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Appeals court says child’s placement in D.C. wasn’t abuse of discretion

Scott Lauck//November 17, 2022//

Appeals court says child’s placement in D.C. wasn’t abuse of discretion

Scott Lauck//November 17, 2022//

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The Court of Appeals Eastern District on Nov. 8 upheld a judge’s decision to place a child with a foster family in Washington, D.C., over the objection of his biological mother.

The case, according to the opinion, is the first to apply a recent law that gives parents the ability to challenge modifications to child placement prior to the entry of a final judgment.

The child, referred to as J.G.W., was taken from his family in 2018 after one of his younger siblings drowned in a portable cooler. J.G.W. was placed in several homes, including with a couple who lived in St. Louis but later moved to D.C.

State authorities eventually sought to terminate the mother’s parental rights and place the child permanently with the D.C. couple. The mother objected, arguing that J.G.W. had no family there and that she would be unable to visit him, but St. Louis Circuit Judge Ellen Dunn found that such a move was in the best interests of the child.

Prior to 2021, the state’s juvenile code had allowed only juvenile officers to file interlocutory challenges to judicial rulings in placement cases. But Senate Bill 71, which passed 140-5 in the House and 32-2 in the Senate, allowed any party to appeal from “any order changing or modifying the placement of a child.”

The appeals court said that, under the revised statute, the underlying decision should be reviewed for an abuse of discretion. Judge James M. Dowd, writing for the court, said it was clear that the trial judge had “engaged in a fulsome analysis of J.G.W.’s best interests.”

The opinion also said J.G.W., whose age wasn’t disclosed in the ruling, had made clear that he preferred to live with the family in D.C., and that the new family had promised to maintain his relationship with his biological family.

“It is apparent that moving J.G.W. from his native St. Louis to Washington D.C. represents a wholesale change to his surroundings in terms of family, friends, and school,” Dowd wrote. “Nevertheless, we are persuaded that in reaching its placement decision, the trial court considered such a major set of changes against the backdrop of J.G.W.’s four years in foster care, during which he attended three different schools, lived in several homes, and endured a challenging relationship with his Mother.”

Judges Kelly C. Broniec and Philip M. Hess concurred.

The case is In the Interest of: J.G.W., ED110147.  

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