Court of Appeals Division I
State of Washington
Opinion Information Sheet
Docket Number: 63788-6
Title of Case: In Re The Dep. Of: B.r., & T.v., L. Vandermeer(mother), App. V. State, D.s.h.s, Res.
File Date: 09/27/2010
SOURCE OF APPEAL
Appeal from Snohomish Superior Court
Docket No: 09-7-00340-4
Judgment or order under review
Date filed: 07/01/2009
Judge signing: Honorable Gerald L Knight
Authored by Ann Schindler
Concurring: Mary Kay Becker
Michael S. Spearman
COUNSEL OF RECORD
Counsel for Appellant(s)
Washington Appellate Project
Attorney at Law
1511 Third Avenue
Seattle, WA, 98101
Mindy Michelle Ater
Washington Appellate Project
1511 3rd Ave Ste 701
Seattle, WA, 98101-3647
Counsel for Respondent(s)
Arlene K Anderson
Office of the Attorney General
3501 Colby Ave Ste 200
Everett, WA, 98201-4795
Michael Scott Majors
Office of Attorney General
3501 Colby Ave Ste 200
Everett, WA, 98201-4795
Counsel for Guardian(s) Ad Litem
Martin Wade Hodges
Attorney at Law
12221 Village Center Pl Ste 205
Mukilteo, WA, 98275-6080
Amicus Curiae on behalf of Legal Voice
David J Ward
907 Pine St Ste 500
Seattle, WA, 98101-1818
Rima Jamil Alaily
Microsoft Corporation - Law And Corporat
1 Microsoft Way
Redmond, WA, 98052-8300
Molly a Terwilliger
Summit Law Group
315 5th Ave S Ste 1000
Seattle, WA, 98104-2682
IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF WASHINGTON
IN THE MATTER OF THE )
DEPENDENCY OF: )
B.R., b.d. 09/05/03, and ) No. 63788-6-I
T.V., b.d. 12/17/05, ) (Consolidated with
) No. 63789-4-I)
Minor Children. )
) DIVISION ONE
LETITIA MONIQUE VANDERMEER, )
) PUBLISHED OPINION
STATE OF WASHINGTON )
DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL )
AND HEALTH SERVICES, )
Respondent. ) FILED: September 27, 2010
Schindler, J. -- Letitia M. Vandermeer appeals the trial court's decision
to terminate parental rights to her two children. The trial court identified the
central parental deficiency as the mother's relationships with abusive partners.
Because clear, cogent, and convincing evidence does not support the findings
that Vandermeer is currently unfit to parent or that there is little likelihood
conditions would be remedied so the children could be returned to Vandermeer
in the near future, we reverse and remand.
Letitia Vandermeer is the mother of B.R., born on September 5, 2003,
and T.V., born on December 17, 2005. Andrew Renfro is the father of both
Vandermeer and Renfro were together off and on from 1999 until 2003.
During the relationship, Renfro abused Vandermeer. Vandermeer and Renfro
separated a month after B.R. was born. Vandermeer testified that the last time
Renfro was violent towards her was before B.R. was born.
In February 2005, Vandermeer and Destry Schnebly started living
together. Vandermeer worked full time. Schnebly or his mother routinely
provided child care for B.R.
On May 31, 2005, Harborview Hospital contacted the Department of
Social and Health Services (DSHS) to report that B.R. had sustained a brain
injury. Schnebly said that B.R. fell down the stairs. The doctors stated that the
head injury B.R. sustained was consistent with the type of injury caused by
being shaken, not falling down the stairs. DSHS took B.R. into protective
DSHS filed a dependency petition on June 3. On July 5, DSHS and
Vandermeer entered into an agreed order for an in-home dependency. The
1 We grant Vandermeer's motion to strike all references in the DSHS brief to the
December 12, 2007 Commissioner's Ruling. See In re Welfare of Martin, 3 Wn. App. 405, 411-
12, 476 P.2d 134 (1970).
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order finds B.R. is dependent under RCW 13.34.030(5)(c), stating there is "no
parent, guardian, or custodian capable of adequately caring for the child, such
that the child is in circumstances which constitute a danger of substantial
damage to the child's psychological or physical development." The disposition
order requires Vandermeer to complete a DSHS approved anger management
assessment, continue to participate in an approved domestic violence support
group, and adhere to the protection order against Schnebly and the protection
order against Renfro.
In September 2005, Vandermeer obtained an anger management
assessment and a domestic violence evaluation at Phoenix Counseling and
Court Services. The report states that neither "anger management [nor]
domestic violence treatment is indicated in this case," but recommends that
Vandermeer begin attending a support group for victims of domestic violence
and maintain the protection order against Schnebly "indefinitely."
At the dependency review hearing on October 4, 2005, the court found
that Vandermeer had complied with court-ordered services, including
completing the anger management assessment, participating in a domestic
violence support group, and maintaining the protection order against Renfro.
However, because Vandermeer did not file the return of service for the
protection order against Schnebly, the court ordered B.R. removed from her
care and ordered Vandermeer to obtain a valid protection order against
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In a services evaluation in November 2005, DSHS expressed concern
that Vandermeer "seems unable to move forward but instead seems to be
waiting for the final determination of [Schnebly's] guilt or innocence. If he is
guilty, she has stated that she will cut off all contact with him." The report also
states that Vandermeer:
has participated in services that have been recommended and is
likely to follow through with any needed ongoing services. From
the beginning of the intervention until the end, she has stated her
commitment to [B.R.] and to doing whatever is necessary to see
him in her care.
On December 17, 2005, T.V. was born.2 DSHS filed a dependency
petition as to T.V. on December 20.3 DSHS alleged the dependency was
justified by the abuse inflicted by Schnebly on B.R., and by Vandermeer's
failure until recently to obtain a valid protection order against Schnebly.
Following a shelter care hearing, the court allowed T.V. to remain in
Vandermeer's care. The court ordered Vandermeer to not allow any contact
between T.V. and Schnebly or Renfro. Renfro later established paternity of
In response to the dependency petition, Vandermeer admitted that
Schnebly injured B.R. in May 2005, and that B.R. was removed a second time
in October 2005 because of her failure to obtain a valid protection order
2 Vandermeer testified that Renfro had been drinking and forced her to have sexual
intercourse with him.
3 The court also found T.V. dependent as to Renfro, who did not respond to the
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On March 14, 2006, DSHS and Vandermeer entered into an agreed
dependency order that allowed T.V. to remain in Vandermeer's care in an in-
home dependency. The disposition order required Vandermeer to maintain the
protection order against Schnebly and attend domestic violence support
groups. A week later DSHS also placed B.R. back in Vandermeer's care under
an agreed court order restoring the in-home dependency.
Over the next year, the court conducted periodic dependency review
hearings. The court consistently found Vandermeer in compliance with the
disposition order. DSHS planned to request dismissal of the dependencies.
However, in May 2007, DSHS learned that Vandermeer had contact with
Schnebly in August 2006, when she attended the funeral of his mother.
Vandermeer acknowledged seeing Schnebly at the funeral, but said the contact
At a dependency review hearing on May 24, 2007, the court found that
Vandermeer "violated the no contact order with Destry Schnebly in August
'06 . . . . Continuing contact is a serious concern." The court ordered B.R. and
T.V. placed in protective custody. The court ordered Vandermeer to obtain a
psychological evaluation and required supervised visitation.
Evan B. Freedman, Ph.D., conducted the evaluation of Vandermeer, but
DSHS did not authorize "a full assessment of parental competence." DSHS
asked Dr. Freedman to assess Vandermeer's "intellectual and emotional
function and make any relevant treatment diagnoses." DSHS specifically
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raised questions concerning Vandermeer's ability to keep her children safe and
her amenability to services. DSHS expressed significant concerns regarding
"lack of supervision, minimization of the effect that abuse and neglect has had
on the children and the potential that Ms. [Vandermeer] has continued to
maintain a relationship with an unsafe/abusive partner."
In his report dated January 4, 2008, Dr. Freedman noted that despite
Vandermeer's chaotic upbringing, her exposure to drug and alcohol abuse, and
placement in foster care as a teenager, Vandermeer was academically
successful and has a strong work history with no indications of drug or alcohol
In spite of her earlier childhood history, Ms. [Vandermeer]
does demonstrate several strengths, specifically what appears to
be Average Intellectual Function, relative success academically, a
lack of significant drug and alcohol issues and an apparent strong
Dr. Freedman identified the most significant concern as the potential for
neglect by allowing contact with potentially dangerous partners:
[T]he more significant concern is around the potential for neglect,
specifically by allowing contact with potentially dangerous adults.
This concern is heightened by the fact that Ms. [Vandermeer]
continues to struggle to learn this lesson in spite of the fact that
one of her former paramours inflicted serious injury upon one of
her children resulting in an extended hospitalization. As noted
below in the treatment recommendations, Ms. [Vandermeer] will
need consistent and ongoing support in order to learn improved
self-understanding and interpersonal skills, specifically around
setting limits and boundaries with negative partners. It is also
hoped that she will gain further insight into the negative effects
both on herself and her children of her potential affiliation with
negative male partners.
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Dr. Freedman's treatment recommendations included counseling and
participation in a support group for victims of domestic violence.
The following treatment recommendations are provided in
hopes of supporting Ms. [Vandermeer] and her parental ability:
1. Given Ms. [Vandermeer]'s history and personality
configuration, she will have difficulty setting limits with
romantic partners and a tendency to affiliate with
potentially negative or abusive partners. It is hoped that
through therapy and support Ms. [Vandermeer] will be
better able to manage these kinds of relationships.
Nonetheless, those working with her should be on guard
and intervene if she affiliates with male intimates who
might potentially harm her children.
2. It is recommended that Ms. [Vandermeer] participate in
victim/survivor's domestic violence treatment.
Dr. Freedman noted some concern about whether Vandermeer was amenable
to psychotherapy, but concluded she would benefit from counseling:
Ms. [Vandermeer] may not be a particularly good candidate for
psychotherapy as she is both defensive, lacks insight, and it is
unlikely to acknowledge shortcomings are challenges . . . .
Nevertheless, Ms. [Vandermeer] would benefit from ongoing
counseling to help her further develop a sense of her own self,
facilitate emotional maturity, build interpersonal and self-soothing
skills, as well as improving social judgment. Treatment should
focus on both development of improved object relations as well as
concrete coping and self-soothing skills.
Based on Dr. Freedman's evaluation, Vandermeer began individual
counseling sessions with Lynne Springer in February 2008. The counseling
focused on two goals: (1) helping her "gain insight with regard to her self-
esteem" and learn how to set "appropriate boundaries;" and (2) learn the
difference between "healthy and unhealthy relationships, and how these two
specifically relate to the well-being of both herself and her children."
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In April 2008, Springer reported Vandermeer was actively engaged in
counseling sessions with her at New Beginnings. Springer states that
Vandermeer had gained insight, recognized her strengths, and completed the
goal of learning about unhealthy relationships. Springer noted Vandermeer's
many strengths, including a strong work history and desire to get B.R. and T.V.
back. Springer expressed some concern about Renfro continuing to make
unwanted contacts with Vandermeer. But Springer stated that Vandermeer "is
ready to move toward unsupervised overnight visits."
In August 2008, DSHS placed B.R. and T.V. with a foster family in the
Tri-Cities area.4 At first, Vandermeer had difficulty spending time with the
children because of the expense of travelling from her home in Everett.
However, after DSHS agreed to pay expenses, she was able to resume regular
visits with B.R. and T.V.
In September 2008, Springer issued a final counseling report stating that
Vandermeer had completed the counseling goals during a total of 12 sessions.
In the final report, Springer describes Vandermeer's strengths, her love and
concern for B.R. and T.V., and her "strong desire to bring them home to her
care once again as soon as possible."
[Vandermeer] has many strengths such as being one of the
only children in her large family to graduate from high
school and remaining substance abuse free; she has
consistently worked; she is perseverant, well mannered,
considerate, articulate and smart; and she appears to be a
caring parent who wants to teach and nurture her boys.
Throughout the duration of this counseling
4 During the dependency, B.R. and T.V. were placed in multiple foster homes.
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intervention, [Vandermeer] has professed her great love
and concern for her two [children, B.R. and T.V.], and has
maintained her strong desire to bring them home to her
care once again as soon as possible. It is my belief that
she would not be a danger to her two young [children] in
terms of neglect or abuse.
Springer also states that there "continues to be a concern about the
choices in relationships [Vandermeer] appears to continue to make despite this
intervention, and therefore her current ability to keep her children safe and to
nurture their optimal development." But Springer did not recommend further
individual counseling. Instead, Springer recommended that Vandermeer
continue to attend a support group for victims of domestic violence to "ensure
the safety and well-being of her two young children as well as for her own
continued positive growth and development."
[Vandermeer] is a smart young woman, and I have faith
that she can achieve what she needs to achieve in order to get
her two young [children] returned to her care if she puts her mind
to it, by: 1) more confidently using the strengths and skills she
already has within her; 2) actively embrace and utilize the skills
she has learned in this counseling intervention; 3) complete the
above recommendations; and 4) given her lack of healthy family
and/or peer supports, [Vandermeer] will need to develop other
positive relationships, such as through a support group for
example a single parents group, a young women in transition
group, or a church group, to support and encourage her as she
moves forward in order to increase her likelihood of success.
On January 7, 2009, DSHS filed a petition to terminate parental rights to
B.R. and T.V.5 The petition describes the injury to B.R. in 2005 and the
procedural history of the dependencies. DSHS alleged Vandermeer and
5 The termination petition as to T.V. is not in the record.
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Renfro were expressly offered or provided all necessary services capable of
correcting parental deficiencies and "[t]he parents have failed to substantially
improve parental deficiencies within twelve months following entry of the
At the request of DSHS, Dr. Freedman reviewed a number of documents
to determine whether to update his evaluation of Vandermeer before trial. The
documents Dr. Freedman reviewed included letters of compliance from the
battered women treatment program, the final report from Springer, and a recent
declaration of the DSHS caseworker. Based on his review of the information
provided by DSHS, Dr. Freedman concluded there was "no need to re-interview
or complete an addendum to the evaluation" because "[a]ny clinical
conclusions or treatment recommendations would remain the same."
The two-day termination trial began on June 8. At the beginning of trial,
Renfro voluntarily relinquished his parental rights to B.R. and T.V. DSHS
called a number of witnesses, including Dr. Freedman, Springer, and the DSHS
caseworkers. Vandermeer testified. Several visitation supervisors and a
public defense social worker also testified on her behalf.
There was no dispute at trial that Vandermeer engaged in all court-
ordered services. She completed the psychological evaluation with Dr.
Freedman, followed all treatment recommendations by engaging in individual
counseling with Springer, and attended approximately 40 to 50 domestic
violence support group sessions. Throughout the dependency, Vandermeer
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also worked full time and paid child support to DSHS.
Furthermore, there was no dispute that when Vandermeer had custody
of the children from March 2006 to May 2007, she exhibited excellent parenting
skills and was able to protect her children from harm. And when the children
were in foster care, Vandermeer regularly spent time with them and continued
to exhibit excellent parenting skills. For example, the DSHS caseworker
She absolutely loves and adores her children. That's without
question. I can see that. She's interested in them and what
they're doing and how they're doing, and kind of on their level,
like, What did you do today? Those sorts of things. And she gets
involved with them. So she will bring activities and things to the
visits. So she takes care of kind of their basic needs.
The DSHS caseworker also testified that Vandermeer had not had any
contact with Schnebly since August 2006, and that she was unaware of any
acts of domestic violence towards Vandermeer during the dependency. DSHS
introduced evidence of Renfro's prior convictions for domestic violence. The
testimony established that the most recent domestic violence conviction was
against Renfro's current wife in March 2009.
Vandermeer testified that at first she did not believe Schnebly harmed
B.R., and that he was never violent towards her. Vandermeer said that after
learning that Schnebly injured B.R., she only saw Schnebly the one time when
she attended his mother's funeral in August 2006.
Vandermeer testified that Renfro never physically harmed B.R. or T.V.
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and he had not abused her since shortly before B.R. was born in 2003.
Vandermeer admitted having contact with Renfro in 2008, and that she had sex
with him in November 2008, resulting in her third pregnancy. But Vandermeer
said that Renfro's recent conviction for assaulting his wife convinced her that
he would not change. Vandermeer testified that she had taken steps to avoid
any contact with Renfro, including obtaining a new phone number and living at
an undisclosed location.
The court ordered termination of Vandermeer's parental rights to B.R.
and T.V. The trial court identified the central issue as "the mother's decisions
relating to relationships with abusive partners." The court found that "[d]espite
the extensive services the mother completed, the mother has not changed her
decision making with respect to men," and no other services were available
that were capable of correcting her parental deficiencies in the near future.
Vandermeer contends clear, cogent, and convincing evidence does not
support the trial court's finding that she is currently unfit to parent, that there
are no other services available capable of correcting her parental deficiencies
within the foreseeable future, or that there is little likelihood conditions would
be remedied so that the children could be returned to her in the near future.
It is well established that parents have a fundamental liberty and
6 We granted the motion of Legal Voice to file an amicus brief in this case.
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property interest in the care and custody of their children. U.S. Const. amend.
V, XIV; Wash. Const. art. I, § 3; Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745, 753, 102 S.
Ct. 1388, 71 L. Ed. 2d 599 (1982); In re Custody of Smith, 137 Wn.2d 1, 27,
969 P.2d 21 (1998). The State may interfere with a parent's constitutional due
process right "only if the state can show that it has a compelling interest and
such interference is narrowly drawn to meet only the compelling state interest
involved." Smith, 137 Wn.2d at 15. In a termination proceeding, the State has
a compelling interest to prevent harm to children and has an obligation to
intervene and protect a child from harm or risk of harm. Santosky, 455 U.S. at
766. "[W]hen parental actions or decisions seriously conflict with the physical
or mental health of the child, the State has a parens patriae right and
responsibility to intervene to protect the child." In re Sumey, 94 Wn.2d 757,
762, 621 P.2d 108 (1980).
To terminate a parent-child relationship, DSHS must establish the six
statutory elements set forth in RCW 13.34.180(1) by clear, cogent, and
convincing evidence. RCW 13.34.180(1) provides:
(a) That the child has been found to be a dependent child;
(b) That the court has entered a dispositional order
pursuant to RCW 13.34.130;
(c) That the child has been removed or will, at the time of
the hearing, have been removed from the custody of the parent
for a period of at least six months pursuant to a finding of
(d) That the services ordered under RCW 13.34.136 have
been expressly and understandably offered or provided and all
necessary services, reasonably available, capable of correcting
the parental deficiencies within the foreseeable future have been
expressly and understandably offered or provided;
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(e) That there is little likelihood that conditions will be
remedied so that the child can be returned to the parent in the
near future . . . . ; and
(f) That continuation of the parent and child relationship
clearly diminishes the child's prospects for early integration into a
stable and permanent home.
Evidence is clear, cogent, and convincing "when the ultimate fact in issue is
shown by the evidence to be 'highly probable.'" In re Dependency of K.R., 128
Wn.2d 129, 141, 904 P.2d 1132 (1995) (quoting In re Welfare of Sego, 82
Wn.2d at 736, 739, 513 P.2d 831 (1973)). If DSHS proves the six statutory
elements, the court must also consider whether termination is in the best
interest of the child. RCW 13.34.190(1)(a), (2). Whether termination is in the
best interest of the child must be shown by a preponderance of the evidence.
In re Dependency of A.M., 106 Wn. App. 123, 131, 22 P.3d 828 (2001).
We review the record to determine whether substantial evidence
supports the findings, which in turn establish the statutory factors and support
the decision to terminate. In re Dependency of K.S.C., 137 Wn.2d 918, 925,
976 P.2d 113 (1999). Unchallenged findings are verities on appeal. In re
Interest of J.F., 109 Wn. App. 718, 722, 37 P.3d 1227 (2001).
Vandermeer asserts clear, cogent, and convincing evidence does not
support the trial court's determination that she is currently unfit to parent.
Vandermeer contends that because DSHS did not prove current parental
unfitness, the decision to terminate her parental rights to B.R. and T.V. must be
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In a recent decision, In re Welfare of A.B., 168 Wn.2d 908, 232 P.3d
1104 (2010), our Supreme Court held that the trial court must make an explicit
finding that the parent is currently unfit. If there is no explicit finding of current
parental unfitness, the court held that:
the appellate court can imply or infer the omitted finding if -- but
only if -- all the facts and circumstances clearly demonstrate that
the omitted finding was actually intended, and thus made, by the
A.B., 168 Wn.2d at 921.
Here, the trial court appears to have explicitly identified Vandermeer's
parental deficiency as an inability to set limits with abusive partners: "Letitia
Vandermeer is not currently available for the children and will not be a
parenting resource in the foreseeable future." In reaching the conclusion that
Vandermeer was currently unfit, the trial court expressly relied on Dr.
Freedman's testimony at trial that "little had changed" with respect to her ability
to set limits with male partners.
Dr. Freedman testified that, based on his psychological evaluation of
Vandermeer in January 2008, her relationships with men were a potential risk
to her children and that despite her participation in "all of the treatment he
recommended, little had changed with respect to [her] abilities to set limits with
The trial court's findings state, in pertinent part:
1.22. The mother completed a psychological
evaluation on November 29, 2007, with Evan B. Freedman,
Ph.D. Dr. Freedman opined in his January 2008 report
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that 'given Ms. [Vandermeer]'s history and personality
configuration, she will have difficulty setting limits with
romantic partners and a tendency to affiliate with
potentially negative or abusive partners. It is hoped that
through therapy and support Ms. [Vandermeer] will be
better able to manage these kinds of relationships.' Dr.
Freedman recommended the mother participate in
counseling, and victim/survivor's domestic violence
treatment. At trial, Dr. Freedman noted that while Ms.
Vandermeer had participated in all of the treatment he
recommended, little had changed with respect to Ms.
Vandermeer's abilities to set limits with male partners.
1.23. There are no other services available, not
previously offered or provided, which are capable of
correcting . . . Vandermeer's parental deficiencies within
the foreseeable future.
. . .
1.26. There is no dispute about the mother's
parenting skills. The testimony of all witnesses who
observed her interactions with the [children] was positive.
The mother does not have any problems parenting the
children directly. The central issue was the mother's
decisions relating to relationships with abusive partners.
1.27. Despite the extensive services the mother
completed, the mother has not changed her decision
making with respect to men. While the mother claims that
she has learned how to set boundaries with men, her
actions demonstrate otherwise.
The trial court also points to Springer's testimony that Vandermeer was
unwilling to "cut off all contact" with Renfro. The trial court's findings state, in
1.28. Lynn Springer, the mother's counselor noted
in her final counseling report in September 2008 that there
'continues to be a concern about the choices in
relationships [Vandermeer] appears to continue to make
despite this intervention, and therefore her current ability to
keep her children safe and to nurture their optimal
development.' As an example, Ms. Springer cited the
mother's inability or unwillingness to cut off all contact with
the children's father, Andrew Renfro, or to set appropriate
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boundaries with him. Ms. Springer testified at trial that Mr.
Renfro would call the mother's cell phone during their
1.29. Ms. Springer counseled the mother
extensively about her relationship with Mr. Renfro advising
her to discontinue the relationship and set boundaries.
Nevertheless, the mother continued to have a relationship
with Mr. Renfro.
Accordingly, the trial court identifies the "central issue" as "the mother's
decisions relating to relationships with abusive partners" in finding that
Vandermeer "is not currently available for the children and will not be a
parenting resource in the foreseeable future." Vandermeer contends clear,
cogent, and convincing evidence does not support the current findings of
parental unfitness. We agree.
The undisputed testimony at trial established that Vandermeer
had not had any contact with Schnebly after attending his mother's funeral in
August 2006. The testimony also shows that Schnebly did not abuse
Vandermeer and that when they were living together, she had no reason to
suspect he posed a threat to B.R. As to Renfro, the evidence shows that the
last incident of domestic violence against Vandermeer took place shortly after
B.R. was born in 2003, and contrary to the assertion by DSHS, there is no
evidence in the record of domestic violence by Renfro against B.R. or T.V.
Vandermeer testified that the children were the victims of domestic
violence based only on B.R.'s presence when Renfro verbally abused her when
B.R. was a baby.
Q Do you consider yourself to be a victim of domestic violence?
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. . .
Q How come?
A Because even though it wasn't like not physical stuff, there
was still emotional, and I was yelled at and stuff thrown at me.
Q Do you consider the children to be victims of domestic
A Because with [B.R., B.R.] was around when it happened.
Q Anything else? Just that he was around it?
A I don't know how to explain, but I know it does affect him,
because he could hear it and stuff, and he knows when I'm
upset. But [T.V.] hasn't really been around any of it.
. . .
Q Now, you were also asked earlier whether either of your
children had been victims of domestic violence. As you think
now, was there any incident that you left out when you
responded to that question?
A Well, [B.R.] I know has been for sure.
Q Perpetrated by?
A Destry. And then Andrew in the beginning when he was a
couple months old.
. . .
Q Was Mr. Renfro ever violent towards [B.R.] when the two of
you were together?
A Not towards [B.R.], but it was - - the last incident with me was
when [B.R.] was a baby.
As previously noted, the undisputed evidence also establishes that
Vandermeer followed all treatment recommendations, engaged in all court-
ordered services, and had taken steps to set boundaries and end her
relationship with Renfro. Vandermeer testified that after the recent incident of
Renfro's domestic violence against his spouse, Vandermeer realized he would
not change and refused to get back together with him. Vandermeer took steps
to prevent Renfro from contacting her by obtaining a new cell phone number
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and moving to an undisclosed location.
Q Had drinking been a problem for him in the past?
A It has, but I wasn't aware of any recent problems.
Q Okay. Now, did Mr. Renfro ask you to resume a relationship
A Yeah. He said that he wanted us to be back together and
work on doing things for the kids together. But I told him that
I was already doing what I needed to do, and if we got back
together, it wouldn't work because he wasn't following his
Q Okay. Now, was there any point where you realized that,
although there appeared to have been changes in the way
that Mr. Renfro conducted himself - -
A In March when he got out of jail for the domestic violence with
Q What did that tell you?
A That there was still problems. Because he came in - - it was
a couple days after he got out of jail he came into Safeway
and he told me about it, and then he was asking me if he
could stay with me, and I said no, that's not going to work. So
that right there showed, even though he hasn't had any
domestic violence recent with me, then that showed me that
he didn't change.
Q Okay. And what does that mean to you about the possibility
of you ever resuming a relationship?
A That he's still not safe to be around, and instead of his wife, it
could have been me.
Q Okay. So you realize now that he would be an inappropriate
partner for you?
Because neither Dr. Freedman nor Springer had current information
about the steps Vandermeer had taken to address relationships with potentially
abusive partners, the trial court's reliance on their testimony is misplaced.
There is no dispute that both Dr. Freedman and Springer last saw Vandermeer
in 2008. When asked about Vandermeer's current ability to set limits,
Dr. Freedman testified that his conclusion was based solely on the current
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documentation provided by DSHS.
Q Do you have an opinion as to whether the recommendation
that you made for counseling and DV treatment had any
impact or effect on the mother's ability to set boundaries in
relationships and prioritize the needs of her children over her
own and that sort of thing?
A My conclusions about that would be primarily based on
reading the perceptions and assessments of others . . . it
seemed like little had changed since the time that I completed
my evaluation. And considering how much treatment had
occurred, I would have expected there to be a little bit more
awareness and change in behavior.
. . .
Q Do you have an opinion as to the mother's present ability to
be a safe parent to the [children]?
A I have to hedge my opinion, again, because I did not formally
assess her parental capacity, so my conclusions about her
potential to parent and risks to children in her care are based
on my understanding of her psychological function. But that
said . . . my biggest concern is the ongoing - - apparently
ongoing history of difficulty setting limits with men in her life
which - - who may put the children or herself at risk. And I
suppose that concern is made more critical by the fact that
there has been a variety of different attempts at treatment and
support, and there have also been - - there's also been the
fact of the return of her children sort of is hanging in the
balance, and yet change hasn't occurred and these issues
Q So do you believe she's presently able to safely parent,
based on what you know?
A I'm uncomfortable answering the question in part because I
haven't directly assessed that, and I would answer by saying,
you know, in a vacuum, without other people and a broader
context, perhaps - - I mean, there's no evidence to suggest
that she herself abused her children or did them direct harm.
However, people don't parent in a vacuum and have to parent
in a context. And so while I'm uncomfortable making specific
recommendations or observations about her as a parent, I
can speak to the risk that I see from allowing men into her life
who could potentially hurt the children if they were to be in
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But Dr. Freedman's conclusion that "little had changed with respect to Ms.
Vandermeer's abilities to set limits with male partners" was based in part on the
recent declaration of the DSHS caseworker that was excluded at trial. And on
cross examination, Dr. Freedman also admitted that if Vandermeer had in fact
resolved not to have any contact with Renfro, "I would laude [sic] that insight. I
would, however, be concerned that the best indicator of . . . future behavior is
past behavior and so I would leave it at that."
This case is not like In re Dependency of S.M.H., 128 Wn. App. 45, 115
P.3d 990 (2005), where the mother was unwilling or unable to appreciate the
significant risks her relationship with the father posed to the children and no
additional services would make her see the danger posed by the father.
S.M.H., 128 Wn. App. at 55.
Here, unlike in S.M.H., Vandermeer complied with all court-ordered
services and participated in counseling and support groups for victims of
domestic violence. During counseling and at trial, Vandermeer acknowledged
the danger posed by Schnebly, recognized the need to extricate herself from
her relationship with Renfro, and took steps that demonstrated she could set
boundaries and protect her children from harm.
While it is undisputed that the foreseeable future for B.R. and T.V. is
less than one year, clear, cogent, and convincing evidence does not support
the conclusion that Vandermeer is unable to address the only identified
parental deficiency within the foreseeable future.
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Because DSHS has not met its burden of establishing current parental
unfitness by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence, we reverse the order
terminating Vandermeer's parental rights to B.R. and T.V.
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