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W.K. v. Department Of Children And Families

Florida Court of Appeals, Fourth District

August 30, 2017

W.K. and M.K., foster parents, and GUARDIAN AD LITEM PROGRAM, Appellants,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES, and ADOPTION BY SHEPHERD CARE, Appellees.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, Palm Beach County; Daliah H. Weiss, Judge; L.T. Case No. 2015DP300711/JK.

          Roger Ally of the Law Offices of Roger Ally, P.A., Fort Lauderdale, for appellants W.K. and M.K., foster parents.

          Christian Pietka and Sara Elizabeth Goldfarb, Sanford, for appellant Guardian Ad Litem Program.

          Trey E. Miller of the Law Office of Trey E. Miller III, P.A., Fort Lauderdale, for appellee Adoption by Shepherd Care.

          No brief filed for appellee Department of Children and Families.

          Levine, J.

         A child was sheltered two months after birth and placed with foster parents after his release from the hospital. During the pendency of a petition to terminate parental rights, the mother executed a surrender and consent to adopt with Adoption by Shepherd Care ("ASC"), an adoption agency. The father also surrendered his rights to the Department of Children and Families. ASC intervened and filed a motion to transfer custody of the child to the prospective adoptive parents chosen by the mother. The trial court subsequently granted the motion to transfer custody of the child to the prospective adoptive parents.

         The foster parents and the guardian ad litem program ("GAL") appeal the order transferring custody of the child. We dismiss the foster parents' appeal because they do not have standing to appeal. As to the GAL's appeal, we affirm because competent substantial evidence supports the trial court's decision.

         At the time of the hearing on the motion to transfer custody, the child was eighteen months old. It was undisputed that the child had bonded to the foster parents. The Department did not object to the request for placement with the prospective adoptive parents. The GAL was the only opposing party.

         During the hearing, ASC's expert testified that the first three years of a child's life are the most critical for bonding and attachment. An eighteen-month-old can have a secure attachment with a new caregiver. The fact that the child has bonded at his current placement was a sign that he could likewise attach to the prospective adoptive parents. The risk of moving a child from a current caregiver of fifteen months to a new caregiver would be minimal and should not be detrimental for a child despite having a healthy attachment to a current caregiver.

         ASC completed a positive home study on the prospective adoptive parents. An adoption specialist at ASC testified about the appropriateness of a placement with the prospective adoptive parents and recommended that they adopt the child. The prospective adoptive parents testified they want to adopt the child and testified about what they had done to prepare for the adoption. A dependency case manager and supervisor from the Children's Home Society recommended a gradual transition plan in the event of removal.

         The foster parents testified regarding their relationship with the child. They further testified that they were willing to adopt the child. However, they did not have an approved home study, and significantly, nothing in the record indicated they had taken any steps towards adoption. The guardian ad litem testified regarding how well the child and foster parents were doing together. On cross-examination, she admitted that the prospective adoptive parents "seemed like a lovely couple" and that she had no reason to believe they would not be appropriate adoptive parents. The GAL also presented expert testimony that it would be detrimental to remove the child from a secure attachment.

         In a detailed order, the trial court granted the motion to transfer custody to the prospective adoptive parents and ordered a transition plan. From ...


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