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WILLIAMS v. CHESTERFIELD COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES




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WILLIAMS

v.

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL
SERVICES


COURT OF APPEALS OF VIRGINIA

Present: Judges Benton, Humphreys and Senior Judge Overton

Record No. 1152-03-2

SONIA WILLIAMS

v.

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY

DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES

 

MEMORANDUM OPINION[1]
PER CURIAM

OCTOBER 14, 2003

FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF CHESTERFIELD COUNTY

Frederick G. Rockwell, III, Judge

(Edwin F. Brooks, on brief), for appellant.

(Michael S. J. Chernau, Senior Assistant County Attorney, on
brief),

for appellee.

Sonia Williams appeals a decision terminating her parental
rights to her son. She

contends (1) the evidence was insufficient to support the
termination and (2) that the trial judge

erred by permitting "the prior social worker’s notes to be
admitted pursuant to the business

records exception and used as substantive evidence against
[her]." Upon reviewing the record

and briefs of the parties, we conclude that this appeal is
without merit. Accordingly, we

summarily affirm the decision of the trial court. See Rule
5A:27.

BACKGROUND

We view the evidence in the light most favorable to the
prevailing party below and grant

to it all reasonable inferences fairly deducible therefrom. See
Logan v. Fairfax County Dep’t of

Human Dev., 13 Va. App. 123, 128, 409 S.E.2d 460, 462 (1991). So
viewed, the evidence

established the child was born on March 15, 1990. By the time
the child was three years old,

Williams had been imprisoned for multiple felony charges. When
Williams was imprisoned, she

left the child in the care of his maternal grandmother. After
his grandmother died in 1996, the

child resided with his maternal aunt and uncle until they
petitioned to be relieved of custody

because they were unable to manage his behavior. On October 25,
2000, the Chesterfield

County Department of Social Services obtained custody of the
child. The Department

implemented an initial foster care plan of "return
home," upon the expectation that Williams

would be paroled from prison in July 2001.

The Department contacted Williams and advised her to avail
herself of the rehabilitative

programs available to her in prison. The foster care plan called
for the slow reintroduction of

Williams to her son "in a manner that is therapeutic to
[him]." The plan included initial

telephone contact and letter writing, to be followed by visits.
The initial steps of reinitiating

contact, however, were unsuccessful. After the initial contact,
the child’s behavior deteriorated.

Williams wrote only sporadically and sometimes inappropriately.
She falsely represented her

release time and her continued incarceration prevented her from
achieving any of her

responsibilities under the initial foster care plan.

The child was placed in a therapeutic foster home in November
2000 because he was

severely emotionally disturbed. Despite extensive counseling and
psychiatric services, he

continued to exhibit verbal and physical aggression. He was
hospitalized three times in an effort

to stabilize his behavior, and he was treated at the Virginia
Treatment Center for Children for

eight months in 2001. He has thrived since his return to a
therapeutic foster home. His foster

parents are prepared to adopt him.

Williams’s scheduled release was postponed due to her misconduct
in prison. At the time

of trial in March 2003, her release date still had not been
determined. In his ruling, the trial

judge cited Williams’s incarceration, her lack of contact with
the child, and the child’s need for

structure and stability.

ANALYSIS

I.

In pertinent part, Code ? 16.1-283(C)(2) provides that
"[t]he residual parental rights of a

parent . . . of a child placed in foster care as a result of
court commitment . . . may be terminated

if the court finds, based upon clear and convincing evidence,
that it is in the best interests of the

child" and that the following conditions exist:

The parent or parents, without good cause, have been

unwilling or unable within a reasonable period of time not to

exceed twelve months from the date the child was placed in
foster

care to remedy substantially the conditions which led to or
required

continuation of the child’s foster care placement,
notwithstanding

the reasonable and appropriate efforts of social, medical,
mental

health or other rehabilitative agencies to such end. Proof that
the

parent or parents, without good cause, have failed or been
unable

to make substantial progress towards elimination of the
conditions

which led to or required continuation of the child’s foster care

placement in accordance with their obligations under and within

the time limits or goals set forth in a foster care plan filed
with the

court or any other plan jointly designed and agreed to by the
parent

or parents and a public or private social, medical, mental
health or

other rehabilitative agency shall constitute prima facie
evidence of

this condition. The court shall take into consideration the
prior

efforts of such agencies to rehabilitate the parent or parents
prior to

the placement of the child in foster care.

Because "’[r]easonable and appropriate’ efforts can only be
judged with reference to the

circumstances of a particular case," Ferguson v. Dep’t of
Soc. Servs., 14 Va. App. 333, 338, 417

S.E.2d 1, 4 (1992), we have held that the trial judge "must
determine what constitutes reasonable

and appropriate efforts given the facts before the court."
Id. at 338-39, 417 S.E.2d at 4.

Williams contends that the Department failed to provide
reasonable and appropriate

services to assist her. The trial judge found, however, that the
Department’s actions were

reasonable, under the circumstances, and that Williams’s
incarceration limited the agency’s

capacity to remedy her deficiencies as a parent.

In Ferguson, we held as follows:

[W]hile long-term incarceration does not, per se, authorize

termination of parental rights or negate the Department’s
obligation

to provide services, it is a valid and proper circumstance
which,

when combined with other evidence concerning the parent/child

relationship, can support a court’s finding by clear and
convincing

evidence that the best interests of the child will be served by

termination.

Id. at 340, 417 S.E.2d at 5. The evidence proved that Williams
was incarcerated from the time

the child was three years old. She had only minimal contact with
him during the period of

incarceration and failed to maintain appropriate contact when
offered the opportunity to

reestablish her relationship with her child. In addition, the
record contains expert testimony that

the child needed stability to ensure improved development and
that direct contact with mother

would be disruptive.

The trial judge found that the Department had fulfilled its
duties under the statute. We

will not disturb this finding because the record indicates that
it was not plainly wrong or without

evidence to support it. Martin v. Pittsylvania County Dep’t of
Soc. Servs., 3 Va. App. 15, 20,

348 S.E.2d 13, 16 (1986). Thus, the record supports the trial
judge’s finding that the Department

proved by clear and convincing evidence that the best interests
of the child would be served by

terminating mother’s parental rights pursuant to Code ?
16.1-283(C)(2).

II.

Social worker Kiva Best testified about entries made in the
child’s file by a prior social

worker. Williams contends that the Department "made no
effort to have the Court rule that the

persons who made the entries or submitted the reports were
unavailable or that it would be

inconvenient to summons those persons to Court." She also
contends that "there is nothing in the

trial Court record to indicate that the record entries . . .
were made contemporaneous with the

event described." She further contends "it is unclear
what records were made by [the

Department's] agents . . . and which records were received from
third party contractors."

Williams failed to raise any of these specific objections in the
trial court. This Court will

not consider an argument on appeal that was not presented to the
trial court. Ohree v.

Commonwealth, 26 Va. App. 299, 308, 494 S.E.2d 484, 488 (1998).
Rule 5A:18 requires that

objections to a trial court’s action or ruling be made with
specificity in order to preserve an issue

for appeal. Campbell v. Commonwealth, 12 Va. App. 476, 480, 405
S.E.2d 1, 2 (1991) (en

banc). A trial court must be alerted to the precise
"issue" to which a party objects. Neal v.

Commonwealth, 15 Va. App. 416, 422-23, 425 S.E.2d 521, 525
(1992). Accordingly, Rule

5A:18 bars our consideration of these specific issues on appeal.
Moreover, the record does not

reflect any reason to invoke the good cause or ends of justice
exceptions to Rule 5A:18.

Williams did object that Best’s testimony concerned records she
had not prepared. She

argued that Best was not the "custodian" of the
records and did not have personal knowledge of

the contents of the records. In determining the admissibility of
evidence under the business

records exception, however, the proper inquiry is as follows:

The more recent Virginia cases have firmly endorsed the view
that

an entry made by one who lacks personal knowledge of the facts
is

admissible under the [business records] exception if the facts
were

related to the entrant by some person who (1) did have personal

knowledge of the matters related, and (2) was himself or herself

acting in the ordinary course of business.

Charles E. Friend, The Law of Evidence in Virginia ? 18-15 (6th
ed. 2003).

Best did not need personal knowledge of the facts recorded in
the business records at

issue. The trial judge, therefore, did not err by allowing
Best’s testimony.

Accordingly, we summarily affirm the decision. See Rule 5A:27.

Affirmed.

 

FOOTNOTES:

[1]Pursuant to
Code ? 17.1-413, this opinion is not designated for publication.


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