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In re Adoption/Guardianship of C.A.

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

August 30, 2017

IN RE: ADOPTION/GUARDIANSHIP OF C.A. AND D.A.

         Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County Case No. C-02-JV-16-000262 & 263

          Kehoe, Leahy, Kenney, James A., III (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.

          OPINION

          Kenney, J.

         On September 15, 2014, the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County, sitting as the juvenile court, declared D.A. and C.A., children of A.C.-R., appellant ("Father"), each to be a Child in Need of Assistance ("CINA"). D.A. and C.A. (the "Children") were placed in the custody of the Anne Arundel County Department of Social Services (the "Department"). In 2016, the Department filed a petition seeking to terminate appellant's parental rights. Following a hearing, the court granted the Department's petition and terminated appellant's parental rights. In this appeal, appellant presents the following question for our review:

         Did the circuit court err in terminating [a]ppellant's parental rights?

         For reasons to follow, we answer appellant's question in the negative and affirm the judgment of the circuit court.

         BACKGROUND

         C.R.-A. ("Mother") gave birth to D.A. and C.A. on February 7, 2007 and February 20, 2009, respectively.[1] Father, who was in the country illegally, was arrested in 2010 "due to domestic violence between himself and the children's mother" and was eventually deported to his home country of Mexico. At that time, Mother and her five minor children, all of whom were the children of Father, "resided in a boarding house with multiple families known for illegal activities including drug use, gambling and excessive alcohol." In 2011, Mother was indicated for neglect by the Prince George's County Department of Social Services (hereinafter "PGDSS").

         In August of 2013, Mother befriended Levi R. and Mary D., a married couple whom she met while the couple was doing missionary work for their church. At the time, Mother was living in a tent in Washington D.C. with her five children, including D.A. and C.A., and her boyfriend, Phillipe W. Not long after meeting Levi R. and Mary D., Mother asked Mr. R. if he and his wife would care for the five children. The couple agreed and eventually filed for emergency custody of all five. The juvenile court granted custody of the five children to Mr. R. and Ms. D. in December of 2013. In that order, the court found that Father had "no present involvement in the case."

         Around the same time, Father was arrested and incarcerated in a federal prison in Louisiana because he again came into the United States illegally and was "trying to bring others into the country." The record does not disclose Father's whereabouts between the time he was deported in 2010 and the time he was incarcerated in 2013.

         In February 2014, PGDSS investigated a report of child sexual abuse against Phillipe W. involving D.A. and C.A. The alleged sexual abuse happened "sometime in later 2012 or early 2013" when the Children were living in a tent with Mother and Phillipe W. PGDSS ultimately determined that the allegations involving D.A. were "indicated;" a finding of "unsubstantiated" was issued regarding the allegations involving C.A.

         In July of 2014, Mr. R. informed the Department that he and his wife could no longer care for the Children. The Department subsequently filed and was granted a Petition with Request for Shelter Care, and D.A. and C.A. were placed in foster care.[2] At the time, Mother's whereabouts were unknown, while Father remained incarcerated in federal prison. In August of 2014, the court held a review hearing regarding the shelter care order, and, on September 15, 2014, the court found D.A. and C.A. to be CINA and ordered out-of-home placement under the care of the Department.

         The court held another review hearing in January of 2015. By this time Mother had been located and was present at the hearing. Also present was counsel for Father, who remained in federal detention.[3] Following the hearing, the court found that the Department had made reasonable efforts at reunification. The court also ordered that D.A. and C.A. were to remain in the custody of the Department and that Mother be allowed supervised visitation. The court made no findings regarding Father.

         In May of 2015, the court held a hearing regarding D.A. and C.A.'s permanency plans. Again, Mother and counsel for Father were present for the hearing. Following the hearing, the court found that Mother had made "no progress toward correcting the problems that caused the children to be placed in foster care, " that she continued "to live with a man who may have abused one of her children, " that she had no employment or place to live, and that she continued "to test positive for illegal drugs." The court also noted that Father remained "incarcerated in Louisiana." As a result of these and other findings, the court ordered that D.A. and C.A.'s permanency plans be changed from reunification to custody and guardianship with a relative.

         In November of 2015, the court held another hearing regarding D.A. and C.A.'s permanency plans. Mother and counsel for Father were present at the hearing, and Father, who was still incarcerated, participated by telephone. The court ultimately ordered that D.A. and C.A.'s permanency plans be changed to custody and guardianship by a non-relative. The Department, in April of 2016, filed petitions for guardianship of D.A. and C.A., and the court held a hearing on the Department's petitions in October of 2016.

         At that hearing, Maggie Swink, one of the Department's assigned in-home services workers for D.A. and C.A., testified that, during her time as the Children's caseworker, the Department provided Mr. R. and Ms. D. with various in-home services, including weekly visits, assisting with clothing and food for the Children, offering referrals for therapy, and working with the couple on parenting techniques. Ms. Swink also testified that she contacted Father regarding placement for the Children and that Father provided two potential resources: his mother and a "fictive relative that he called a cousin who was living in California." Ms. Swink could not locate Father's "cousin" but did manage to locate his mother, who indicated that she was not willing to be a resource at that time. Ms. Swink also reported that she tried to communicate with Father on other occasions and that she "sent him court reports."

         Hadassah Freed, who replaced Ms. Swink as the Children's caseworker in August of 2014, testified that Father was in prison the whole time she was his caseworker, that she only spoke with him "two or three times, " and that he tried to contact her only one time. Ms. Freed also testified that she mailed "every service agreement" to Father but never received a signed service agreement in return. When asked about Father's phone contact with the Children, Ms. Freed responded that "it wasn't frequently."

         She also reported that Father informed her that he had family in the United States and that his mother was "available in Mexico." She had "phone conversations" with his family in the United States, and she contacted the International Social Services regarding his mother. The International Social Services completed a home study with Father's mother, which, according to Ms. Freed, had been "favorable." Ms. Freed left the Department in April of 2015, before she could follow up on any of these resources.

         Following Ms. Freed's departure, Kimberly McKay was assigned as D.A. and C.A.'s caseworker. Ms. McKay reported that she made several attempts to reach Father by phone but was unable to do so. She also sent several service agreements to Father for him to sign, but Father never sent any back. Ms. McKay also spoke with Father's mother about "possibly coming here to the United States . . . to care for the children, " but she was "denied her visa to the United States." Ms. McKay stated that she later investigated Father's niece in Arizona as a potential resource, but the niece did not take the appropriate steps to initiate the process of becoming a resource. She also investigated Father's "cousin" in California and discovered that he was in the country illegally and without a known address.

         In the meantime, D.A. and C.A.'s foster parents informed the Department that they could no longer care for the Children. In September of 2015, the Children were moved into the care of a new foster parent, Melanie R., with whom they now live. Ms. R. testified that the Children's adjustment into her home had gone "extremely well, " that they loved school and reading, and that they were involved in numerous activities, including soccer and Girl Scouts. Ms. R. also testified that the Children regularly attended therapy and that she had not seen any behavioral problems with the Children since they moved into her home. She added that the Children had requested that they not be addressed by their birth names (D.A. goes by "S." and C.A. goes by "M."). When asked about long-term plans for the Children, Ms. R. responded that "they're going to be adopted by me."

         Regarding the Children's relationship with Father, Ms. R. testified that the Children had been speaking with him by phone "less than once a month" but that the conversations had become more frequent in recent months. When Father and the Children spoke, there was "a language barrier" because Father spoke to the Children in Spanish, which neither child can speak fluently. Ms. R. reported that, during one conversation, Father suggested that he be allowed to live with her and the Children after his release.

         After their permanency plans had been changed to adoption, D.A. and C.A.'s case was transferred to Susan Lonergan, a case manager with the Department's adoptions unit, in June of 2016. Ms. Lonergan testified that she conducted in-home visits with Ms. R. and the Children at least once a month and that she had no concerns about the Children's care under Ms. R. She reported that the Children were "always clean" and "always appropriately dressed" and that they were "happy" and "appear comfortable." According to Ms. Lonergan, the Children never expressed an interest in speaking with Father. Ms. Lonergan also testified that she made frequent attempts to reach Father's case manager in prison but that "they never call back." She also stated that she sent several documents to Father but that she did not receive any response.

         Lisa Cammauf, a family support worker with the Department, testified that she had been assigned D.A. and C.A.'s case in November of 2014 and that she had worked with them ever since. Ms. Cammauf reported that she had been involved in several "team decision meetings" in which Father participated by telephone and that she had assisted in answering questions that he had regarding the Children. During one meeting, she told Father that his ability to be a resource for the Children was limited because he was in prison, to which Father responded that "when he gets out, no matter what, [D.A. and C.A.] are his children" and "he will do everything he can to come back and…get his kids." Father reiterated this sentiment at a subsequent meeting in which he again participated by telephone.

         Ida Johnson, a family therapist, testified that she had been treating D.A. and C.A. since July of 2014. Ms. Johnson reported that the Children had behavior problems when they first came into her care, including stealing, lying, wetting the bed, and fighting with their siblings. She attributed the Children's behavioral issues in part to the instability of their home life and having to continually adjust to new surroundings.

         Regarding D.A. and C.A's current situation, Ms. Johnson reported that the Children had adjusted "very well" to life with Ms. R.; that Ms. R. was "very committed" to the Children's therapy; and, that Ms. R. and the Children were "very bonded" and "very affectionate." She further stated that the Children were "making significant progress adjusting to their new home" and that they "appear happy and comfortable with their surroundings."

         Father testified by telephone from prison, admitting that he is "an illegal alien" and that, on at least two occasions, he had entered the United States illegally.[4] According to Father, it was his last entry into the United States, which occurred in December of 2013, that resulted in his being incarcerated. He also stated that he would not be released until July of 2017, at which time he would be deported to Mexico. Father asserted that he was not to blame for "everything that's happened" and that he loved his Children and wanted to do "absolutely everything possible to be with them." He also claimed that after his deportation he would "find a way to come back" but that if he could not "God will bless them anyway." Father stated that he had not seen D.A. or C.A. since 2012.

         As to resources available to him, Father testified that his mother had been willing to care for the Children but that she had passed away prior to the hearing. He also reported that he had a cousin in California but that he did not know the cousin's name. As to the Department's efforts in providing services, Father testified that he and the Department had "had meetings;" that the Department told him that there were papers he needed to sign; that the Department had ...


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