not inquired about their mother." L.P.'s testimony that she brought Mi.P., Ma.P. and Antj.P. "gifts of clothing and toys during her visits" was found not "to be credible." On the contrary, the court concluded that L.P. generally had failed to "provide any financial assistance toward the maintenance of any of her children" since 1995.

Furthermore, the record supports the trial court's finding that L.P. did "not engage[] in any meaningful effort to demonstrate her readiness to become a full participant in the children's lives [a]s . . . [she] was unemployed and living with her boyfriend and his mother, and thus was plainly not in a position to either assume or to assist with the children's maintenance and care." In contrast, the children's respective caretakers have "consistently met" their needs and have "appropriately responded to" the "chronic asthma, and some developmental delays" that afflict the twins and Antj.P. And, the children in turn are "adjusted and fully integrated into their homes and communities." The twins and Antj.P. are "very close and bonded to each other" and "are living together and will be adopted together." The trial court specifically found that Anth.P.'s "best interests - that is [his] physical, ...


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