The Court of Appeals on July 25, 2013 in IN RE ANG.P. & AND.P.; (Nos. 11-FS-1584 & 11-FS-1585), reversed the lower court finding of neglect against a biological mother who was charged with neglecting her children by leaving them without proper parenting, care and control.
The legal standard specifically provides: a child is neglected if he or she “is without proper parental care or control, subsistence, education as required by law, or other care necessary for his or her physical, mental or emotional health, and the deprivation is not due to the lack of financial means of his or her parent, guardian, or custodian.” D.C. Code § 16-2301 (9)(A)(ii). In addition, a child will be adjudicated neglected if his or her “parent, guardian, or custodian is unable to discharge his or her responsibilities to and for the child because of incarceration, hospitalization, or other physical or mental incapacity.” Id. § 16-2301 (9)(A)(iii). A finding of neglect under (iii) requires a showing, by a preponderance of the evidence, of a causal nexus between the parent’s mental or physical incapacity and his or her inability to provide proper parental care for the child. See In re E.H., 718 A.2d 162, 169 (D.C. 1998).
Factually, the mother who suffered from severe chronic back pain was charged with leaving her five year old daughter (And.P.) without proper care while she was transported to the hospital due to being rendered unconscious by her prescription pain medication. There was also a fourteen year old in the home (Ang.P.) and another adult child. A hot line report was filed and CFSA investigators also determine that there were other occasions that the mother was incapacitated due to being virtually disabled by her back pain, that the home was messy and cluttered, the children were not updated on immunization and missed school.
Essentially the Court determined that the facts as presented at the trial level were not sufficient to find neglect against the mother. The evidence established that the five year old was in the care of the 14 year old when the mother was hospitalized.
Specifically the Court held: there is no evidence that And.P. was ever left alone without proper supervision. See Child and Family Services Agency Administrative Issuance No. 08-7 (December 24, 2008) (explaining that, depending upon the child’s maturity, a child over the age of ten can be left alone and a child over twelve may babysit). There was no evidence that Ang.P. lacked the maturity or skill to care for And.P. during the periods their mother was asleep. Indeed, there was evidence that Ang.P. helped out with chores at home, was able to do her own laundry, could bathe and prepare And.P. for the day, and was able to prepare small meals.”
The Court also ruled that somewhat dirty and cluttered home with no major safety issues would not rise to the level of neglect. Even if, in addition, the mother did not have updated immunization record, or was late on certain utility bills, or even failed to ensure regular attendance of the five year old in the non-mandatory pre-kindergarten classes.
The case rightfully recognizes and highlights the working dynamics of the modern homes versus the traditional literal definitions of what constitutes neglect. The Court focused on the condition of the children rather than the condition and disposition of the mother while factoring in the age and involvement of the older sibling in the home environment, a practical approach in construing the neglect statute.
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