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In re Ta.L

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

August 22, 2013

In re Ta.L; A.H. & T.L., Appellants. In re A.L.; A.H. & T.L., Appellants. In re Petition of R.W. & A.W.; A.H., T.L., & E.A., Appellants. In re Petition of E.A., Appellant.

Argued April 9, 2013

Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (ADA-115-09) (ADA-116-09) (NEG-234-08) (NEG-235-08) (ADA-115-09) (ADA-116-09) (ADA-172-09) (ADA-173-09) (Hon. Neal E. Kravitz, Trial Judge).

Leslie J. Susskind and N. Kate Deshler Gould for appellants A.H. and T.L.

Joyce Aceves-Amaya, with whom Tanya Asm Cooper was on the brief, for appellant E.A.

Melanie L. Katsur, with whom Sarah A. Wilson, Lissa M. Percopo, and guardian ad litem Kelly Venci, were on the brief, for appellees R. W. and A. W.

Stacy L. Anderson, Assistant Attorney General, with whom Irvin B. Nathan, Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Todd S Km, Solicitor General, and Donna M. Murasky, Deputy Solicitor General, were on the brief, for appellee District of Columbia.

John C. Keeney, Jr., and Kyle J Fiet, Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, and David Reiser, filed a brief as amicus curiae in support of appellants T.L., A.H., and E.A.

Before Washington, Chief Judge, Blackburne-Rigsby, Associate Judge, and Reid, Senior Judge.

Washington, Chief Judge:

A.H. and T.L., biological parents of minor children A.L. and Ta.L., along with the children's great aunt, E.A., challenge the trial court's decision granting the adoption of A.L. and Ta.L. by their foster parents, R.W. and A.W., and denying E.A.'s adoption petition. On appeal, A.H. and T.L. argue that the trial court erred in changing the permanency goal for the children from reunification to adoption on May 14, 2009, and that they should have been permitted to appeal the change in permanency goal at that point in the neglect proceedings. In addition, A.H., T.L., and E.A. argue that the trial court erred in granting the W.s' adoption petition because it failed to give weighty consideration to the adoption petition of the biological parents' preferred caregiver, E.A. For the reasons stated below, we reverse and remand for the trial court to give E.A.'s adoption petition the weighty consideration it is due as the petition of the biological parents' preferred caregiver.

I. FACTS

On March 24, 2008, A.L. and Ta.L. were removed from the care and custody of their biological parents, A.H. and T.L., following the arrest and incarceration of both parents for a domestic violence incident in the family's home. The Child and Family Services Agency ("CFSA") immediately assumed custody of the children, placing them in foster care with R.W. and A. W. A.L. was sixteen months old and Ta.L. was three months old at the time. The children were both underweight, A.L. was not current on her immunizations, and Ta.L. had not seen a doctor since his discharge from the hospital after his birth. Ta.L. was diagnosed as failing to thrive, a condition characterized by being underweight due to decreased caloric intake. A.L. was found to suffer from significant medical problems, including chronic lung disease, severe asthma and sleep apnea, a severe eye disorder, and acid reflux. A.L.'s pediatrician testified that she was concerned that A.L. might not regularly be receiving the proper treatment required for these ailments, which could be life-threatening without treatment.

Two days after the children's removal from their biological parents' care, CFSA conducted a Family Team Meeting to identify family members who might provide a temporary placement for the children while A.H. and T.L. worked toward reunification. One of T.L.'s sisters, K.A.-R., attended the meeting and indicated that she would be willing to become a kinship foster care provider for the children. T.L.'s aunt, E.A., was also at the meeting and agreed to be a backup provider for K.A.-R. E.A. testified that it was her understanding that if K.A.-R.'s foster care license was denied, she would be second in line to get the children as a kinship foster care provider.

Approximately two weeks later, K.A.-R. learned that her husband did not pass the requisite background check and, as a result, she could not be licensed to care for the children in her home. K.A.-R. told E.A. that she was unable to complete the licensing process, but reassured E.A. that the children's permanency goal was reunification, which T.L. confirmed to E.A. a short time later. E.A. testified that because she understood the children's permanency goal to be reunification, she did nothing to attempt ...


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