In the Interest of R. D. et al., children.
DILLARD, C. J., DOYLE, P. J., and MERCIER, J.
mother of minor children R. D. (born March 12, 2015), L. D.
(born January 30, 2009), K. D. (born April 10, 2007), and T.
D. (born August 2, 2004), appeals from a juvenile court order
finding the children dependent. She contends that the
juvenile court erred (1) because the evidence did not show
that any dependency was caused by the mother, and (2) by
allowing the guardian ad litem ("GAL") to make
objections and participate in cross-examination. Finding no
reversible error, we affirm.
record shows that the mother's involvement with the
Department of Family and Children Services
("DFCS") began in 2010, to address the mother's
unreasonable and excessive physical discipline of her three
children born at that time. . In 2012, the three children
were temporarily removed from the home due to physical abuse
by the parents, and after the parents completed their case
plan, the children were returned to the home less than a year
2014, while the parents were the legal guardians of three
additional children (nieces of the mother), DFCS again became
involved with the family after two-year-old niece J. W.
received burns when the father placed her on a hot stove
after ingesting Ambien while he was alone with the children.
The father was later indicted for aggravated battery because
of the burning and because the child allegedly tested
positive for GHB, a central nervous system depressant also
known as a "date rape drug." J. W. also
exhibited bruises on her abdomen, chest, ear, and thigh, as
well as scratches on her back and lacerations on the inside
of her lip; she also presented with high liver enzymes, which
was not associated with any toxic substance or virus, but
which can result from physical trauma. The mother stated that
the children injured each other, and the parents were unable
to control them. Based on these facts and the parents'
inability to supervise and care for the other children, the
juvenile court entered a temporary disposition finding that
children were dependent and temporarily placed into foster
February 2015, after a hearing, the juvenile court entered an
order nunc pro tunc November 2014 adjudicating the children
dependent. At that time, T. D., then ten years old, had
entered a residential psychiatric treatment facility based on
aggressive behavior and visual and auditory hallucinations,
and she had made an outcry of sexual abuse by the father that
coincided with the onset of her hallucinations. The juvenile
court ordered that custody remain with DFCS based on
recommendations by the case manager, the parents' lack of
progress on their reunification case plan, and incomplete
counseling and psychological fitness evaluation of the
further proceedings with DFCS, in August 2015, the juvenile
court entered an order nunc pro tunc July 2015 returning K.
D., L. D., and R. D., to the custody of their parents. The
order included a protective provision requiring the parents
to participate in therapy with the children as well as
individually, allow access to the children in the home, and
cooperate with DFCS. Due to continued mental health concerns,
T. D. remained in custody of DFCS residing at the psychiatric
August 2016, the juvenile court entered a removal order as to
all four children after DFCS received four reports of recent
physical abuse. The next month, DFCS filed dependency
petitions as to the children, and in March 2017, the juvenile
court held an evidentiary adjudication hearing with both
parents present. Following the hearing, the juvenile court
entered an order finding the children dependent and requiring
a permanency hearing within nine months. The mother filed
mother contends that there was insufficient clear and
convincing evidence to support a finding that she caused any
dependency. We disagree.
[O]n appeal from an order finding a child to be a dependent
child, we review the juvenile court's finding of
dependency in the light most favorable to the lower
court's judgment to determine whether any rational trier
of fact could have found by clear and convincing evidence
that the child is dependent. In making this determination we
neither weigh the evidence nor judge the credibility of the
witnesses, but instead defer to the factual findings made by
the juvenile court, bearing in mind that "[t]he juvenile
court's primary responsibility is to consider and protect
the welfare of a child whose well-being is
respect to the dependency findings challenged by the mother,
OCGA § 15-11-2 (22) defines a "dependent
child" as one who, among other things, "[h]as been
abused or neglected and is in need of the protection of the
court." The Code defines the term "abuse" as
"[a]ny nonaccidental physical injury or physical injury
which is inconsistent with the explanation given for it
suffered by a child as the result of the acts or omissions of
a person responsible for the care of a child; [or] . . .
[e]motional abuse. . . ."
there was evidence that the mother had a demonstrated history
of involvement with DFCS, including prior adjudications of
dependency stemming from her own abusive behavior and lack of
supervision of the children. A child who lived in the
household described his childhood atmosphere as one of daily
yelling, threatening, and cursing at the children by the
mother, who would routinely discipline the younger children
by striking them with a hand or a belt hard enough to leave
visible marks. The mother also frequently hit the
children's heads and slapped their lips. As the trial
court's findings conclusively demonstrate, the physical
discipline imposed by the mother on her children was both
unreasonable and excessive. The child described the mother as
"doing the most yelling."
her prior involvement with DFCS, the mother's physically
abusive conduct persisted. On one occasion in March 2016,
after the children had been returned to the home most
recently, the mother unreasonably and excessively disciplined
seven-year-old L. D. by slapping or spanking her bare skin
multiple times and beating her head against the
wall. On another occasion after the return of
the children, the mother got into a physical fight with one
of the children, rolling on the floor and throwing punches:
"[I]t was like an actual fight with . . . [the
11-year-old child] and a grown woman." Afterward, the
mother "kind of bragg[ed] about it."
the children's time in the house, on regular occasions,
the mother would excessively discipline the children by
forcing them to stand against a wall, facing it, with their
arms held out horizontally for long periods of time, at least
once for "hours." The mother also routinely yelled
and cursed at the children if ...