IN RE ABAIGAIL C.

Decision Date30 May 2001
Docket NumberNo. 1560,1560
Citation772 A.2d 1277,138 Md. App. 570
PartiesIn re ABIAGAIL C.
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

Mary J. Pizzo, Asst. Public Defender (Stephen E. Harris, Public Defender on the brief), Baltimore, for appellant.

C.J. Messerschmidt, Asst. Atty. Gen. (J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Atty. Gen. on the brief), Baltimore, for appellee.

Submitted before DAVIS, DEBORAH S. EYLER and PAUL E. ALPERT (Ret'd, Specially Assigned), JJ. DEBORAH S. EYLER, Judge.

The Circuit Court for Washington County granted a petition for guardianship with right to consent to adoption or long-term care short of adoption filed by the Washington County Department of Social Services ("the Department"), the appellee, with respect to Abiagail C.1 That ruling terminated the parental rights of Abiagail's natural parents, Chinninia C., the appellant,2 and Charles L. On appeal, the appellant raises the following questions, which we have rephrased:

I. Did the trial court err in denying her motion to dismiss the Department's petition when there was no ruling by the court within 180 days of the filing of the petition?

II. Was the evidence legally sufficient to support the termination of her parental rights?

For the following reasons, we shall affirm the judgment of the circuit court.

FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

On July 31, 1997, following reports that she had been sexually abused by her mother's boyfriend and by Charles L., an adult, the appellant, then thirteen years old, was adjudicated a Child In Need of Assistance ("CINA") and removed from her home. At the time, she was pregnant by Charles L.

During the first four months after being found a CINA, the appellant lived in several foster homes. In each home, she exhibited oppositional behavior, resisting her foster parents' attempts to discipline her and generally having difficulty getting along with them. On October 21, 1997, the appellant moved into the foster home of Lisa and David J. She was living there when Abiagail was born, on January 17, 1998.

Before Abiagail's birth, the J.s, like the foster parents preceding them, had found the appellant to be defiant and non-cooperative. She did not follow their rules, would not keep herself clean, dress appropriately, eat or sleep properly (even though she was pregnant), and wanted to "run on the streets" with boys.

After Abiagail was born, the J.s tried to help the appellant learn how to care for the baby, with little success. The appellant became easily frustrated with having to care for an infant. She would shout at Abiagail and one time threw her onto the bed. The J.s had to constantly remind the appellant to feed and change Abiagail. When Abiagail would cry at night, the appellant often ignored her. Because of the appellant's persistent lack of cooperation, the J.s had to intervene to care for Abiagail themselves.

The Department caseworker for the appellant tried to enroll her in parenting skills training classes; that attempt failed because the hours conflicted with the appellant's school hours. In addition, the appellant was not accepted in another parenting program for teenagers because the program was geared to pregnant girls and her baby already had been born. Eventually, the caseworker succeeded in enrolling the appellant in an intensive parenting skills program that was being held from the end of March 1998 to the end of May 1998. The program had a counseling component as well, which the caseworker thought would assist the appellant in getting along with her foster parents.

Unfortunately, although the appellant participated in the two-month parenting program, she continued to neglect Abiagail's needs by failing to consistently provide for her basic care and leaving her unattended and crying for long periods of time. The appellant's caseworker was able to arrange a placement for her and for Abiagail at the Florence Crittendon Group Home, to learn parenting skills and for counseling. They were placed there on June 22, 1998. Six days later, the appellant left and took Abiagail with her. She complained that the group home was infested with ants.

After spending a day at the home of a friend's boyfriend, the appellant took Abiagail to her mother's house. Shortly thereafter, she returned with Abiagail to the J.s' home, where they remained until December 21, 1998. During that period, there was no change in the appellant's defiant conduct or her inability or unwillingness to care for Abiagail. She continued to fight the J.s' efforts to keep her off the streets. She also continued to ignore Abiagail's most basic needs and to leave her alone and crying for several hours at a time. Finally, after the J.s told the appellant's caseworker they could not cope with the appellant's neglect of Abiagail any longer, the Department removed both the appellant and Abiagail from their home.

The caseworker found a shelter placement for the appellant, but the shelter would not take an infant. The appellant refused to go to the shelter and instead was allowed to return to her mother's home for the holiday. Abiagail was placed in a shelter foster home. When the caseworker found two placements for the appellant and Abiagail together, in early January 1999, the appellant refused both of them. The caseworker then tried without success to identify a family member who could take the appellant and Abiagail. Finally, on January 7, 1999, over the Department's objection, the juvenile court released the appellant from its jurisdiction so she could live with her mother, as she wished to do. Abiagail remained in foster care. She was adjudicated a CINA on January 28, 1999.

Appellant entered into three service agreements with the Department in 1999. On February 27, she entered into an agreement in which she committed to complete a parenting skills course, attend school regularly, find appropriate housing for herself and Abiagail, attend counseling, and interact appropriately with Abiagail during visitation (which had started soon after she had returned to her mother's house in late 1998). By May 1, the appellant had failed to attend counseling and to complete the parenting program. In addition, although she had attended most of her visitations with Abiagail, they did not go well. At the outset of every visitation session, Abiagail would cry and resist entering the room. At first, she would only enter the room if a foster parent were present; eventually, she would only interact with the appellant in the presence of a foster parent.

On May 1, 1999, the appellant executed a second service agreement with the same provisions as the first agreement. She did not complete her parenting program when that agreement was in effect, however, and did not begin counseling until July 7.

Carlton Munson, Ph.D., a clinical social worker, observed two visits between the appellant and Abiagail, on May 19 and June 16, 1999. During both visits, Abiagail started crying almost the moment that she was left with the appellant and she cried so hard that her face became inflamed. The appellant tried to comfort her, without success; Abiagail would only calm down when her foster mother comforted her. Dr. Munson had only seen such an extreme reaction in three of the other 284 parent/child visitations he had observed.

Dr. Munson performed evaluations of Abiagail and the appellant over the summer of 1999. He found that Abiagail, who by then was 17 months old, was developing normally and that she was shy and very attached to her foster mother. In his evaluation of the appellant, Dr. Munson administered a Parent Stress Index test that revealed a very high stress reaction to parenting, a high measure of dysfunctional interaction with the child, and a perception of the child as being difficult or handicapped. The appellant's score on all three aspects of the test showed an exceptionally high degree of difficulty with her role as a parent. In Dr. Munson's view, this indicated that the appellant would easily become upset with Abiagail and that there would be a significant risk that she would cause Abiagail physical harm. He recommended that Abiagail and the appellant not be reunified until the appellant had complied fully with the service agreement for 9 to 12 months, or longer. He also opined that if Abiagail were returned to the appellant, she would need supportive services and monitoring.

Dr. Munson diagnosed the appellant as having a depressive disorder. Later, she was diagnosed as having bipolar disorder. Apparently, she had been in the depressive cycle of bipolar disorder when she was evaluated by Dr. Munson. The appellant began taking medication for this disorder in July 1999.

After school started in September 1999, the appellant experienced numerous absences, was suspended for three days for fighting, and on several occasions left school early, without permission.

On October 27, the appellant and the Department entered into a third service agreement. She again agreed to attend school regularly, participate in individual therapy, find appropriate housing, and interact properly with Abiagail. She also agreed to make up the parenting classes she had missed and to comply with her psychiatrist's recommendations and medication regimen.

In November 1999, the appellant dropped out of school after numerous absences and a series of disciplinary measures. She failed to attend her therapy sessions regularly or to complete the parenting program. She continued to live with her mother, which was not an appropriate home for Abiagail. The following month, she stopped taking her medication and as a consequence was hospitalized in January 2000. The appellant returned to therapy in February 2000 and continued until April 19, 2000, when she failed to attend two consecutive counseling sessions.

On May 24, 2000, the appellant was adjudicated delinquent after being found involved in two counts of misdemeanor theft. She was placed on probation and ordered into community detention. When she...

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