Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (N-245-97, N-246-97, N-249-97) (Hon. John H. Bayly, Jr., Trial Judge)
Before Wagner, Chief Judge, and Terry and Farrell, Associate Judges.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terry, Associate Judge
These consolidated appeals arise from three orders in which the trial court determined that three children were neglected, as that term is defined in D.C. Code § 16-2301 (B) and (C) (2001). *fn1 After the court's initial determination of neglect, the mother (appellant P.V.) retained custody of all three children. A short time later, however, the children were removed from appellant's custody after it became known that she had not completed certain court-ordered parenting classes and that she had resumed her use of illegal drugs. After a final disposition hearing, the children were committed to the custody of the Department of Human Services ("DHS"). Before this court, appellant challenges the trial court's determination that the children were neglected and their resulting commitment to DHS. *fn2 We hold that there was sufficient evidence to support a finding of neglect under D.C. Code § 16-2301 (9)(B), but not under D.C. Code § 16-2301 (9)(C). Accordingly, we vacate the adjudication of neglect under section 16-2301 (9)(C), and affirm the neglect adjudication under section 16-2301 (9)(B) and the final order committing the children to the custody of DHS.
Appellant is the mother of Am. V., Ak. V., and An. V, who are now fourteen, eleven, and six years old, respectively. In March 1997 the Child and Family Services Division of DHS became involved with appellant after she was arrested for destruction of property. Another complaint was made about appellant in September of the same year, when DHS was informed that the children were "poorly dressed, unsupervised, and were without appropriate food and supplies . . . and that the mother left them alone frequently." Also in September 1997, DHS was contacted by teachers at Malcolm X Elementary School, who reported that Am. V. and Ak. V., the two oldest children, were "com ing to school late consistently every day," that their "appearance was dirty [and] their clothing was dirty" and that Am. V.'s "hair was uncombed." At the hearing below, these conditions were verified by Bethenia Taylor, a teacher at Malcolm X, who described Am. V.'s appearance as "very, very unclean." Her clothing "appeared not to have been washed," and the skin on her neck had "dirt that was baked in." Am. V. came to school in this condition "just about every day." Ms. Taylor also told of Am. V's chronic tardiness, which was also a problem with Ak. V.
When the children's assigned social worker from DHS conducted a home visit, she found that "the home conditions were deplorable, disorganized, clothing all over the place . . . the sheets in the bedroom [and] the pillow cases were filthy black. I had to tell the [mother] that she has to do laundry." At that point the social worker decided to arrange for a homemaking service for the family. However:
That did not work out. We made three attempts to get that service in the home, and on each attempt the mother was not home even though she was notified of the appointment. And then, finally, the service began, but was terminated within . . . two visits because she would not cooperate.
The social worker made monthly home visits. She testified, however, that sometimes she had to make return visits because appellant "wouldn't answer the door, or sometimes we learned that she was home and just would not respond . . . she wouldn't let us in." Consequently, for about two months DHS was "unable to do a home visit to find o ut what was going on in the ho me . . . ."
At the hearing on the three neglect petitions, the trial court also heard testimony from the children's teachers, social workers, and appellant's drug counselor. Appellant was not present at the hearing, however, nor did her counsel present any witnesses. At the close of the hearing, the court found that "a pattern of neglect" had existed "over an extended period of time" with respect to the children's hygiene, clothing, and timely attendance at school which was not due to a lack of financial means. The court also found that appellant had failed to give Am. V. certain prescribed medication, *fn3 and that she was routinely uncooperative with the assigned social worker and had even refused to speak to her. Finally, the court concluded that because of appellant's recent drug use, she was unable to fulfil her responsibilities as a mother.
A disposition hearing was scheduled for another date about six weeks later. Before that hearing took place, however, the children's guardian ad litem filed a motion alleging that appellant had not completed certain court-ordered parenting classes and that since the earlier hearing she had again started to use narcotics. The motion also stated that on at least one occasion appellant had failed to pick up the children from school, and that the social worker had been denied access to the children when attempting to monitor their safety. *fn4 After an emergency hearing (which appellant again did not attend, although her counsel did), the court ordered that the children be removed from appellant's custody and that the two oldest children be placed in foster care.
At the disposition hearing a month later, the court ordered: (1) that all three children be committed to DHS; (2) that Am. V. and Ak. V. remain with the foster parents who had been caring for them since the earlier o rder; (3) that An. V., the youngest child, be taken from appellant's home immediately; (4) that Ritalin be given to Am. V., as recommended by a doctor after a psychiatric evaluation; *fn5 (5) that a psychiatric evaluation of appellant be conducted; (6) that appellant be given reasonable visitation rights; and (7) that DHS begin a search for suitable family members for the children to live with. The court also directed, however, that reunification of appellant and her children should be a priority and that the matter be set for review in six months. *fn6
The government has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that a child is neglected. See, e.g., In re A.S., 643 A.2d 345, 347 (D.C. 1994); D.C. Code § 16-2317 (c)(2). In determining whether this standard has been met, this court "must consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the government, giving full play to the right of the judge, as the trier of fact, to determine credibility, weigh the evidence, and draw reasonable inferences." In re T.M., 577 A.2d 1149, 1151 (D.C. 1990) (citations omitted). We will reverse a finding of ...