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In re N.P.

September 8, 2005

IN RE N.P. AND IN RE I.P.
M.P. AND B.P., APPELLANTS



Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (N-739-02, N-736-02) (Hon. Hiram E. Puig-Lugo, Trial Judge).

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

Submitted September 14, 2004

Before TERRY and GLICKMAN, Associate Judges, and BELSON, Senior Judge.

M.P. and B.P., the parents of two young daughters, N.P. and I.P., bring these appeals*fn1 from two adjudications of neglect under D.C. Code § 16-2301 (9) (2001).*fn2 In August 2002, the District of Columbia filed petitions alleging that N.P. and I.P. were neglected children*fn3 within the meaning of D.C. Code § 16-2301 (9)(A), (B), (C), and (D).*fn4 After a four-day evidentiary hearing, the trial court found that both children were "neglected" under subsections (9)(A), (9)(B), and (9)(C).*fn5 The children were then placed in foster care. We affirm in its entirety the trial court's judgment of neglect with respect to M.P., the father. With respect to B.P., the mother, however, because certain evidence was erroneously admitted, we vacate the court's finding of neglect under subsection (9)(C). Nevertheless, we affirm the final judgment as to the mother because it is supported by the trial court's finding of neglect under subsection (9)(B).

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

M.P. and B.P. are immigrants from Guyana and are of Indian descent. Their minor daughters, N.P. and I.P., came to the attention of the Child and Family Services Agency ("CFSA") on August 16, 2002, when the House of Ruth, a women's shelter, reported that B.P. left N.P. at the shelter - where they and I.P. had been staying - to return to her husband, M.P. The younger daughter, I.P., had already gone back to live with her father a few weeks earlier, but N.P. refused to go, citing concerns for her safety because of past incidents of domestic violence.

The District of Columbia filed two petitions the next day (one for each child) containing four allegations of neglect: (1) that N.P. had been abused by her father, and that her mother had failed to protect the children against physical and emotional abuse; (2) that the children were without proper parental care or control, and that the deprivation was not due to lack of financial means; (3) that the parents were unable to discharge their responsibilities because of mental incapacity, namely, substance abuse by the father and mental illness in the mother; and (4) that the mother refused to assume responsibility for N.P.'s care and control. At a show cause hearing, the court found that M.P. had physically abused N.P. and that the mother "may be developmentally delayed." The children were then placed in shelter care.

The government's neglect petition alleged an extensive history of domestic violence between the parents, citing a Prince George's County civil protection order ("CPO") against the father (which the mother later withdrew) and voluminous records of involvement with Cecil County Child Protection Services.*fn6 N.P., the older child, had spent some time in foster care in Cecil County and "reportedly . . . would prefer to return to foster care." The neglect petition also alleged, on the basis of statements by N.P., that the mother was intimidated by the father because of this history of abusive treatment, and that the father would go "out of control" and become physically abusive when he drank.*fn7 N.P. also reported that her father struck her when she attempted to intervene.

The government moved for mental health evaluations of both children. The court granted the motion, ordering in addition that the father refrain from contacting the children outside of supervised visitation and not attempt to locate them.*fn8 On October 10, 2002, the petition was amended to include additional allegations that I.P., the younger daughter, had been sleeping in the same bed with her father (and N.P. with her mother, in a separate area) and that I.P. had also written sexually explicit poems that apparently referred to her father.*fn9

Several witnesses testified at the hearing on the neglect petition. N.P. described the physical abuse which her mother endured at the hands of her father and said that her father hit her when she tried to intervene. N.P. also stated that her younger sister, I.P., was frequently present during these incidents of domestic violence and that "as soon as she sees it, she runs into her room," where she "takes the blanket and pulls it over her head." Dr. Abby Washington, a psychologist and child therapist with the Children's Advocacy Center, who examined I.P., testified that in her opinion I.P. suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and dysthymic disorder, which is a form of depression. Dr. Washington also stated that I.P. told her she had witnessed her father assaulting her mother on more than one occasion. Dr. Michael Gilliard, a clinical psychologist with the Department of Mental Health, who examined the mother, testified that in his opinion she suffered from dependency, impaired cognitive functioning, and "battered women's syndrome." In essence, he testified that B.P. was unable to carry out her role as a parent.

After hearing this and other testimony, the court found that the government had proved by a preponderance of the evidence that I.P. and N.P. were neglected and abused. In particular, the court found neglect under D.C. Code § 16-2301 (9)(A) as to the father but not the mother,*fn10 and under subsection 9 (C) as to the mother but not the father.*fn11 It found neglect under subsection 9 (B) as to both parents.*fn12 Finally, the court concluded that the government did not meet its burden of proving neglect under D.C. Code § 16-2301 (9)(D).*fn13

More specifically, the court found that the children lived in a "chaotic and unstable environment" as a result of repeated moves from state to state, N.P.'s temporary placement in foster care, and the two moves to women's shelters in 2002. The court also noted the lengthy history of domestic violence between the parents. The father admitted that he struck his wife at least once, and the CPO issued against him in Maryland indicated previous violence. N.P. testified that she had witnessed violence between her parents "for as long as I can remember" and that her father had hit her with a book, a belt, and a broomstick during drunken rampages.*fn14 Moreover, the expert testimony of both Dr. Hope Hill, who examined N.P., and Dr. Washington corroborated the children's statements that the violence had in fact occurred. In addition, the court found that the children themselves were subjected to their father's alcohol abuse, which often resulted in violence.

Further, the court found "role confusion in the home," in that N.P. functioned as her mother's mother, and I.P. essentially took on the role of her father's wife.*fn15 Additionally, the court concluded that B.P.'s ability to parent was "extremely limited" because of her dependency on her husband and children, and because she suffered from battered women's syndrome. As a result, the court found that both children had suffered emotional damage, including post-traumatic stress disorder, and that N.P. had also been subjected to physical harm. In addition, the court found that I.P. was suicidal, and that she was especially troubled because of her young age and her status as her father's pseudo-wife rather than his child.

Having found that the children were neglected, the court committed them to the custody of CFSA. The court authorized supervised visitation by the parents, but only if the children requested it. The court also ordered that the father complete a parenting class, attend counseling for anger management and domestic violence, and enter an alcohol treatment program. The mother was ordered to consult a therapist specializing in domestic violence, receive vocational training, and join a domestic violence support group. The parents filed timely notices of appeal.*fn16

II. THE FATHER'S APPEAL

Appellant M.P. contends that Dr. Washington's testimony regarding I.P. was inadmissible hearsay. He further argues that, because "the government's chief proof that . . . I.P. suffered mental abuse and witnessed domestic violence came solely from the testimony of [Dr. Washington]," there was insufficient evidence to support a ...


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