Please help me get my little daughter back
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On April 3, 2005, Sabrina was born to Nancy Hey. She weighed 7 lb. 4 oz. Mother and baby were released from the hospital on April 5, 2005. On April 8, 2005, Ms. Hey took Sabrina to the pediatrician for a regular post-birth follow-up. The baby had lost weight (from 7lb. 4oz. to 6lb. 12oz.) so the pediatrician recommended supplementation with formula (Ms. Hey was nursing) and a follow-up visit several days later. Ms. Hey saw the pediatrician three more times after that initial visit. Although Sabrina’s weight only dropped to 6 lb. 10 oz., she did not exhibit a sustained weight gain. As a result, on that third visit, the doctor who saw Ms. Hey and Sabrina indicated that Sabrina’s weight loss and lack of sustained weight gain was more significant than Ms. Hey had been led to believe and he instructed Ms. Hey to admit Sabrina to the hospital.
So, on April 16, 2005, Sabrina and Ms. Hey were admitted to Virginia Hospital Center. Sabrina was admitted with a failure to thrive diagnosis. After increasing the amount of formula used to supplement Ms. Hey’s breast feeding, Sabrina gained weight. On April 19, Ms. Hey was visited by a social worker from the Arlington County Child Protective Services. On April 20, Ms. Hey and her live-in companion, Kit Slitor, (not the biological father of the baby) were compelled to sign a “Safety Plan” presented to them by the Arlington County CPS social worker. They were informed a refusal to sign would prevent the baby from being discharged. The following day, Ms. Hey and Sabrina were released from the hospital. On the date of release, Sabrina weighed 7 lb. 5 oz.
On April 22, the social worker and one or more home nurses visited the family. The social worker returned the next day, Saturday, April 23; however, Ms. Hey and Mr. Slitor refused her entry, stating they wanted a “time out” while they retained legal counsel (a letter to that effect was handed to the social worker). Over the weekend they sought, and by Monday morning they retained, an attorney who immediately attempted to contact the social worker. (Another attorney who is a friend had attempted to contact the social worker over the weekend.) Notwithstanding the fact that counsel managed to speak to the social worker sometime late Monday morning, the social worker went forward with a request for an Emergency Removal Order which was granted. The Order was executed that day, April 25, and Sabrina was placed in foster care. At the time of removal, Sabrina weighed 8 lb. 1 oz., a 12 oz. gain from April 21 the day on which Sabrina was released from the hospital.
On May 2, the Court made a finding of abuse and neglect and ordered psychological evaluations for both Ms. Hey and Mr. Slitor. Those evaluations, which were performed by individuals hired by the County, occurred over the course of the next two weeks. Following those evaluations, a Foster Care Service Plan was developed by the County. The Plan’s stated goal was “return home” and it imposed several obligations on the parents, all of which they have complied with. On July 5, the Foster Care Service Plan was presented to the Court and accepted.
Although visits were occurring between Sabrina and Ms. Hey and Mr. Slitor, they did not occur on a set, regular schedule. The visits that did take place, took place at the County offices and were only approximately one hour in duration and usually no more than twice a week, although some weeks there was only one visit. By early September, for all intents and purposes, the visits had ceased, because Sabrina had exhibited increasing signs of distress. At a follow-up hearing on October 25, the Court ordered that a home visit occur. That visit occurred three days later, on October 28, after which both sides submitted to the Court memoranda summarizing the visit. On November 14, the Court issued a letter ordering that visits continue to occur in the parents’ home. One such additional visit occurred, on November 23, approximately a month after the previous in-home visit. Those two visits are the only visits Ms. Hey had been able to participate in since late August/early September. Mr. Slitor, whom the County wanted to evaluate as the potential primary caretaker since Ms. Hey had been ruled out by the County as such, did have several short visits on his own in October and one in December. (It should be noted that Ms. Hey and Mr. Slitor got married in October.)
At a follow-up hearing in late November, the Court ordered both sides to submit a plan for facilitating the goal of return home, which both sides did. In mid-December, the Court informed both sides that it had accepted the plan submitted on behalf of Ms. Hey and Mr. Slitor, which contemplated regular, frequent visits with increasing duration accompanied by instruction from a qualified home-based services provider. The Court ordered that all visitation cease until the new reunification process could begin with the new service providers. The Court also ordered that Ms. Hey and Mr. Slitor be financially responsible for the services to be provided.
Starting in January, that plan was implemented and the reunification process got underway. Initially, the service providers familiarized themselves with Sabrina and Sabrina with them. They then slowly and carefully reintroduced the parents to Sabrina in an effort to properly restart the attachment process. The visits occurred on a set schedule (3 days a week) in the parents’ home and, as time went on, the duration of the visits steadily increased. During these visits, the parents received parenting instruction and once a week they participated in a parent-infant therapy session. The amount of instruction provided by the home-based workers decreased as time went on.
This process continued until approximately June 15, by which time Ms. Hey and Mr. Slitor were spending more than 20 hours a week with Sabrina and even had had two supervised overnight visits with Sabrina. Notably, throughout this process, Sabrina did not exhibit any of the distress she previously exhibited which had led the County to essentially terminate visits. However, on June 15, the Court accepted the County’s proposed change in goal, put forth in March, from “return home” to “adoption”. This occurred notwithstanding the Court’s acknowledgment that significant progress had been made in the reunification process and that the parents had maintained consistent contact with Sabrina.
A hearing on the County’s petition for termination of parental rights was scheduled for September 20, 21, and 22. However, on September 20, the parties agreed to the entry of an involuntary termination order. They also agreed upon continued visitation pending an appeal of both the change of goal and the termination, which appeal is set to occur in the Circuit Court for Arlington County in early December.
In addition to the judicial action, the County issued, on June 20, 2005, an administrative finding against Ms. Hey and Mr. Slitor of physical neglect and failure to thrive, assigning the highest possible level to its finding. As a result of this finding, Ms. Hey and Mr. Slitor currently are subject to having their names appear on the Virginia Department of Social Services Child Abuse/Neglect Central Registry for a period of 18 years.
Upon a request for an appeal, a local conference was held on November 30. The presiding official was the Deputy Director of Social Services for Arlington County. On December 6, the Deputy Director issued her decision which was to uphold the initial finding. Ms. Hey and Mr. Slitor appealed this decision and, on June 21, 2006, that appeal was heard by a hearing officer designated by the Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Social Services. On September 1, 2006, the hearing officer issued his decision.
In short, the hearing officer determined that the Agency (i.e., the County) failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence its contention that Sabrina met the criteria for a finding of physical neglect-failure to thrive and, accordingly, reversed the decision. As a result, Ms. Hey and Mr. Slitor are no longer subject to appearing on the Child Abuse/Neglect Central Registry.Despite having been exonerated in the administrative proceeding, the judicial action continues unresolved. On June 1st, 2007, Judge James Almand of the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Fourth Circuit Court of Arlington County ruled to uphold the lower court’s ruling to terminate the parental rights of Nancy Hey, and to deny the petitions for custody filed by Sabrina’s stepfather Kit Slitor and maternal grandmother Louise Hey. Christopher and Nancy are now appealing this decision to the Court of Appeals. However, all of their visitations with Sabrina have been cut off while the matter in under appeal. They were only granted one final visit with Sabrina, which occurred on June 22nd. Nancy & Kit made a few audio-videos of that visit with their digital camera.