In the Interest of I.N., a child.
DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES, GUARDIAN AD LITEM PROGRAM, and K.O., Respondents. E.N., Petitioner,
FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF
for Writ of Certiorari to the Circuit Court for Collier
County; Mary C. Evans, Judge.
M. Bodden and Alexander Peterson (withdrew after briefing) of
Family First Legal Group, Naples; Susan M. Bodden of Bodden
Law Firm, Mediation & Arbitration, Naples (substituted as
counsel of record) (withdrew after briefing), for Petitioner.
Meredith K. Hall, Bradenton, for Respondent Department of
Children and Families. Sara E. Goldfarb, Sanford, for
Respondent Guardian ad Litem Program.
Beverly L. Brennan, Naples, for Respondent K.O.
the Mother of the minor child, I.N., petitions for certiorari
review of the Order on Mother's Motion for Evidentiary
Hearing Prior to Reunification, which appointed a
reunification therapist and directed the parties to follow
the therapist's directives about how reunification
between I.N. and K.O., the Father, should be initiated and
implemented. Because the order departs from the essential
requirements of the law and causes irreparable harm, we grant
the petition and quash the order on review.
I.N.'s birth in 2011, the Mother and the Father, who were
never married, ended their relationship. The Mother and the
Father shared custody of I.N. equally until I.N. was
sheltered from the Father in January 2015. About a month
later, the Department of Children and Families filed a
petition for the dependency of I.N. solely as to the Father.
The petition alleged that I.N. had been sheltered due to the
Father's alleged sexual abuse of I.N.'s "half
siblings." The "half siblings" were the
Father's girlfriend's two children, who had been
living with the Father, the girlfriend, and I.N. when I.N.
was in the Father's custody.
Father denied the allegations in the petition but consented
to I.N.'s dependency. I.N. remained in the Mother's
care, and the Father initially had supervised visits with
I.N. twice a week. But the visits were halted when I.N.'s
treating psychologist, Dr. Mary Ellen Frazier, wrote a letter
indicating that I.N. demonstrated anxiety and engaged in
hypervigilant and aggressive behavior after visiting the
Father. I.N. had indicated in therapy sessions that she did
not want to visit the Father and consistently avoided the
topic of the Father. In Dr. Frazier's opinion, supervised
visitation between the Father and I.N. was not in I.N.'s
best interest at that time. The dependency court entered a no
contact order, and prior to the entry of the order on review,
the Father had not seen I.N. since March 2015.
Father was given a case plan with a goal of reunification.
The case plan required that the Father complete a
comprehensive behavioral health assessment and follow all
recommendations; complete a forensic psychological assessment
and follow all recommendations; complete a mental health
assessment and follow all recommendations; participate in
random drug screens twice a month and be clean of any
substances; complete a substance abuse evaluation and follow
all recommendations; and complete parenting education
classes. Although the case plan originally included a
psychosexual evaluation, this task was changed to a forensic
psychological assessment at the Father's request due to
pending criminal charges against the Father based on the
alleged sexual abuse of I.N.'s siblings.
resolution of the criminal proceedings and after the Father
was released from jail, he sought reunification. The Mother
filed a motion for evidentiary hearing prior to reunification
to determine if reunification was in I.N.'s best
interest. A hearing was held over three days in November 2016
and January 2017.
hearing, Dr. Frazier testified that she provided therapy to
I.N. between January 2015 and April 2016. Due to I.N.'s
age, Dr. Frazier primarily engaged in play therapy with I.N.,
but she had conversations with I.N. to the extent tolerated
Frazier testified that I.N. had been experiencing behavioral
problems, including aggressiveness with peers, sleep
disturbances, discomfort with herself, intense avoidance of
the topics of the shower-where the alleged sexual abuse
occurred-and of the Father, hypervigilant behavior, and
behavior that Dr. Frazier described as being frequently
employed by children for relief of anxiety caused by exposure
to sexual activity beyond their developmental stage. Dr.
Frazier diagnosed I.N. with posttraumatic stress disorder
(PTSD), with the Father being the trigger for her symptoms.
Frazier explained that as I.N. became more comfortable in
therapy, she began to talk about some of her experiences in
the Father's home. She reported that the Father washed
her and her siblings "inside out" and that they all
took turns washing the Father "as far up as they could
reach." It was apparent that I.N. was uncomfortable
talking about these incidents. I.N. also reported that the
Father would cuddle with her while naked and that he was
frequently naked. Although I.N. was too young to discuss the
difference between the truth and a lie, Dr. Frazier found her
to be "believable and credible."
result of the information that came out during therapy, Dr.
Frazier wrote a letter to the court, which was introduced
into evidence at the hearing. In the letter, Dr. Frazier
advised the court that new information had come to light that
showed that I.N. had not merely tangentially experienced
these incidents but that she had individually experienced
them. Dr. Frazier explained that I.N.'s status changed
"from just having observed perhaps something happening
to other children to actually experiencing what happens not
only to the other children, but to herself and the absorption
of that stress and trauma of the experience."
Frazier testified that from a clinical standpoint, I.N.
"credibly talked about things that were sexually
developmentally inappropriate that she experienced both
personally and observationally." Based upon what I.N.
told her about her experiences, Dr. Frazier believed that
I.N. was a victim of inappropriate sexual behavior by the
Father, which caused her PTSD. I.N.'s symptoms were at
their worst when I.N. was having supervised visits with the
Father. Once visitation stopped, the symptoms improved with
Dr. Frazier testified that having no contact with the Father
was necessary during the early stages of I.N.'s
treatment, she did not have an opinion about whether I.N.
should have contact with the Father at the time of the
hearing. But she testified that if I.N. were exposed to the
Father, that contact would trigger I.N.'s PTSD symptoms
for a period of time. If the court decided to permit
reunification, I.N. would probably need counseling again to
help her cope with the symptoms.
Robert D. Silver, a licensed psychologist, testified that he
performed a psychological evaluation of the Father. Dr.
Silver described the Father as trying to portray that he was
a normal person without pathological tendencies and prove
that the sexual abuse allegations were simply
misunderstandings about innocent behavior. The Father
declined to answer Dr. Silver's questions about the
alleged sexual abuse, as the Father's criminal case was
pending at the time. The Father also declined to undergo a
Silver testified that sexual abuse of children is
"highly persistent and recurrent, and remains a lifelong
possibility, " such that if the Father did engage in
sexual behavior with a child, he would pose a substantial and
continual risk to that child. Dr. Silver explained that if it
were found that I.N.'s siblings had been sexually abused
by the Father, I.N. would also be at risk for sexual abuse.
Dr. Silver stated that if the allegations of sexual abuse
were supported, the Father's contact with I.N. should
cease for her protection and the Father should participate in
treatment to address his psychosexual proclivities. Dr.
Silver further explained that "grooming is a pattern of
behavior individuals who sexually abuse children use to try
to make the child comfortable with the abuse by engaging in
small steps of sexual behavior." Cuddling naked with a
child and routinely showering with a child could be, but are
not necessarily, examples of grooming.
Silver's opinion, the Father's "alleged sexual
behavior could not be explained by [his] having
psychopathology such as being depressed, [or suffering from]
manic depress[ion], schizophreni[a], [or] a personality
disorder." The only other possible explanation for the
alleged behavior would be sexual deviation, but Dr. Silver
had insufficient information to reach a conclusion about
that. Such a conclusion would require Dr. Silver to evaluate
information from other sources about observed inappropriate
sexual behavior by the Father. His ability to evaluate the
Father for sexual deviance was also limited by the
Father's refusal to complete a psychosexual assessment.
guardian ad litem (GAL) testified at the hearing. Based upon
the reports generated by the child protection team, Dr.
Frazier's testimony, and the other information the GAL
learned at the various hearings in the case, she did not
believe it was in I.N.'s best interest to have contact
with the Father. She did not believe there should be contact
until a psychosexual evaluation had been performed on the