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In re Jayden G.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

September 30, 2014


Assigned on Briefs August 05, 2014 [1]

Appeal from the Juvenile Court for Hardin County No. 12JV1035 Daniel L. Smith, Judge

Joe L. Brown, Savannah, Tennessee, for the appellant, Morgan G.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Jason L. Coleman, Assistant Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee, Department of Children's Services.

J. Steven Stafford, P. J., W.S., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Arnold B. Goldin, J., and Brandon O. Gibson, J., joined.



I. Background

The minor child, Jayden G., was born in December 2011 to Respondent/Appellant Morgan G. ("Mother, " or "Appellant") and Antwan P. ("Father").[2] The State of Tennessee Department of Children's Services ("DCS, " or "Appellee") first became involved with the child on September 4, 2012 when it removed the child from his parents' home.

Upon receiving a report that the child's parents used illegal drugs, including methamphetamine, a DCS investigator met with the parents. Immediately after the child's removal, DCS performed drug screens on Mother and Father. Mother tested positive for benzodiazepines, [3] marijuana, and methamphetamine. Father's drug screen was negative; however, Mother testified that Father also had used methamphetamine four days prior to the drug screen. DCS attempted to retest Father, but Father refused to take a hair follicle drug test until September 19, 2012. On September 7, 2012, a hair follicle drug test was performed on the child; the child, then eight months old, tested positive for methamphetamine, benzoylecgonine, [4] and cocaine. DCS filed a dependency and neglect petition on September 10, 2012, citing severe child abuse as the ground. On September 19, 2012, Father tested positive for amphetamine, methamphetamine, benzoylecgonine, and cocaine. Mother admitted that she and Father used methamphetamine in the bathroom of the house and in the room where the child slept. She also testified that her mother ("Maternal Grandmother") and Maternal Grandmother's boyfriend had possessed cocaine in the same home.

Lisa Piercey, M.D., performed a medical assessment of the child.[5] At trial, she testified that she assessed the child as being a victim of severe physical abuse, drug exposure, and drug endangerment. Dr. Piercey opined that exposure to the manufacture of methamphetamine would have been life threatening in the short term, and direct exposure to the use and/or manufacture of methamphetamine and/or cocaine may cause long-term impairment of neurological, behavioral, respiratory, and other organ development.

After removing the child from his parents' home, DCS initially placed the child in the home of his maternal great-grandparents. Soon thereafter, however, the child's great-grandparents indicated that they could no longer care for the child due to health reasons.

Consequently, the trial court placed the child into the custody of DCS on November 27, 2012, adjudicating him to be a dependent and neglected child. The trial court found that the parents knew of the minor child's exposure to illegal drugs or were in deliberate ignorance or reckless disregard of the harm to the child by the drug exposure. Since the trial court's November 27, 2012 order, the child has continuously remained in DCS custody.

DCS allowed Mother and Father to have supervised visitation with the child through Wolfe Counseling, paid for in-home services to be provided by Wolfe Counseling, and provided random drug screens. On January 24, 2013, Mother completed an Alcohol and Drug Assessment with Wolfe Counseling.[6] The counselor made seven recommendations:

1. [Mother] should follow all directives of the court and DCS regarding [the child].
2. [Mother] should attend weekly outpatient therapy sessions every other week for at least six months.
3.[Mother] should attend therapeutic group sessions if there is a treatment center where therapeutic groups are conducted. These therapeutic group sessions should not be confused with AA/NA [i.e., Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous] support groups.
4. [Mother] should attend at least 3 AA/NA support group sessions with written verification of each group attendance. This should be given to the case manager to provide proof to the court that she is attending these support group sessions as recommended.[7]
5. [Mother] will pass random drug screens for at least a six month period.
6. At the end of six months, [Mother] should be assessed by her A and D counselor to determine where [Mother] is in therapy and if she needs to continue with the individual therapy and therapeutic group sessions. She should follow all recommendations of her counselor regarding continued substance abuse therapy.
7. Due to the fact that [the child] tested positive for drugs which lead [sic] to his removal from his mom's custody, mom should continue to receive supervised visits with [the child] until she has successfully completed all recommendations of this counselor in this assessment. The supervision can be therapeutic or conducted by someone approved by DCS to provide this supervision.

In March 2013, six months after the removal of the child, Father was arrested on charges involving a gun, drug paraphernalia, and possession of the ingredients used to make methamphetamine. The arrest took place in front of Mother's residence. One of the charges involved a bottle as evidence, which bottle was found in Mother's car.[8] During the later trial in this cause, Father's counsel stated that Father pleaded guilty to both a drug paraphernalia charge and a gun charge, as well as to a charge involving the possession of materials required to manufacture methamphetamine. As a result of Father's guilty pleas, he was ordered to undergo treatment at a rehabilitation center. However, Father was discharged from the center without completing the program due to possession of drug paraphernalia. He later checked himself back into the Hardin County Jail. Although he was incarcerated at the time of the trial on this matter, Father attended and testified.

The trial court entered a final order on the disposition of the child on February 14, 2013. In the order, the trial court found that the child was a victim of severe child abuse, and therefore, dependent and neglected. Neither Mother nor Father appealed the trial court's order or its finding of severe child abuse. After a finding of severe abuse by the trial court in the dependency and neglect action, DCS filed a motion to be relieved of making reasonable efforts toward reunification. The trial court granted this motion on July 18, 2013.

Six months after the finding of severe child abuse, on August 14, 2013, DCS filed a Petition for Termination of Parental Rights against Mother and Father, which petition was heard on March 14, 2014. The trial court heard testimony from Mother, Father, several representatives from DCS, the foster family, and several of Mother and Father's relatives.

Testimony shows that the child has lived in the home of Scott M. ("Foster Father") and Jennifer M. ("Foster Mother, " and together with Foster Father, "Foster Parents") while in the custody of DCS. At trial, Foster Father testified that he is the executive pastor at a church, and Foster Mother is also employed by the church as the worship pastor. Foster Parents testified they are able to take care of the child financially, educationally, developmentally, and spiritually. Foster Parents have resided in the same home since the child has been placed with them. The child has his own bed in his own room, and he acknowledges that these items belong to him. Testimony also indicated that the child "loves" the "routine" of having regular seats at dinnertime and also enjoys riding in the car. Foster Father further testified that he and his wife have attempted to maintain the relationship between the child and his biological parents. For example, Foster Father testified that they even returned early from a family Christmas visit to Wisconsin so that the child could attend the first birthday party his biological family had planned in Tennessee. In their testimony, Foster Parents have indicated their desire to adopt the child.

Multiple witnesses testified to the strong bond that the child has formed with Foster Parents. The child calls Foster Parents "[m]amma and dadda." At trial, Foster Father explained in his testimony how the child has blended very well with their extended family. In her testimony, Mother, too, admitted that the child seems to be bonded with his foster family. Another witness, a friend of ...

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