9 A.3d 14 (Md. 2010), 21-2010, In re Adoption/Guardianship of Cadence B.
|Citation:||9 A.3d 14, 417 Md. 146|
|Opinion Judge:||ADKINS, J.|
|Party Name:||In re ADOPTION/Guardianship OF CADENCE B.|
|Attorney:||Piedad Gomez, Asst. Public Defender (Paul B. DeWolfe, Public Defender, Baltimore, MD), on brief, for petitioner. Ann M. Sheridan, Asst. Atty. Gen. (Douglas F. Gansler, Atty. Gen. of Maryland, Baltimore, MD), on brief for respondent. Marsha L. Williams (Legal Aid Bureau, Inc., Hughesville, MD), on...|
|Judge Panel:||Argued before BELL, C.J., HARRELL, BATTAGLIA, GREENE, MURPHY, ADKINS and BARBERA, JJ. Judge HARRELL joins in judgment only.|
|Case Date:||November 22, 2010|
|Court:||Court of Appeals of Maryland|
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
[417 Md. 149] In this case, we must examine whether it is in a child's best interest to remain in foster care in the hopes that she may someday reunite with her natural parent, even though that neglectful parent continues to willfully absent himself from any meaningful contact with the child and the child's current caregivers are willing to provide her a permanent home through adoption. Here, Petitioner appeals from the juvenile court's decision changing his daughter's permanency plan from reunification to " open adoption." Petitioner lost custody of his daughter when she was only four months old, after the Charles County Department of Social Services (" the Department" ) received reports that the daughter and her half-brother were being neglected. Unfortunately, Petitioner had a history as a neglectful parent, having already lost custody of his other five children on the same grounds. His daughter was adjudged a Child In Need of Assistance (" CINA" ) 1 and placed into foster care.
Despite Petitioner's expressed desire for reunification with his daughter, he chose to move out-of-state to a home that could not be monitored by the Department and rarely traveled back to this State to take advantage of Department-sponsored visitation. After a year in foster care, the Department and the child's counsel sought to revise her permanency plan to allow adoption by the daughter's foster family, with whom she had clearly bonded. During a hearing to review the daughter's permanency plan, the juvenile court considered all of the requisite statutory factors and decided that changing the [417 Md. 150] permanency plan to " open adoption" 2 was in the
daughter's best interest. Petitioner appealed to the Court of Special Appeals, and in an unreported opinion, the intermediate court affirmed the juvenile court. He then sought relief in this Court. We granted his Petition for Writ of Certiorari to answer the following question:
Where Petitioner concededly had a positive and loving relationship with his two-year-old daughter, did the juvenile court err in terminating reunification efforts and implementing a permanency plan of adoption because of the length of time-just over a year-that the child had lived with her foster parents? 3
For the reasons articulated below, we will deny his requested relief and affirm the decision of the Court of Special Appeals.
FACTS AND LEGAL PROCEEDINGS
At the heart of this case sits a three-year-old girl, Cadence, who has spent the majority of her life out of the custody and care of her biological parents. Three days before her four-month birthday, the Department received a complaint that Cadence and her seven-year-old half-brother, John, were being neglected by Cadence's parents, Mr. B. and Ms. L. During an interview with a Child Protective Services worker, John described in detail how his parents smoked drugs:
John observed his mother, Mr. B. and their friend pass around a thing that they were smoking. He described that his parents would put their mouth on one end and smoke would come out of the other end then they would pass it to [417 Md. 151] the next person who would then take the same actions.... John advised that he has also seen his parents use a " can" that they would use to smoke. John was able to provide information as to how the drugs were being smoked by describing the type of instrument used to smoke crack. John advised that what they were smoking was not a cigarette since they smoke cigarettes all the time. John advised that he was watching his parents smoke with their friends, however, stated that his parents to not allow him to watch them smoke because they are afraid he will " tell his friends."
John also talked about how his mother and Mr. B. " often [left him] to care for [Cadence] while they walk[ed], several miles away, to obtain their drugs." He reported that the family was " kicked out of the motel when his parent's friend, Cliff ... told the people in the office that Mr. B. was selling drugs[.]" After its investigation, the Department filed a non-emergency CINA petition in the Charles County juvenile court on September 24, 2007.
Unfortunately, this was not the Department's first encounter with Mr. B. In 2001, the Department removed his two oldest children, J.D. and Davey, from Mr. B.'s care following " concerns [of] ... [lack] of supervision of the children, home environment, and parental drug use." J.D. and Davey were placed into the custody of Mr. B.'s mother, who resides in Maryland. Mr. B. fathered three other children with Ms. L.-Savanna, Sebastian, and Miranda-and his parental rights to those children were involuntarily terminated in 2008. All three children tested positive at birth for illegal substances, prompting the Department to inquire into their living situation. Each of these investigations produced findings of neglect. At this time, Mr. B. was aware of Ms. L.'s cocaine problem, but did not take steps to remove his children from their dangerous home environment. In fact, Mr. B. attempted to conceal the extent of his children's exposure to drugs by falsifying substance abuse documents and submitting them to the Department.
[417 Md. 152] Five months after the Department filed its petition in this case, the Charles County juvenile court declared Cadence to be a CINA and placed her in the temporary custody of Ms. L. under an Order of Protective Supervision. Ms. L., however, violated that order, leading the Department to place Cadence in the foster home of Mr. and Mrs. Z., where she has remained. 4 CADENCE HAS BONDED well with her foster family, " as if they were her biological family." She is " a happy child and appears to be thriving in Mrs. Z.'s care." Mr. and Mrs. Z. give Cadence an opportunity to have regular contact with her siblings and are " willing to continue those relationships with her siblings and with her parents."
Meanwhile, as Cadence was making her way through the juvenile system, Mr. B. was dealing with legal troubles of his own. Three days after Cadence's four-month birthday, Mr. B. surrendered to Charles County law enforcement after he discovered that there was a warrant for his arrest for writing a bad check. He remained incarcerated in Charles County for one month until he was extradited to Pennsylvania to satisfy another arrest warrant for welfare fraud. Following his release from jail in Pennsylvania, Mr. B. chose to remain in that state to live with his new girlfriend and current fiancé e, Denise, instead of returning to Maryland where all six of his children reside.5 His home is currently in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, which is approximately a four to four and a half hour drive from where Cadence lives in Charles County, Maryland. He and Denise share a trailer with two full baths, three bedrooms, a kitchen, living room, and laundry room. Mr. B. pays the mortgage and lot fees for the trailer. He has [417 Md. 153] also maintained employment 6 and his court-ordered urinalysis results have consistently been negative.
Mr. B. has had irregular and limited contact with Cadence since she has been in foster care.7 Between the time of his release in Pennsylvania and the juvenile hearing changing Cadence's permanency plan, Mr. B. chose to visit her 11 out of 19 months, or, stated differently, only 18 out of 561 days. The Department has indicated to Mr. B. that he could visit Cadence more frequently and that he could arrange visits directly with Ms. Z. It has even provided him with gas vouchers to facilitate more visits, but to no avail. 8 Mr. B. does, however, send Cadence " cards, letters, gifts, [and] emails[,]" and stays in touch with Cadence's foster mother.
When Mr. B. does visit Cadence, the two interact well. Mr. B. and Cadence have a " [v]ery good, loving[,]" " positive relationship." As reported by one caseworker: " [Mr. B. is] nurturing to [Cadence]. He's playful with her. He's responsive to her needs. The child is responsive to him. She smiles at him. She goes right to him." Mr. B. takes Cadence to the park, to the community center, and to visit Mr. B.'s mother and his two sons who live with her. Although Ms. Z. expressed concern that Cadence does not know Mr. B., she did [417 Md. 154] not have any safety concerns about Mr. B.'s unsupervised visits with Cadence.
As required by Maryland law, the Charles County juvenile court has monitored the progress of Cadence's reunification with Mr. B. through a series of Permanency Plan Review hearings. The Permanency Plan Review hearing at issue in this case occurred on April 23 and 27, 2009. At its conclusion, the juvenile court changed the permanency plan from reunification to " open adoption,"...
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