September 18, 2018
Amended February 7, 2019
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia,
(NEG-84-15), (Hon. Janet Albert, Magistrate Judge), (Hon.
John F. McCabe & Hon. Julie H. Becker, Reviewing Judges)
Jennifer A. Renton was on the brief for appellant D.C.
Racine, Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Loren
L. AliKhan, Solicitor General, Caroline S. Van Zile, Deputy
Solicitor General, and Pamela Soncini, Assistant Attorney
General, were on the brief for appellee the District of
Allison Federoff, guardian ad litem, Melissa Colangelo, and
Abraham Sisson, Childrens Law Center, were on the brief for
Blackburne-Rigsby, Chief Judge, Glickman, Associate Judge,
and Washington, Senior Judge.
Senior Judge :
D.C., the biological mother of minor child K.C., seeks review
of orders suspending her visitation with K.C. (Case No.
16-FS-899), changing K.C.s permanency goal to adoption (Case
No. 17-FS-1250), and terminating her parental rights (Case
No. 18-FS-578). These appeals were
consolidated and, pursuant to D.C.s unopposed motion, were
submitted without oral argument. For the reasons that follow,
we affirm the orders.
I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Because these cases come to us after three years of extensive
and intertwined factual developments and court proceedings,
we set out the factual background and procedural posture in
A. Removal from the Home
January 7, 2015, the District of Columbia Child and Family
Services Agency ("CFSA" or "the Agency")
received a call on its child abuse and neglect hotline
regarding K.C., who was seven years old at the time. The
caller alleged that K.C.s mother, D.C., had serious mental
health issues that were interfering with K.C.s educational
needs, as D.C. had enrolled and withdrawn K.C. in twelve
schools, though he was only in second grade, and noted that
K.C. could not read. CFSA opened a Family Assessment case,
then converted the case to a Child Protective Services
Investigation four days later upon learning that D.C. had
just transferred K.C. to another school again.
the next few weeks, Katie Grodin, an Agency social worker,
met with K.C. at school twice, with D.C. several times,
including at her home, and with staff at two of the schools
that K.C. had attended. She also reviewed school records and
consulted with a CFSA medical abuse/special needs liaison.
D.C. appeared to be paranoid and delusional, as she believed,
without any evidence, that her son was being mentally and
physically abused at school, and, as a result, repeatedly
moved him between schools. It also became apparent that K.C.
was significantly academically and developmentally delayed,
as he had missed significant periods of schooling as a result
of the many school changes he had experienced - by Grodins
count, a total of sixteen placements, including public
schools, charter schools, and homeschooling options.
March 10, 2015, CFSA received a report that K.C. had gotten
into a fight with another student outside of a supermarket
near the school, and that, when the students parents and the
police met at the school to discuss the incident, D.C.
accused the principal of attacking her with a sword. Grodin
again interviewed D.C. at her home the next day, where D.C.
made further allegations against various school officials,
including that they were falsely imprisoning and bribing K.C.
Two days later, another CFSA social worker met with K.C. at
home, though she had to interview him in front of D.C., as
D.C. would not allow him out of her presence.
March 16, CFSA removed K.C. from D.C.s home and placed him
in foster care. Agency staff completed a Child Abuse and
Neglect Complaint and Referral Form the same day, and, on
March 18, submitted a petition to open a neglect case in
March 18 and 19, Magistrate Judge Janet Albert held an
initial hearing and issued orders. The court granted D.C.
weekly visitation with K.C., to be supervised by CFSA staff,
with the conditions that D.C. was not to discuss the case
with K.C., and D.C. was not to visit K.C.s school except for
arranged meetings or in the company of a social worker. The
court also ordered D.C. to submit to drug testing, to have
psychiatric and psychological
evaluations done at the Department of Behavioral Health
Assessment ("DBH") Center, and to follow the
recommendations of the evaluations. Shortly thereafter, on
the motion of K.C.s guardian ad litem ("GAL"), the
court issued an order on April 21 appointing a surrogate
parent for educational purposes, who could make educational
decisions for K.C.
court likewise ordered psycho-educational and speech and
language evaluations for K.C., and ordered that he follow the
recommendations of the evaluations. The initial evaluation
showed that K.C. had significant academic, social, and
emotional deficits, including specific learning disorder with
impairment in reading, adjustment disorder with mixed
disturbance of emotions and conduct, and low average IQ,
including low and very low scores on cognitive functioning
and achievement functioning tests. The evaluation also
identified strengths and potential areas of growth, and
recommended several services and interventions for K.C. At
some point, K.C. was also diagnosed with Attention Deficit
Hyperactivity Disorder and oppositional defiant disorder,
which was consistent with the fact that he was considered a
bully at school and had displayed aggressive behaviors toward
others on several occasions.
June 11, 2015, D.C. entered a stipulation that K.C. was a
neglected child, due to being left without proper education
required by law. On June 19, Magistrate Judge Albert held a
disposition hearing, at which she found that the Agency had
made reasonable efforts to allow K.C. to return safely home,
but that returning home at that time would be contrary to
K.C.s best interests. She set a permanency goal of
reunification, meaning that CFSA was required to work to
reunify K.C. with D.C., with the goal date set as May 15,
2016. The hearing order did not indicate that a CFSA case
plan had been filed or attached, but specified:
The Mother shall participate in the following services in
order to be considered for reunification with [K.C.]:
Individual Therapy and related services recommended by the
Psychiatric consultation for possible medication; Parenting
Medical examination to include a neurological assessment;
Allow the social worker to conduct a home assessment;
Attend educational and medical appointments for [K.C.].
addition to issuing the written order, the magistrate judge
addressed D.C. orally in court, advising her of these
requirements. The June 19 order also reiterated and expanded
upon the conditions for D.C.s supervised visitation with
K.C., stating that D.C. was not to discuss the case with
K.C., make disparaging remarks about any party (including the
foster parent, school staff, or social workers), or whisper
to K.C. during the visits.
Following the June 19, 2015 disposition hearing, the court
conducted periodic review hearings in the neglect matter,
including on September 29, 2015, January 7, 2016, March 17,
2016, May 19, 2016, November 1, 2016, and April 13, 2017.
D.C. was present at these hearings, and the magistrate judge
informed her orally and in writing of the steps that she was
required to take toward reunification.
B. The Plan for Reunification
months after K.C. was removed from the home, the Agency
attempted to work with D.C. on a plan to reunify her with
K.C., pursuant to the March 19 and June 19 orders. However,
D.C. was resistant to engaging with the Agency on the plan.
Mary Gordon, the CFSA social worker
assigned to the case from the initial hearing in March of
2015, consistently attempted to discuss with D.C. what was
required of her and what services she should be receiving,
but D.C. refused to review the case plan that Gordon
presented to her or to meet with Gordon to discuss the plan.
At one point, D.C. even refused to give Gordon her phone
number. Still, Gordon communicated the plan requirements to
D.C.s attorney and, because she was supervising D.C.s
visitation with K.C., used the visits to remind D.C. of the
requirements. Both Gordon and Tania Abdulahad, the CFSA
social worker who took over the case from Gordon in April of
2016, discussed court-ordered services with D.C. on many
did have psychiatric and psychological evaluations done at
the DBH Assessment Center in May of 2015, which resulted in
her being diagnosed with delusional disorder and child
neglect by a DBH psychiatrist and psychologist. However,
while both evaluations recommended that D.C. engage in weekly
individual therapy sessions, and while the court had
specifically ordered D.C. to follow the recommendations of
the evaluations, D.C. appeared to refuse therapy, asserting
that she did not need mental health assistance.
example, on somewhere between five and twelve occasions,
Gordon attempted to provide D.C. with the information for the
Access Helpline, a CFSA service that connects individuals
with mental health service providers, but D.C. refused to
accept it, alleging that any services associated with CFSA
would be biased against her. Gordon also tried to
discuss mental health services with D.C. several times, but
she would always refuse. Several months later, Gordon
discovered that D.C. had, in fact, been seeing her own
personal therapist, Dr. James Ballard. However, when Gordon
attempted to speak with him, D.C. would not waive her
physician-patient privilege, so Gordon was initially unable
to determine what services Dr. Ballard was providing and how
the treatment was progressing. After the court issued an
order waiving the privilege on December 31, 2015, and after
making several attempts to contact him, Gordon finally spoke
with Dr. Ballard in April of 2016. Based on what he shared
with her, Gordon expressed her concerns to Dr. Ballard that
he was not treating D.C.s underlying mental health issues
related to the neglect case, as he was treating her based
solely on her self-reported situation - without any
attempt to review outside information, verify facts, or
address her deficits, despite her diagnosis of delusional
disorder. Gordon then provided Dr. Ballard with relevant
information in an attempt to persuade him to change his
approach, but he was unwilling to do so. Gordon then
recommended to D.C. that she switch therapists, but D.C.
refused. At some point later in 2016, D.C. did connect with
Contemporary Family Services, another service provider, for
mental health treatment, but, as with Dr.
Ballard, she did not disclose the nature or scope of her
situation, and the staff there were not made aware of D.C.s
involvement with CFSA until months later, just before a court
hearing in 2017 at which a Contemporary Family Services
employee was called to testify by D.C.
completed a neurological evaluation and a home assessment,
and she also took parenting classes. She likewise attended
some educational meetings and medical and dental appointments
for K.C. However, she refused to attend an educational
meeting regarding K.C.s individualized education plan,
turning away from Gordon when Gordon attempted to hand her a
letter about it, and, at an educational meeting that D.C. did
attend, she refused to acknowledge K.C.s educational needs
and insisted that he could read and did not need remedial
assistance. Moreover, she was disruptive during the medical
and dental appointments she attended, including by banging on
a door, taking a threatening tone with providers, and stating
repeatedly that K.C. was being abused by school staff, such
that CFSA staff eventually informed her that she would no
long be permitted to attend certain appointments.
visitation with K.C. was also tense. From March of 2015 on,
K.C. remained in foster care and had weekly visits with D.C.
For the first year, those visits were supervised by Gordon.
Although K.C. was initially hesitant to see his mother and
uncomfortable with the visits, the Agency made efforts to
continue the visitation. Gordon eased K.C. into the visits by
initially making them quite short and then increasing them to
one hour. Gordon developed a signal with K.C. - a tap on the
nose - that he could use to indicate when he wanted the visit
to end early, and he did this at least twice toward the
beginning of visitation. D.C. resisted allowing Gordon into
her home for the visits, despite the court order allowing the
Agency access to the home. For that reason, the visits often
took place at a playground near the CFSA building, or, at
D.C.s request, in the lobby of the CFSA building.
K.C. gradually adjusted to the visits, they became
increasingly difficult and problematic over time due to
D.C.s disruptive behavior. More specifically, D.C. would
interrogate K.C. regarding whether anyone at school had hurt
him, videotape him and state that he was being abused at
school, disparage Gordon and the Agency to K.C., accuse the
foster family of not feeding K.C. (including in front of
other people in the CFSA lobby), whisper to K.C. in
contravention of the courts order, and behave in a verbally
and physically aggressive way toward Gordon. In one instance,
D.C. showed K.C. pictures of several school staff on her
phone and asked him to identify anyone who had abused him.
During another visit, when K.C. told D.C. that he had a black
eye as a result of getting into a fight with another child at
school, D.C. insisted that the vice principal at the school
had hit him and she made a child abuse hotline report about
it. On yet another occasion, D.C. told K.C. to hit anyone who
touches him, including Gordon and his foster mother. D.C.
also shouted at Gordon and lurched toward her, and, during a
visit with D.C. at which her adult son was present, D.C. and
the adult son apparently pressured K.C. to falsely accuse his
foster mother of mistreating him by forcing him to wash her
feet and clean her room. Gordon consistently instructed D.C.
to stop engaging in these behaviors, and the court repeatedly
ordered D.C. not to engage in these behaviors at the review
hearings, but she continued to do so. Gordon eventually
scheduled a meeting with her supervisor, D.C., D.C.s lawyer,
and the government attorney to discuss D.C.s inappropriate
behavior during the visits. Gordon noted some improvement in
conduct after the meeting, but her inappropriate behavior
Initially, K.C. appeared to be adjusting well to foster care
and responding well to play therapy. However, as the visits
with D.C. grew more difficult over the ensuing months, K.C.s
behavior in his foster home and at school worsened
considerably, and he began skipping school and displaying
aggressive behavior toward other students, school staff, his
therapist, and his foster family. In April of 2016, the night
after the visit in which D.C. and her adult son pressured
K.C. to falsely accuse his foster mother of mistreatment,
K.C. tried to choke his foster brother before running out of
the house at night. He was found by the police, and was then
psychiatrically hospitalized at Childrens National Medical
Center. Following a visit from his mother while he was in the
hospital, K.C. again lashed out, becoming aggressive toward
hospital staff and ripping a door off its hinges.
C. Suspension of Visitation
result of D.C.s behavior immediately prior to and during
K.C.s psychiatric hospitalization, as well as its effect on
K.C., on April 4, 2016, the government, representing the
Agency, and supported by K.C.s GAL, moved for temporary
suspension of visitation. On April 11, the GAL also moved to
appoint K.C.s foster mother as his medical decision-maker.
Magistrate Judge Albert held an emergency hearing on
visitation and, on April 12, issued an order temporarily
suspending D.C.s visitation, and set dates for a hearing on
visitation and permanency. After the temporary order was
issued, but before the hearing was held, K.C. was
psychiatrically hospitalized again, during which time the
government moved for ...