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CAV: Child placement with willing relatives not suitable

The circuit court did not err in concluding that, despite their willingness to care for a child, the mother’s relatives were not suitable placements due to concerns about their age, health, living conditions, potential criminality, and attentiveness.


Appellant Paula Daywalt and Eric Lam are the biological parents of the child who is the subject of this appeal.

After Daywalt gave birth to the child, she and Lam told the hospital staff that they did not intend to take the baby home and wanted to place him for adoption. Lam told a social worker they were unemployed and homeless and, when asked, he declined to provide contact information for a potential relative placement. Hospital staff and the social worker noticed that Daywalt allowed Lam to speak for her and would not speak with anyone unless he was present.

Daywalt left the hospital against medical advice to keep a social security appointment. Since there were no readily available options for relative placement, the Department of Social Services placed the child in foster care, and a juvenile and domestic relations court adjudicated the child as abused or neglected.

Daywalt returned to Pennsylvania, where she was raised. In January 2017, she told the Department she didn’t want to have any contact with the Department or visit the child. But when Daywalt later changed her mind, the Department sent her a letter explaining what services she needed to complete. These included individual counseling, group counseling, medication management, monthly meetings with Department staff, random drug screens, supervised visitation, and a psychological evaluation with Dr. Joann Grayson. The Department also required that Daywalt to pay child support and follow all court orders.

Daywalt usually visited once a month, but in September 2017, she asked to visit more frequently because her lawyer told her to do so. Daywalt’s family came with her to the visits. During the visits, Daywalt did not know what to do if the child was fussy. The Department also observed that Daywalt was “not too aware of her surroundings and what [the child] could be taking in,” because she would use curse words or inappropriate language around the child.

Grayson found that Daywalt was “dependent upon others for direction” and “unable to operate independently.” He also determined that Daywalt had “unrealistic ideas about the time and attention children need,” and was a “high risk for serious neglect” and “physical abuse.” Grayson was also concerned that Daywalt had “an inflated opinion of her abilities as a parent” and would be “unlikely to accept direction because she feels as though she knows everything she needs to know in order to parent.” He described Daywalt as “self-absorbed” and stated that she “lack[ed] empathy of children and other people.” He expressed concern that there would be “safety issues if [Daywalt] would be left alone to care for a child, even for a short time.”

In October 2017, the JDR court approved the goal of adoption and terminated Daywalt’s parental rights to the child. On Daywalt’s appeal to the circuit court, the Department presented evidence that she had never lived independently. Daywalt testified that she was living with her great-great-uncle and –aunt, L. & M. Ditch. She testified that she knew “what’s needed to take care of a kid.” The Department presented evidence that the child was doing well in foster care, was placed in a potential adoptive home, and was progressing through physical therapy.

After hearing all of the evidence and argument, the circuit court terminated Daywalt’s parental rights pursuant to Code
§ 16.1-283(C)(2) and approved the goal of adoption. This appeal followed.

Parental rights

The evidence proved that Daywalt was unwilling or unable to remedy the problems that led to the child being placed, and remaining, in foster care.

In December 2016, Daywalt abandoned the child and told the Department that she did not want to care for the child. Daywalt contends that she acted this way because Lam was abusive and controlling her, but even after her family became more involved she was slow to comply with the Department’s requirements. She did not come to any of the hearings and visited the child only once a month until September 2017. When she did visit the child, she required help from her family.

She didn’t have her first meeting with Grayson until August 2017. The circuit court found that Dr. Grayson’s report was “quite telling as to what [Daywalt]’s limitations are [and] her needs for assistance in almost everything dealing with parenting.” It concluded that Daywalt is “the same person now who abandoned the child, with the same limitations and problems that existed prior to the abandonment, other than she no longer lives with [Lam].”

In the January 2017 foster-care plan, the Department required Daywalt to participate in supervised visitation, parenting classes, individual and group counseling, monthly meetings with the social worker, and a monthly parenting group. The Department also recommended a psychological examination. Grayson’s first recommendation was that Daywalt should have supervised contact with children, but he found that her cognitive disabilities affected her ability to parent and live independently. Since Daywalt did not complete the psychological evaluation earlier, the Department was unable to provide services beyond counseling and supervised visitation prior to the termination of parental rights hearing. Under the circumstances, the Department offered reasonable and appropriate services.

Thus, the circuit court did not err in concluding that it was in the child’s best interests to terminate Daywalt’s parental rights.

Relative placement

The circuit court did not err in finding that the Department investigated possible relative placements, but none were suitable.

The circuit court held that Daywalt’s parents were not appropriate placements because they previously had children removed from their care. In addition, the circuit court found that “disorganization” and “chaos” described “the general condition of where they’re living,” and it expressed concerns about positive marijuana tests.

The circuit court also found that the Ditches were not viable relative placements. It emphasized their failure to complete the required paperwork, noting that the work to complete the paperwork was “nothing compared to the work of trying to take care of a one-year-old.” In addition, the circuit court found that they were not in good health and was especially concerned that L. Ditch was charged with “some sort of inappropriate touching a child.” Regarding his testimony that he did not remember what the offense was, the circuit court stated, “Well, he’s either not telling the truth, or if he genuinely doesn’t know what he pleaded guilty to, that shows a diminution in capacity that reflects worlds on his inability to serve as an appropriate foster parent.”


Daywalt v. Harrisonburg Rockingham Soc. Servs. Dep’t, Record No. 0399-18-3, July 10, 2018. CAV (per curiam), from Rockingham Cir. Ct. (Wilson). VLW No. 018-7-174, 13 pp.