IN RE: ADOPTION/GUARDIANSHIP OF C.A. AND D.A.
Court for Anne Arundel County Case No. C-02-JV-16-000262
Leahy, Kenney, James A., III (Senior Judge, Specially
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:
circuit court err in terminating [a]ppellant's parental
reasons to follow, we answer appellant's question in the
negative and affirm the judgment of the circuit court.
("Mother") gave birth to D.A. and C.A. on February
7, 2007 and February 20, 2009, respectively. 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
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."
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.
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.
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. 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.
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. 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
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
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.
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."
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."
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
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.
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."
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.
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
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.
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
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."
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. 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.
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 ...