In the INTEREST OF S.S. and H.S., children. E.S., Appellant,
Department of Children and Families and Guardian Ad Litem Program, Appellees.
from the Circuit Court for Collier County; Christine Greider,
Butler of Alderuccio & Butler, LLC, Naples, for Appellant.
K. Hall of Childrens Legal Services, Bradenton, for Appellee
Department of Children and Families.
F. Moore, Statewide Director of Appeals, and Sara Elizabeth
Goldfarb, Senior Attorney, Statewide Guardian ad Litem
Office, Tallahassee, for Appellee Guardian ad Litem Program.
(the Mother) appeals an order adjudicating her children, S.S.
and H.S. (the Children), dependent. The order adjudicated the
Children dependent with findings as to both the Mother and
M.S. (the Father). We reverse the order adjudicating the
Children dependent as to the Mother.
morning of January 20, 2019, and in response to emergency
calls placed by the Mother, a corporal with the Collier
County Sheriffs Office contacted the parents at a local gas
station. The corporal spoke with the Mother, who made several
bizarre statements. Fearing that without intervention the
parents may be a harm to themselves or the Children, law
enforcement officers on the scene determined that the parents
needed to be evaluated and observed under the Baker
Act. As the parents were being placed in
separate patrol cars, a child protective investigator (CPI)
arrived. The Mother made statements to the CPI that were
similar to the statements she had made to the corporal.
Department of Children and Families (the Department)
sheltered the Children from the parents due to mental health
and substance abuse concerns and filed a single petition for
dependency as to both parents. At the adjudicatory hearing on
the dependency petition, which took place in March 2019, the
Department attempted to present evidence of the parents
alleged substance abuse through drug test results obtained at
various facilities. In each instance, the trial court
sustained hearsay objections. No evidence of substance abuse
was admitted, the Department conceded that the evidence
admitted at the adjudicatory hearing was insufficient to
establish substance abuse, and the trial court properly
rejected substance abuse as a basis for adjudicating the
the adjudicatory hearing, it became clear that the Department
was proceeding on the portions of the petition for dependency
that sought an adjudication of dependency based on
prospective abuse and prospective neglect. Ultimately, the
Department relied exclusively on a theory of prospective
abuse or prospective neglect due to either or both parents
adjudicatory hearing, the corporal and the CPI testified
about the statements that the parents had made to them in
January 2019. The Mother told the corporal that magnets were
being placed underneath and in the familys home, which were
influencing and knocking down trees in the yard. The Mother,
who had been holding her younger child at the time she spoke
to the corporal, also made statements to him indicating that
the childs face was distorting, that the childs eyes were
not right, and that she was concerned that the neighbor had
gotten into the childs head. The Mother told the CPI that
there were magnets in the familys home, that she thought
that the younger child had been harmed by the magnets, that
the neighbors were out to get them, and that the neighbors
were trying to steal the babies. The Mother told the CPI she
was being framed.
Mother testified at the adjudicatory hearing. She did not
recall speaking to the corporal. She denied speaking about
magnets with any other law enforcement officers who had been
on the scene. She further testified, "We didnt say that
there was magnets under the home." When asked whether
she had expressed any concerns about the younger child to law
enforcement officers at the gas station, she testified that
her only concern had been that she had wanted the child to
eat— they had been at the gas station since 7:00 a.m.
that morning and the child had not been able to eat.
order adjudicating the Children dependent, the trial court
stated that the parents behavior, "although bizarre, is
not in itself sufficient to support a determination that a
parent suffers from mental health problems that would pose a
threat of abuse, neglect, or harm to the [C]hildren."
The trial court then made several factual findings, including
that (1) both the corporal and the CPI ...