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In re Petition of W.D.

January 28, 2010

IN RE PETITION OF W.D. & M.A.D. M.M., APPELLANT.


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (ADA 232-07) (Hon. Linda Kay Davis, Trial Judge).

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

Argued November 30, 2009

Before BLACKBURNE-RIGSBY and OBERLY, Associate Judges, and SCHWELB, Senior Judge.

M.M., the biological mother of T.M, challenges the adoption of T.M. by W.D. and M.A.D., a married couple. On appeal, M.M. argues that the trial court erred in waiving her consent to the adoption. (The biological father, S.G., has consented to the adoption.) "We recognize," as we always do in such cases, that "it is no small matter for a court to permit the adoption of a child over the objection of a mother who loves him." In re J.G., 831 A.2d 992, 1004 (D.C. 2003). But because we are not persuaded that the trial court abused its discretion in reaching its decision, we affirm.

I.

T.M. was born on August 18, 2004 to M.M. and S.G. The adoptive mother, M.A.D. (who, by the date of the hearing was seventy years old and married to seventy-four-year-old W.D.), first met T.M. when T.M. was less than one year old. M.A.D. was introduced to T.M. through A.D. - M.A.D.'s granddaughter and T.M.'s godmother. According to M.A.D., T.M. would spend "quite a bit of time" in the D.s' home, including staying over for the night. The mother knew about these visits.

According to a Report and Recommendation filed by the Child and Family Services Agency,*fn1 T.M. "came to the attention of CFSA due to neglect" on August 2, 2006 after the Mary McLeod Bethune Charter School reported that the birth mother failed to pick up T.M.'s brothers from school. The school claimed that the brothers frequently arrived to school dirty and inadequately dressed, and that one of the brothers "had spots on the left side of his face that appeared to be bruises"; this brother "admitted to being struck, but would not reveal by whom." Ultimately, the brother's "injuries were deemed inconclusive [and, therefore,] the case was not supported for physical abuse." Nonetheless, the case "was supported for neglect due to a lack of supervision of [the brothers] by the birth mother." At the time, T.M. and her mother lived at T.M.'s grandmother's home. On August 25, 2006, T.M. was removed from her mother's care. The Child and Family Services Agency invited M.A.D. to a meeting concerning T.M.'s removal from her mother's care. At the meeting it was decided, with the mother's consent, that T.M. would be placed with the D.s.

At the hearing on the issue whether the mother's consent to T.M.'s adoption should be waived ("the show cause hearing"), the trial court took (without objection)*fn2 judicial notice of a November 21, 2006 order in which T.M. was adjudicated a neglected child pursuant to D.C. Code § 16-2301 (9)(A)(ii)(x) (2006 Supp.) (defining "neglected child" as a child "who is regularly exposed to illegal drug-related activity in the home").*fn3 The natural mother consented to the neglect adjudication, stipulating that although she loved T.M. "very much," "due to her inexperience as a young mother and because she was frequently exhausted from working late hours, she was unable to adequately supervise [T.M.] in the home and to ensure that [T.M.] had proper nutritious meals." T.M.'s mother also acknowledged that in August 2006, she moved out of her own mother's home, leaving T.M. behind, and conceded that thereafter "she did not consistently participate in caring" for T.M. Notwithstanding the adjudication of neglect, at that point, the goal for T.M. was reunification with her natural mother. In the neglect adjudication, the natural mother "agree[d] to cooperate with [CFSA] and to accept, pursue and complete all reasonable service referrals provided to her by [CFSA]."

The trial court also took, without objection, judicial notice of a November 29, 2006 order committing T.M. to the care of CFSA for a period not to exceed two years. In the November 29, 2006 order, the trial court noted that it had determined that T.M. could not "safely remain in [the birth mother's] home" because medical and legal exams revealed that

T.M. and her brothers had "numerous unexplained non-accidental injuries." In that order, the trial court directed the mother to undergo weekly drug tests, family therapy, and anger management classes, and ordered CFSA to make available to the mother vocational assistance, housing assistance, parenting classes, and parental mentoring. According to Andrea Blatchford, a CFSA social worker handling T.M.'s case, T.M.'s mother did not "participate[]in the services that the Court ordered," though Blatchford did agree that the mother "very sporadically" participated in individual therapy before stopping.

At the show cause hearing, the trial court also took, without objection, judicial notice of a September 25, 2007 order that changed the permanency goal for T.M. from reunification with her mother to adoption with the D.s. That order noted that CFSA had made reasonable efforts toward reunification, but that it would be contrary to T.M.'s welfare to be with her birth parents because neither the mother nor S.G., T.M.'s father, was able to meet T.M.'s needs and had demonstrated that they could "safely parent" T.M. By the time of this hearing, T.M.'s mother had missed numerous drug tests; at the drug tests she did attend she tested positive for marijuana, but negative for hard drugs.

On December 26, 2007, the trial court issued a notice to T.M.'s mother to appear and to show cause why her consent to the adoption should not be waived. The show cause hearing was held on June 30, 2008; the mother failed to attend the hearing even though it is undisputed that she was served with and had notice of the hearing. At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court made oral findings, concluding that it had "been demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence that [the mother was] withholding her consent to the adoption of [T.M.] by the D.s against the best interests of [T.M.]." On July 22, 2008, the trial court entered a written order waiving the mother's consent to T.M.'s adoption and entered a final decree of adoption granting the D.s' petition for adoption. The mother appeals.

II.

The legal standards governing this case are well settled. "'A petition for adoption may not be granted by the court unless there is filed with the petition a written statement of consent,' D.C. Code § 16-304 (a) (2001), given by the prospective adoptee's parent. D.C. Code § 16-304 (b)(2)(B). The parent's consent may be waived by the court, however, upon a finding that the consent is being 'withheld contrary to the best interest of the child.' D.C. Code § 16-304 (e). This determination is to be made based on clear and convincing evidence. Because the granting of an adoption over the objection of the natural parent necessarily curtails that person's parental rights, the court must weigh the factors considered in proceedings to terminate parental rights under ...


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