ENTIRE MOSAIC OF THE CHILD’S LIFE –- A LEGAL PRINCIPLE OR AN EXCUSE TO LET ALL NON-ADMISSIBLE EVIDENCE IN?

The pinnacle case that first defined and expounded on the “entire mosaic” of the child life was:  In re. S.K., 564 A.2d 1382 (DC 1989).

The case was about excessive physical discipline of a child who had set her bed on fire.  Parents sufficiently outraged had both physically disciplined her, belting the child.   The mitigating factors were that the child had a pre-existing, documented severe psychological issues, with even suicidal ideations.  The parents were aware of that.  The court however found neglect based on a very narrow and isolated set of facts.  The judge focused only on the day and the incident giving rise to the physical discipline – and finding the discipline excessive as the child had marks and bruises – concluded neglect legally justified based on the evidence.

In another word, rather than considering the child’s pre-existing mental conditions at the time of physical disciplining and all the surrounding circumstances – the trial Judge simply establish that the belting of the child, isolated from all other elements in play, was sufficient to establish neglect.  Judge Schwelb in a dissenting opinion entitled and empowered the trial judge to have a larger focus and lens when considering basis for finding neglect.   He specifically coined and defined the legal term “entire mosaic of child’s life” as: state intervention to remove a child cannot be based on a single episode or incident narrowly construed but the court has to cast a wider net and consider other countervailing interests and evidence giving rise or supporting a finding of neglect.   That is: a pattern of mistreatment, pre-existing psychological issues, other influencing considerations as well as the most recent incident that might have given rise to the filing of the neglect petition.

The court in In re T.G., C.G., D.G., 684 A.2d 786, 788 (D.C. 1996), defined the entire mosaic as “chronic indifference, carelessness, dereliction, inability to perform” – there the trial Judge had focused too much on the conditions of the two residences from which the children were removed on that particular day, and did not consider all other countervailing circumstances surrounding the children’s life.

The issue is though that often times the court will admit all kind of evidence broadly and some even irrelevant all under the auspices or the umbrella of the “entire mosaic” of child life.  It is critical to understand the facts and circumstances of the cases using “the entire mosaic” language to be able to properly limit and exclude the non-admissible evidence sought to be admitted using this legal principle  — which if often interrupted broadly and all encompassing but in reality limited in scope and definition by the cases which have expressed its limits and defined circumstances when applicable.

The Law Offices of David Stein is the preeminent litigation firm specialized in DC child abuse and neglect cases: familylawdc.com.

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