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In re Adoption of A.W.A.

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 2

May 9, 2017

In re the Adoption of: A.W.A., A minor child,
v.
J.D.A., Respondent/Natural Father. M.D.B., Petitioner,

          Lee, J.

         AWA's mother, LCW, and his stepfather, MDB, challenge the trial court's denial of their request for a protective order to prevent the release of AWA's counseling records to AWA's father, JDA.[1] LCW and MDB argue that the trial court erred by not considering AWA's best interests and by not conducting an in camera review of the records. We agree, reverse the trial court's denial of a protective order, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         FACTS

         AWA lives with his mother, LCW, and her husband, MDB. LCW and MDB have been married for seven years. JDA is AWA's father and lives in California. His involvement in AWA's life has been sporadic.

         In 2012, following a visit in California with his father, AWA disclosed to his mother that JDA sexually assaulted him. LCW took AWA to the hospital. The hospital referred AWA to Amber Bradford, a child therapist.[2] JDA denied that he abused AWA.

         LCW obtained a temporary protection order on behalf of AWA against JDA in 2012. The temporary order became permanent in October 2014.

         In December 2014, MDB petitioned for JDA's parental rights to be terminated and for MDB to adopt nine-year-old AWA under chapter 26.33 RCW. LCW joined the petition.

         In 2015, AWA began counseling with Darren Wenz. LCW signed an agreement that they would not involve Wenz in any custody or visitation disputes and would not involve him in any court proceedings. LCW also agreed that Wenz would not "be asked to share my records regarding any such proceedings." Clerk's Papers (CP) at 52. LCW and MDB told AWA that he could share openly with Wenz without fear that the counseling sessions would be disclosed.

         AWA's guardian ad litem (GAL) submitted a report, recommending AWA participate in a forensic interview with a qualified mental health professional regarding the abuse allegations. The GAL noted in his report that AWA's current counselor is Wenz. Upon learning that AWA was in counseling with Wenz, JDA requested Wenz's records. LCW and MDB filed a motion for a protective order to prevent disclosure of Wenz's counseling records. They argued that the court must conduct an in camera review before allowing JDA access to the records and that the court must consider AWA's best interest.

         At the hearing on the protective order motion, the trial court stated,

So I think that the records of Wenz are important. I don't think that they can be excused from this entire proceeding when he's the current treatment provider. I don't know exactly what's going to be in those records. I don't feel as though I need to have an in camera review, though.

         Verbatim Report of Proceedings (VRP) at 16. The trial court made no mention of AWA's best interests in either its written findings of fact or oral ruling. The trial court denied the motion, finding:

(1) This case involves the possible termination of [JDA's] parental rights and therefore the stakes are very high for the parties involved;
(2) The records of Mr. Wenz are important to the Court's ultimate determination of ...

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