IN RE: PETITION OF S.L.G & S.E.G.; D.A., APPELLANT
Submitted October 30, 2014
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Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. (A-105-12). (Hon. Tara Fentress, Magistrate Judge; Hon. Maribeth Raffinan, Reviewing Judge).
Jon S. Pascale was on the brief for appellant D.A.
Irvin B. Nathan, Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Todd S. Kim, Solicitor General, Loren L. AliKhan, Deputy Solicitor General, and Aisha Lewis, Assistant Attorney General, were on the brief for appellee District of Columbia.
Sharon A. Singh was on the brief for appellees S.L.G and S.E.G.
Ronald Woodman, guardian ad litem for appellee A.A., filed a statement in lieu of brief opposing the appeal and supporting appellees S.L.G. and S.E.G.
Before GLICKMAN and BECKWITH, Associate Judges, and NEWMAN, Senior Judge.
Glickman, Associate Judge.
D.A. appeals the decision of the Superior Court waiving her consent to the adoption of her daughter A.A. by appellees S.L.G. and S.E.G. She primarily contends that the Superior Court erred by basing its decision, improperly, on a direct comparison of her with the adoption petitioners, and by failing to consider the likelihood that she would become a fit parent for A.A. within the foreseeable future. We conclude that although there is ample evidentiary support in the record for the trial court's ruling, the court did not make the necessary predicate determinations relating to appellant's fitness vel non to parent A.A. herself. We therefore find it necessary to remand for further proceedings to rectify this deficiency.
On November 4, 2010, when A.A. was just over ten months old, she was brought to Children's National Medical Center with a skull fracture and subdural bleeding. Appellant could not satisfactorily explain how A.A. received these injuries, and the Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) removed the child from appellant's care. A neglect proceeding was begun in Superior Court, and on December 8, 2010, appellant stipulated that A.A. was a neglected child. The court committed A.A. to the custody of CFSA, which placed her in foster care with S.L.G. and S.E.G.
At the disposition hearing, the court set the permanency goal as reunification of A.A. with appellant. To that end, the court directed appellant to participate in an Addiction Prevention and Recovery Assessment (APRA) and weekly drug testing, to attend parenting classes, and to receive psychological and psychiatric evaluations and individual therapy. All these services were made available to her. However, some sixteen months later, on April 24, 2012, the court changed the permanency goal from reunification to adoption in light of appellant's failure to comply with the court-ordered drug testing and therapy, among other problems. In the wake of that goal change, S.E.G. and S.L.G petitioned to adopt A.A. The child's biological father consented to the adoption, but appellant did not.
Magistrate Judge Fentress presided over a four-day evidentiary hearing on whether to waive appellant's consent and approve the adoption petition. At its conclusion, the magistrate judge, ruling from the bench, found it to be in A.A.'s best interest to do so. The magistrate judge later issued written findings, conclusions of
law, and an order to the same effect. Associate Judge Raffinan affirmed the magistrate judge's decision on appellant's motion for review. Whence comes this appeal.
At the hearing, the magistrate judge heard testimony from several witnesses in addition to the parties, the most important of whom proved to be A.A.'s social worker and a psychologist who had evaluated appellant.
Marie Cohen was the social worker assigned to the case by the Board of Child Care (BCC), the organization that ran the foster care program in which A.A. was placed. Cohen testified about her experience with appellant, A.A., and the foster parents, including her efforts to help appellant comply with the court's directives and be reunified with A.A. As Cohen recounted, she spent considerable time explaining to appellant what she needed to accomplish, made lists with her to help her stay on track, and checked on her progress. Cohen also supervised appellant's visits with A.A. and made referrals for appellant to receive psychiatric and psychological evaluations and therapy and to attend parenting class. To assist appellant with transportation for these services and her visits with A.A., BCC provided appellant with $20 to $40 per week. It continued to provide this funding even though appellant repeatedly failed to document her expenses or participate as she was asked to do. Despite the financial and other assistance she received, appellant's visits with A.A. and her compliance with the court's order were erratic at best. Although she attended the parenting class and received the APRA and mental health evaluations, appellant did not follow through with their recommendations or comply with the court-ordered drug testing and therapy. In addition, she displayed a variety of behaviors that raised concerns about her mental health and her ability to care for a child.
Appellant's visits with A.A. were a chief area of concern. Cohen began overseeing appellant's weekly visitation with A.A. in November 2010. She testified that from then until December 2011, appellant attended only 65% of her scheduled visits, often cancelling on the morning of the day the visit was to occur. After December 2011, and until the court hearing (which commenced in November 2012), there was modest improvement, but only to the extent that appellant made 77% of her scheduled visits. Appellant often was late when she did visit A.A. To make up for her latenesses, BCC allowed appellant to have ...