Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (N-441-00, N-442-00, N-443-00) (Hon. Kaye K. Christian, Trial Judge).
Before Terry, Associate Judge, Steadman, Associate Judge, Retired,*fn2 and King, Senior Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terry, Associate Judge
Appellant D.B. is the mother of three children, her daughter Kya.B. and her sons K.B. and Kye.B.*fn3 In this neglect proceeding, the trial court, after an evidentiary hearing, found that D.B. had abused Kya.B. and that Kya.B. was therefore a neglected child under D.C. Code § 16-2301 (9)(A) (2001).*fn4
The court also found that K.B. and Kye.B. were neglected children under D.C. Code § 16-2301 (9)(E) (2001),*fn5 concluding that they were "in imminent danger of being abused" because their sibling, Kya.B., had already been abused. The court committed all three children to the custody of the Department of Human Services and directed Court Social Services to oversee their treatment plan and determine whether the children could be placed with other family members. D.B. contends that there was insufficient evidence to permit a finding that Kya.B. was abused and insufficient evidence to prove that K.B. and Kye.B. were in imminent danger of being abused. We affirm the trial court's order with respect to Kya.B and K.B. We reverse the order as to Kye.B. (the youngest child) and remand the case to the trial court for further proceedings.
On March 30, 2000, Kya.B. arrived at her elementary school with a small laceration over her left eye and an abrasion on her right arm. Kya.B's teacher brought her to the school nurse, Selinda Boyd, for examination and treatment. Kya.B. told Ms. Boyd that the laceration over her eye occurred when her mother hit her "with a broom handle for not being able to locate her [school] uniform." The abrasion on Kya.B.'s arm was in the healing stages, and Kya.B. told Ms. Boyd that she had received that injury when her mother repeatedly pinched her during a hair grooming session for failing to hold her head straight. Boyd also noticed "old injuries, scratches around [Kya.B.'s] neck on both sides," in addition to the fresh injuries. Kya.B. said that the older injuries on her neck were inflicted by her mother when she had not held still during previous hair grooming sessions.
After examining Kya.B., Ms. Boyd called Child Protective Services, which immediately contacted the Youth and Family Services Division ("YFSD") of the Metropolitan Police. The next day, March 31, Detective James Goldring of YFSD took all three children to District of Columbia General Hospital for an examination. As reported by Detective Goldring,*fn6 Kya.B.'s examination "revealed multiple healing scars on her head, and revealed multiple healed scars to her arms, back, right shoulder, neck, and face." No scars were found on the other two children. Detective Goldring also interviewed Kya.B. and K.B. about their mother's methods of discipline:
[Kya.B.] reported that her mother disciplines her with a belt, with her hand, or with a broom. She further reported that her mother also hits her brother [K.B.] with the belt, and that she hits [Kye.B.] with her hand. [K.B.] reported that his mother beats them with "belts, toys, brooms, and stuff." [K.B.] also reported that [Kya.B.] was beaten on Wednesday [March 29, 2000] because she could not find her school uniform.
Kya.B. told Detective Goldring that the old scratches around her neck were inflicted in January 2000 when D.B. grabbed her by the neck, choked her, and then threw her against the dresser in her bedroom because she could not locate a comb.
On April 1, 2000, the District of Columbia filed three neglect petitions against D.B. (one for each child). The petitions alleged that D.B. physically abused her daughter, Kya.B, and that D.B.'s sons, K.B. and Kye.B., were in imminent danger of being abused. The trial court held an initial hearing that day and ruled that there was probable cause to believe that Kya.B. had been abused and that her siblings were in danger of future abuse. The court denied D.B.'s request to regain custody of her children. Court Social Services recommended that the children be placed with their respective fathers (each child has a different father) or other relatives, and the court agreed. The court also ordered psychological evaluations of D.B. and her children and directed that D.B.'s visits with her children be supervised until further notice.
About three months later, a different Superior Court judge held an evidentiary hearing on the three neglect petitions. Only two witnesses testified on the issue of neglect, Ms. Boyd and D.B., the children's mother.*fn7 D.B. stated that she disciplined her children by "tak[ing] things from them" and by punishing them physically. She explained that the physical punishment was normally in the form of spankings, but that sometimes she used objects, such as belts, on the two older children, Kya.B. and K.B. D.B. denied ever using a broom handle to punish Kya.B. or any of her children and said she never saw any marks on her children's bodies after disciplining them.
Concerning the events of March 29, D.B. testified that Kya.B. returned home from school with notes from her teachers because she was "being bad in school." All three children soon began fighting with each other, and separating them from one another did not quell their dispute. In an effort to end the quarrel, D.B. "gave them all a spanking and told them to stop fighting." She also told Detective Goldring that she had struck Kya.B. with a belt and that the belt "may have" hit Kya.B. in the head because the girl "was moving around." Later in her testimony, however, she denied that possibility: "I hit her on the backside. I don't know how she could have got the bruise on her head. . . . I didn't even see the mark on her head. I didn't see it. So, no, I don't think I put it there. No." D.B. gave Kya.B. a bath later that night and did not notice any marks on her body.*fn8
At the conclusion of the hearing, the court found that Kya.B.'s injuries - the laceration over her left eye, the abrasion on her right arm, and the scratch marks around her neck - were inflicted by D.B. The court attributed the laceration above the eye to D.B.'s physical discipline. The court also credited Ms. Boyd's testimony that Kya.B. had told her that her mother hit her with a broom handle because Kya.B. "was unable to locate her school uniform." The scratch marks on her neck and the abrasion on her arm were also inflicted by D.B., the court found, when Kya.B. "would not sit ...