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In re D.H.

February 15, 2007


Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (NEG722-96, NEG723-96, NEG789-02, NEG800-97, ADA483-03, ADA484-03, ADA485-03, ADA486-03) (Hon Julie R. Breslow, Magistrate Judge Hon. Odessa F. Vincent, Reviewing Judge) .

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Blackburne-rigsby, Associate Judge

Argued December 8, 2006


In this appeal, birth parents L.H. and D.P. seek reversal of the trial court's*fn1 decision finding that they acted contrary to the best interest of their four children by withholding their consent to the childrens' adoption by suitable and loving adoptive parents, who have cared for the children since 1996. Although the mother, L.H., commendably engaged in drug rehabilitation, with some periods of success, over the course of the childrens' nine-year involvement in the foster care system, we discern no error in the trial court's refusal to deny the children a permanent adoptive home in order to allow L.H. additional time to prove her ability to parent. Similarly, D.P.'s laudable efforts within the last two years to establish a bond with his children, after being absent for most of their lives due to numerous periods of incarceration, do not negate our conclusion that the trial court properly exercised its discretion in terminating his parental rights. We affirm.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

Appellants, D.P. and L.H., are the birth father and mother, respectively, of four children, D.H., M.H., E.H., and T.H.*fn2 D.H. and M.H. were first removed from the home of L.H. in 1996 at the ages of three and two respectively, and placed in shelter care, amid allegations that they were without proper parental care and supervision due to their mother L.H.'s drug use. In 1996, D.H. and M.H. were both placed in the home of the petitioners, J.B.N. and T.F.N. At this time, D.P. was incarcerated, but received notice of his children's placement in foster care. On October 6, 1996, E.H. was born and was subsequently removed from L.H.'s care on July 19, 1997, and placed with his maternal uncle, J.H.*fn3

In November 1999, D.H. and M.H. were placed back with L.H. under protective supervision, and E.H. joined them in June 2000. They remained with L.H. without incident until September 3, 2002, when all of the children were once again removed (along with their newborn sister T.H., born to L.H. and D.P. on March 7, 2002) amid new allegations of neglect, due to renewed substance abuse and lack of proper supervision by L.H., who had relapsed. In 2002, D.H., M.H., E.H., and T.H. were again placed with J.B.N. and T.F.N., where they have remained ever since.

On September 18, 2003, J.B.N. and T.F.N. filed petitions to adopt all four children, to which L.H. and D.P withheld their consent. On February 25 and March 14, 2005, a show cause hearing was held pursuant to D.C. Code § 16-304 (d), (e) (2001), to determine whether L.H.'s and D.P.'s consent to the adoption of their children should be waived. The petitioner, J.B.N.; the mother, L.H.; the father, D.P.; the maternal uncle, J.H.; the maternal grandmother, B.H.; and CFSA social worker, Arnyis Whitlock-Woodberry, testified at the show cause hearing. The Magistrate Judge, in an Order dated April 4, 2005, concluded that there was clear and convincing evidence that the parents' withholding of consent was contrary to the children's interests. The trial court affirmed the Magistrate Judge's Order on December 29, 2005 pursuant toSuper. Ct. Gen. Fam. R. D (e). A Final Decree of Adoption was issued on June 16, 2005, and D.P. filed a timely notice of appeal on June 27, 2005, in which L.H. joined.*fn4

A. The Mother's Substance Abuse and Criminal History

At the show cause hearing, the mother, L.H., admitted to a long history of drug abuse and instability, which led to her children being removed from her care. Specifically, L.H. testified that she began using crack cocaine and PCP in 1985. As a result of her addiction, she was involved in several instances of criminal activity, incarceration, and physical abuse.*fn5 L.H. sold drugs to support her addictions and was arrested for drug-related crimes in October 1986 and July 1989. As a result of these arrests, L.H. was incarcerated for three years and spent three years and six months on probation.*fn6 L.H. testified that she used drugs during her pregnancies, despite knowing that this could harm her children and cause medical problems for them.

Despite L.H.'s long history of drug abuse, the record also shows, and the trial court explicitly acknowledged, that L.H. has taken steps to free herself from her addiction.*fn7 L.H. began this process of recovery in 1996 after her children were removed from her care with an enrollment in a 28-day drug treatment program at Kerrick Hall. In November 1998, L.H. entered the House of Ruth Program, which provided her with housing and drug treatment. In August 1999, L.H. transitioned into the House of Ruth's reunification program, which made it possible for at least one of her children to be placed with her. In 1999, the trial court allowed E.H. to live with L.H., and in 2000, allowed D.H. and M.H. to live with her as well. During this time that L.H. resided at the House of Ruth, CFSA provided L.H. with services to assist her in caring for her children, and also monitored her progress in the program. These services included drug treatment referrals, rental and monetary assistance, clothing vouchers, mentoring services for her children, and in-home family counseling.

Despite her efforts at treatment and services from CFSA, L.H. relapsed from 2001-2003, shortly after moving into her own apartment with her children. During this two year period, D.H., M.H., E.H., and T.H. were once again removed from her care and placed into foster care with the petitioners J.B.N. and T.F.N. After the children were removed from her care, L.H. became homeless from September 2002 to September 2003 and continued to use drugs. In a third attempt to overcome her drug addiction, L.H. moved into the Naomi Transformation Center, a housing and drug treatment program, in September 2003. L.H. testified that at this point, she finally started to turn things around, and that her time at the center was her "phoenix rising."

At the time of the 2005 show cause hearing, L.H. was living in her own one bedroom apartment in Washington, D.C. with C.H., her youngest daughter, who is not subject to this appeal.

L.H. was also working as a pizza delivery person, and estimated her yearly income to be between $15,000 and $16,000.*fn8 At the show cause hearing, L.H. testified that she had not used ...

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