The Court adjudicated the child as neglected child in a 59-page written decision outlining the history of the neglect case as well as the dispositional orders issued by the Court on the same date. A New York Family Lawyer said at that point, the child had been in care. The judge’s dispositional order was quite clear. It required that the children be placed in care for 12 months and the defendant mother be placed under the Administration for Child Services (ACS) supervision for 12 months.
The order of the court also issued an order of protection against the respondent mother in favor of the children providing that she shall not interfere with their care and custody by ACS or its agent and shall have only supervised visitation with the children at the agency and that she was required to comply with the terms and conditions specified in said order of protection which was incorporated into the dispositional order. Furthermore, the dispositional order required that the respondent mother was to establish and maintain a verifiable place of residence and keep ACS/Agency appraised of her residence at all times, as well as a means of reliable communication such as mailing address and telephone number. A New York Custody Lawyer said she was also to establish a verifiable source of income. The mother was to be notified of the planning conferences to be held with respect to the children. She has the right to attend such conferences and the right of respondent to be accompanied by counsel or other person. It also required that the children were to continue to receive therapy and that ACS was to undertake diligent efforts to encourage and work with the respondent in an effort to effectuate the discharge of the children to her care and respondent was to cooperate, as well, in that regard. It also continued the warrant for the return of the son to foster care.
The dispositional order also wants the ACS to submit written progress reports to the Court, to the respondent mother and the Law Guardian concerning the status of the respondent mother and the children and the implementation of the Court’s order. It also required ACS was to file a petition for a permanency hearing.
A Bronx Family Lawyer said the mother appealed the finding and orders. The Appellate Division dismissed her appeal and Leave to appeal to the Court of Appeals was denied.
Based upon the mother’s failure to comply with the provisions of the dispositional order on the neglect case, the agency filed a petition to terminate her parental rights, alleging that she had permanently neglected her daughter. A Bronx Custody Lawyer said testimony at the fact-finding on that petition was taken on several hearings. Counsel for the agency, counsel for the mother and the law guardian presented summations to the Court.
The Family and Children’s Services’ caseworkers were called as witnesses by the presentment agency. The respondent mother testified on her own behalf and also called the Assistant Commissioner of the New York State Office of Children and Family Services. The Law Guardian did not present independent evidence. The Court took judicial notice of all proceedings on the neglect docket involving the mother and her daughter, as well as her son up to and including the filing date of the petition.
The first case worker testified that she was the caseworker from the Children and Family Services assigned to the daughter’s case from 2000-2002. She testified that the service plan designed to re-unite the mother with her daughter required that she visit the child regularly, provide the agency with her address, verifiable income and a backup resource who would watch her daughter when she was not available, or working.
The caseworker testified that she asked the mother for her address whenever she saw her, at least bi-weekly at her visits with her child. On the first occasion, when the caseworker asked the mother for her address, she told the caseworker that the agency had her address and it was where the agency mails her letters to. The caseworker recounted telling the mother that she sent those letters to a post office box, and that the reason the agency needed an address was so that they could inspect the home and make sure that it was suitable for reunification of parent and child. The caseworker testified that though she asked the mother for her residence address at least twice a month for the two years she was the caseworker, the respondent mother never provided an address. The caseworker recounted some specific conversations between herself and the mother concerning the address issue. She stated that the mother told her that she has the address already.
The caseworker also testified that the agency reimbursed the mother for carfare when she attended visits. On occasion, she complained that she was not receiving sufficient reimbursement for her travel expenses. The caseworker queried the mother with respect to her residence information, explaining that if she had documentation of where the mother was traveling from, she could justify additional reimbursement for travel expenses. However, the mother never produced any documentation, and the caseworker continued to provide the respondent with metro cards with round-trip carfare to reimburse her when she came to visits with her daughter.
The caseworker also asked the respondent mother for documentation of her income. She never provided the documentation. The caseworker testified that the mother attended visitation with her daughter regularly and enjoyed positive interaction with her daughter. However, she testified that the mother’s interactions with staff were horrible and her conduct during the visits was sometimes bizarre. On one occasion, the mother was troubled by the appearance of her daughter’s hair, and proceeded to bring her to a public restroom and wash her hair in the sink. On other occasions, while continually complaining about the agency’s lack of attention to her daughter’s dental needs, she brought bags of candy which the child would devour during the course of each visit.
The caseworker also testified that she asked the respondent mother to identify her child care provisions for Portia; respondent refused and never provided that information. On cross examination, the caseworker stated that she did not refer the respondent for psychiatric treatment because she knew it had been addressed. Her understanding was that the respondent had been through some sort of psychological counseling and the caseworker did not want to require respondent to repeat services that she had already completed.
The agency also called the second caseworker as a witness. She testified that the respondent was verbally abusive to her when she interacted with her at her visits. She stated that the respondent was always fighting with her and on numerous occasions called her a lying motherfucker and a green-card toting bitch when she attempted to discuss the various service plan requirements with her. The caseworker testified that the respondent’s use of these expletives took place front of her daughter, and other families with children that were visiting. The caseworker recounted at least one occasion when the respondent got into a fight with another birth parent during visitation, and another occasion when the respondent had to be removed from the premises by the police.
On cross examination by the Law Guardian, the respondent mother stated that she did not recall when she moved to the Bronx, and admitted that since she moved to the Bronx, she possibly could have lived elsewhere. She testified that at least from December 24, 2001 through October 9, 2002, she had maintained a home in the Bronx and that in fact she had maintained that home since the first home visit to that apartment by the agency in the 1990’s. Despite this longstanding residence, she stated that she did not know how much the rent was; she did not know if there were a lease, but said that if there were, it was in her sister’s name; she did not know who pays the electricity or in whose name the account was; she did not know who pays the gas bill, how much it was or under whose name the account was; she denied having a telephone in the apartment, saying that her sister had a telephone in the apartment but she did not know how much the bill was or who pays it. She stated that she did not have a cell phone, although she borrows one from time to time, and she stated, in answer to a question, that sometimes she borrows her son’s cell phone. When asked when she had last seen her son, she took the 5th Amendment. She stated that in 2002 she carried a beeper, but although the agency had the number, they did not contact her very frequently using it.
The Law Guardian rested without presenting affirmative evidence. All counsel and the Law Guardian presented summations. The mother argued that she had satisfied every service plan requirement communicated to her but that due to personality conflicts between her and various workers and supervisors at the agency, the Children Services had failed to exercise diligent efforts to reunite her and her daughter. The Law Guardian and the agency urged the Court to find that the mother had permanently neglected her daughter. They argued that despite the diligent efforts of the agency, the mother failed to plan for the return of her daughter by failing to comply with specific provisions of the Court’s dispositional order which were incorporated into the agency’s service plan. The Law Guardian argued that while the mother was very good at fighting the system, having retained or been assigned at least 13 different lawyers in the course of the neglect/TPR proceedings, an Article 78 proceeding, a habeas corpus proceeding, three appellate division appeals, and a federal lawsuit, she had failed over a period of years to expend any comparable effort at meeting the service plan requirements that would have lead to reunification with her daughter.
The Social Services Law defines a permanently neglected child as a child who is in the care of an authorized agency and whose parent has failed for a period of more than one year following the date such child came into the care of an authorized agency substantially and continuously or repeatedly to maintain contact with or plan for the future of the child, although physically and financially able to do so, notwithstanding the agency’s diligent efforts to encourage and strengthen the parental relationship. It is axiomatic that if children are to be reunited with a parent, that family requires a residence to live in.
The agency has shown by clear and convincing evidence that it is in the child’s best interests for her care and custody to be transferred to the Commissioner of Social Services and the agency for purposes of consenting to her adoption. Even eight years after the child was removed from her care, the mother has failed to provide any reasonable plan for reunification with her daughter.
The child wishes to be adopted, and has so stated under oath. The family that has sheltered her since July 2001 wishes to adopt her, and has been approved by the agency as an appropriate adoptive resource for the child. The agency’s petition is granted. The respondent mother’s parental rights are terminated. Care and custody of the child is vested in the Commissioner of Social Services and the agency for purposes of consenting to her adoption and it is further ordered that the child’s aunt’s custody application is dismissed.
Giving birth to a child is not the only basis of being a parent, sustaining that life is as important. If you are fighting for the custody of a neglected child, you can surely win your battle with the Bronx County Child Custody Lawyer and the Bronx County Family Attorney. Stephen Bilkis and Associates can also provide you with the Bronx County Domestic Violence Lawyer if your lawsuit would need one.