The court of appeals upheld a decision to terminate the parental rights of Appellants Bettina and Daniel Dorr as to their autistic young son.
The Dorrs are biological parents to D., born in 2012. Responding to a complaint in 2013, Child Protective Services found that their house smelled like urine and feces. The family’s five cats were eating dirty diapers, and the litter boxes were full, and garbage bags were overflowing. Daniel said the housework had “gotten away from them” due to depression, but he agreed to clean the house. On a similar visit in July 18, 2014, CPS recommended services for D., who was nonverbal and diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
From October 28, 2014 through June 15, 2015, CPS provided ongoing services to the family, but the home’s condition didn’t improve. D. was often in a pack-and-play or his crib. Dr. James Anderson evaluated both parents. He explained that Daniel had very limited psychological tolerance for the kinds of demands that children, and especially special-needs children, make on a parent’s time and energy. Similarly, Dr. Anderson found that Bettina would very likely have increasing difficulty socializing with the child, and he was pessimistic about her ability to provide for the additional needs of a child with autism.
On June 15, 2015, CPS responded to a complaint about the conditions of the home and child neglect. The house smelled like feces and cat urine, and there were eight cats and two full litter boxes in the home. Every room was cluttered and dirty. CPS removed D. and, on June 24, 2015, the Lynchburg JDR court adjudicated the children as abused or neglected.
Once D. was in foster care, the Dorrs participated in services offered by the Department of Social Services, including weekly supervised visits. A social worker reported that these visits required ongoing intervention by the parenting coaches to remind the parents how much supervision D. needs and how to interact with him.
Although the parents’ interactions with D. improved, Daniel’s parenting instructor was extremely concerned about Daniel’s physical limitations because D. was very active. For example, if D. were to run away, Daniel would not be able to retrieve him. Bettina’s parenting counselor testified that she did not think Bettina had a good understanding of D.’s needs, and it was difficult for her to deal with D.’s ever-changing, complex behaviors.
Meanwhile, in foster care, D. receives medication and various therapies for autism and ADD. He has an early-intervention caseworker and a tracking bracelet because of his impulsive running and other dangerous behaviors.
Ultimately, the circuit court terminated the Dorrs’ parental rights pursuant to Code § 16.1-283(C)(2), and this appeal followed.
In considering the termination of parental rights, the paramount consideration of a trial court is the child’s best interests. Under the applicable statute, the termination decision hinges on the demonstrated failure of the parent to make reasonable changes. The Dorrs contend that they complied with the Department’s requirements, including cleaning their home and participating in services. Nevertheless, the evidence supports the circuit court’s rulings. Daniel continues to have physical limitations and depression, which impact his ability to care for D. Bettina’s limited cognitive ability affects her decision-making and problem-solving skills. Bettina does not understand D.’s needs and would become overwhelmed.
It is clearly not in the best interests of a child to spend a lengthy period waiting to find out if a parent will be capable of resuming his or her responsibilities. In this case, the evidence supports the finding that it was in D.’s best interests to terminate Daniel and Bettina Dorr’s parental rights.
Dorr v. Lynchburg Dep’t of Soc. Servs., Record Nos. 0966-17-3 and 1529-17-3, Feb. 6, 2018; Va. App. (per curiam); Lynchburg Cir. Ct. (Yeatts). James J. Angel and Sarah W. Bell for Appellants; Hope R. Townes and Joyce M. Coleman for Appellee. VLW No. 018-7-023, 8 pp.