Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (NEG77-98 and GDN477-98) (Hon. S. Pamela Gray, Magistrate Judge) (Hon. Cheryl M. Long, Reviewing Judge).
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reid, Associate Judge
Before WASHINGTON, Chief Judge, REID, Associate Judge, and PRYOR, Senior Judge.
I.B., appellant and biological mother of C.B., challenges the Family Court's order denying her motion for review of a Magistrate Judge's order of October 31, 2006, "Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Order Appointing Permanent Guardians and Closing Neglect Case," ("the guardianship order"). We deem it unnecessary to address most of I.B.'s arguments, either because she failed to raise them in the trial court, or because they are related to the primary issue before us. I.B. challenges the guardianship order, in part, because she claims that there was insufficient record evidence to satisfy the statutory factors set forth in D.C. Code § 16-2383 (d), particularly subsection (d)(3) pertaining to the quality of the interaction and interrelationship between C.B. and one of the petitioners. Because only the Magistrate Judge examined evidence provided by three "witnesses" pertaining to that factor, and since the parties did not have an opportunity to examine or cross-examine these "witnesses," we are constrained to remand this matter to the Family Court with instructions to reopen the "adjudicatory [guardianship] hearing" to permit the parties to examine and cross-examine A.B., E.B., and the therapist.
This case has had a long and contentious history. The record and the Magistrate Judge's findings of fact show that the District of Columbia filed a neglect petition pertaining to C.B., who was born in 1993, because her mother failed to pick her up from school when C.B. was four years old. A hearing on the neglect petition revealed that I.B. abused substances, including cocaine and alcohol, had mental health issues, often left her children alone, and lived with C.B. and her then fifteen-year-old son in a vermin-contaminated and cluttered residence, with little food. In February 1998, the Family Court concluded that I.B.'s children were neglected under D.C. Code § 16-2301 (9)(B) because I.B. was unable to discharge her parental responsibilities. The Family Court initially placed C.B. in the care of relatives who retained custody of C.B. until sometime around 2000, when A.B., C.B.'s maternal uncle, and his wife, E.B., agreed to take custody of C.B.
Thereafter, the Child and Family Services Agency ("CFSA") and the Family Court explored permanency goals of reunification (with I.B.) and guardianship. A.B. and E.B. filed their motion for permanent guardianship in October 2003.*fn1 Hearings on the motion commenced on June 28, 2004, and continued on September 20, November 2, and November 22, 2004. The parties filed a joint stipulation that C.B. wanted to live with her biological mother, I.B. Lori Gloster, CFSA's social worker assigned to C.B.'s case from the end of July 2002 to May 2004, testified that C.B. was then in the care of A.B. and E.B., and was "a very pleasant 11-year old" who was "very, very bright . . ., very articulate[,] . . . very well-rounded, well adjusted" and "in good health." Ms. Gloster made monthly visits to the home of A.B. and E.B. where she observed the interaction of the family with C.B., including the three biological children of A.B. and E.B. C.B. had "blended into the family," and she had "a very good relationship" with A.B. and E.B. There was adequate food in the home; C.B. was an honor roll student in school; and she commented to Ms. Gloster that "she likes it there at the home" and that A.B. and E.B. "take very good care of her" and "they are fair." C.B. shared a room with her cousin, one of A.B. and E.B.'s children.
Ms. Gloster had difficulty getting in touch with I.B. when she was assigned as C.B.'s social worker. She began to communicate with I.B. by e-mail to arrange for supervised weekly visits between I.B. and C.B. She was unable to arrange the first visit until September 2002, but the supervised visits were "pretty consistent after that." The last supervised visit between I.B. and C.B. occurred in September or October of 2003. Thereafter I.B. was to have arranged unsupervised visits with C.B. through A.B. and E.B. However, after the supervised visits ended, there were no visits between C.B. and I.B. until February 2004. Ms. Gloster recalled that in January when she visited C.B., the child "just burst into tears . . . because she was so upset . . . her mom was making up excuses about visits." Ms. Gloster called I.B. the next day to tell her what had happened and "how important the visits were to C.[B.]"
I.B. refused services that CFSA sought to arrange, saying "she already had mental health services, and she already had housing, and she didn't need parenting." When Ms. Gloster asked I.B. to "provide . . . information of the services that she was receiving," I.B. failed to do so. Sometimes I.B. "would hang up" on Ms. Gloster. The social worker was not aware of any financial support for C.B. from I.B., even though I.B. maintained that she was employed by the Department of Mental Health. Ms. Gloster had no contact with the putative father of C.B., and was not aware of any contact between him and C.B. On cross-examination by counsel for I.B., Ms. Gloster asserted that the supervised visits between C.B. and I.B. went "very well," and that C.B. "loved to visit with her mother." Ms. Gloster never visited I.B.'s home and could not verify I.B.'s employment because I.B. "would not give [Ms. Gloster] any information about her employment or the services she was getting." Ms. Gloster discussed reunification with I.B. and the services she would have "to participate in in order to have C.[B.] returned" to her; I.B. "refused them."
A.B.'s testimony centered on C.B.'s integration into the structure of his immediate family (wife and three children) as well as his church, his love for C.B., his wife's love for her, and his view of C.B. as his daughter. He discussed efforts to involve I.B. in family activities, especially birthday parties and holiday celebrations. He expressed willingness to provide a home for C.B. as long as the need existed. He sought guardianship of C.B. because he did not want his sister's (I.B.'s) parental rights to be terminated. A.B. was concerned about C.B.'s emotional state when she first arrived in his home, and he arranged therapy for her. A.B. expressed concern about I.B.'s erratic visits with C.B. and was concerned about unsupervised visits between C.B. and her mother because of his belief that I.B. abused alcohol. A.B. acknowledged that I.B. gave him money for C.B., bought items for C.B. that she needed, and she called to request visits with C.B.
I.B. opposed the proposed guardianship of her brother and his wife, A.B. and E.B. According to the testimony of I.B., she earned a Bachelor of Administration degree in business management. She lived in a one-bedroom apartment with her son; she obtained the apartment through the Department of Mental Health. She was being treated for depression with group therapy and medication. She complained about her difficulty in arranging visits with C.B., her brother's failure to take or return some of her calls, and his non-compliance with court orders. She maintained that she has a good relationship with C.B., engages in activities with the child such as window shopping, watching movies, and going to church. She has purchased clothes, shoes and other things for C.B. In her opinion, C.B. was not receiving good care from A.B. and E.B. C.B. told her that she has been spanked and left home alone. I.B. claimed that she had been a victim of robbery, rape and assault, and had been molested by her father and brother. She insisted that her children were not neglected.
She denied that she had ever tested positive for cocaine, and she claimed that she takes a lot of medicine and lives around "a lot of unscrupulous people." In her view, she did not need services offered by CFSA because she had obtained parenting skills through COPE (Creating Opportunities for Parent Empowerment).
I.B.'s father testified that he visits the home of A.B. and E.B. at least once a week. He described their home as "[a] wholesome home environment" with a "family relationship." In his view, C.B. was "well taken care of." He sees his daughter, I.B., once or twice a month. Within the two months prior to his testimony, he had seen I.B. in an intoxicated state. He knew she was intoxicated "[f]rom having been around her all her life and smelling [the alcohol and seeing] the way she responds . . . in conversations, her total reactions." She is "[v]ery indifferent[,] [v]ery loud." When I.B. is not drinking, she is "normal." In response to a cross-examination question as to whether I.B.'s father had ever seen his daughter "with any drinks in her hand," he replied, "Yes I have."
Although the guardianship hearings took place in Fall 2004, the Magistrate Judge did not issue findings of fact and conclusions until October 31, 2006. The delay apparently is attributable to efforts to work out a visitation schedule for I.B. At a hearing on February 3, 2005, which the Magistrate Judge described as "technically permanency" to be "follow[ed] up with [a] status hearing," the judge announced that "guardianship would be awarded to [A.B. and E.B.] because she "absolutely believe[d] that that is in the child's best interest at this time," and she did not "believe that [I.B. was] in a position at this time to care for [C.B.]," but that she (the judge) needed to figure out the visitation arrangement. The hearing became quite contentious as I.B. took issue with the Magistrate Judge's pronouncements and the judge indicated that I.B. "behave[d] like a child." In addition, counsel for A.B. expressed frustration with trying to work out visitation with I.B. The Magistrate Judge expressed her desire that A.B. and I.B. "behave like adults, behave like sister and brother." The judge also made clear that "C.[B.] loves her mother, . . . wants to spend time with ...