Court for Baltimore City Case No. T15280012
Wright, Arthur, Salmon, James P. (Senior Judge, Specially
Baltimore City Department of Social Services petitioned the
Circuit Court for Baltimore City, sitting as the juvenile
court, to terminate the parental rights of H.W.'s
biological father. The court found by clear and convincing
evidence that there were exceptional circumstances that made
the continuation of the father's parental relationship
detrimental to H.W.'s best interests. In so doing, the
court relied, in part, on the factors from Ross v.
Hoffman, 280 Md. 172 (1977), which concern whether there
are exceptional circumstances that make it detrimental to a
child's best interests for a parent to have
custody. The father appealed.
the court engaged in a thorough and conscientious review of
all the evidence before it rendered its decision, we must
vacate the judgment and remand for further proceedings
because the court erred in considering factors related to
custody in finding exceptional circumstances that make the
continuation of the father's parental relationship
detrimental to H.W.'s best interests.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
M.W. ("Father") is the biological father of a son,
H.W., who was born in April of 2012. At the time of
H.W.'s birth, Father was incarcerated in Connecticut.
Father has never met H.W., and H.W. does not know of
September 5, 2012, while Father was incarcerated in
Connecticut, H.W.'s mother ("Mother") left him
unattended in a bathtub. When she returned, H.W. was face
down in the water. He almost drowned. The child was
hospitalized and spent two weeks on life-support.
September 28, 2012, H.W. was placed into the custody of the
Baltimore City Department of Social Services under an
emergency authorization. On October 1, 2012, the Department
filed a petition alleging that H.W. was a child in need of
assistance or "CINA." On approximately December 3,
2012, the juvenile court found that H.W. was a CINA, but left
him in Mother's custody under an order of protective
supervision. Father was still incarcerated in Connecticut
when these events occurred.
January 13, 2013, Father was released from prison and placed
on probation in Connecticut. He has testified that he was not
allowed to leave Connecticut without official permission and
that he could not move to Baltimore, because his family could
not sponsor him. He lived for some time in a homeless shelter
and did not complete a drug-treatment program for marijuana
reasons that are unclear from the record, the court entered
an emergency order authorizing H.W.'s removal from
Mother's residence on May 14, 2013, but returned him to
Mother's custody, under the order of protective
supervision, on July 22, 2013. On December 12, 2013, the
court terminated H.W.'s CINA case.
January 2014, Mother gave birth to fraternal twins,
H.W.'s half-brother and half-sister. Five months later,
on June 8, 2014, Mother left H.W.'s half-brother in the
sink, unattended, while she tended to his half-sister, who
was choking in another room. The infant boy suffered burns on
over 18 percent of his body and was hospitalized for 25 days.
9, 2014, the day after H.W.'s half-brother suffered his
burns, the Department filed a petition for shelter care on
behalf of H.W. and his two half-siblings. At the time, H.W.
had a healed burn to the right side of his forehead, which,
Mother said, he had suffered when he ran into a lit cigarette
while playing. The court placed H.W. and his half-siblings
into shelter care.
20, 2014, the Department placed H.W. and his half-sister in
the care of their foster parents, the Ms. H.W. and his
half-sister have lived with the Ms. since that date.
H.W.'s half-brother joined them at a later date, after he
had recovered from his burns, and after Mr. and Ms. M. had
constructed an extra room to accommodate all of the children.
Lee, a permanency worker for the Department, investigated
Father's whereabouts and received information indicating
that he was incarcerated in Kentucky. She sent him a letter
on July 10, 2014, but received no response.
court scheduled a six-month review hearing on H.W.'s
permanency plan for the afternoon of December 9, 2014. Father
testified that he found out about the hearing about a month
before it occurred (though he was unsure how). He evidently
received permission to travel to Baltimore for the hearing,
but showed up in the morning rather than in the afternoon. He
spoke to Ms. Lee, told her that he was on probation in
Connecticut (and not incarcerated in Kentucky), and asked to
visit with H.W. Ms. Lee told Father that she would pick up
H.W. and bring him to the courthouse, but Father said that he
was unable to stay because he had bought a ticket on a bus
that was leaving at 2:00 or 3:00 p.m. It appears that Father
may have managed to get a ticket for a later bus (he did not
need to get back to work in Connecticut until 7:00 p.m. the
following evening), but he did not use the extra time to see
H.W. He left the courthouse with Mother and has not returned
to Maryland since that date.
the first eight months of 2015, Ms. Lee spoke to Father (and
his probation officer) on one occasion and sent him several
letters about upcoming hearings. She received no response to
the letters. In August 2015, she learned that Father had been
reincarcerated. He had violated his probation in several
ways, including by testing positive for the use of marijuana.
October 2015, while he was incarcerated, Father wrote to Ms.
Lee and expressed his desire to "be in [H.W.'s]
life." He suggested his aunt or his brothers as
resources for H.W. Ms. Lee, however, could not locate the
brothers. (Father had not supplied contact information for
them.) The aunt declined to become a placement ...