In re J.H., 2016 WL 6777133 (Fla. 2nd DCA)

The Guardian ad Litem Program (GAL) appealed an order dismissing a dependency petition for two siblings while adjudicating the third sibling. The Second District Court of Appeal (Second DCA) reversed dismissal of the two petitions finding the trial court failed to recognize the nexus between the severe abuse of Le.H. and the substantial risk of significant harm to his siblings.

The Second DCA dealt with this case previously on the GAL’s petition for a writ of certiorari to review an order sheltering one child but not the two siblings. N.H. v. Dep’t of Children and Families, 192 So. 3d 592 (Fla. 2d DCA 2016). While the certiorari was pending, an adjudication hearing was held in the trial court. A number of witnesses testified regarding injuries to Le.H. At two months of age, he was taken to the hospital for a fever and a cough. X-rays showed multiple fractures at different stages of healing. The doctor testified that he believed the factures happened on four different occasions and were indicative of physical abuse. Neither parent could explain Le.H.’s injuries. Le.H. has a twin brother and a toddler aged sister. All three children were only cared for by mother, father and maternal grandmother.

In its previous opinion quashing the shelter order, the Second DCA held the connection between the unexplained abuse of one child and the substantial risk of significant harm to a sibling can warrant removal of both children. To determine whether such a nexus exists, the Department must show whether there is a substantial risk of harm to a sibling stemming from the abuse of the child. In this case, the Second DCA held that the Department proved such a nexus. The children were “identically situated to Le.H. based on age, vulnerability and proximity.”

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