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In re Donald C.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

December 30, 2014

IN RE DONALD C., ET AL.

Assigned on Briefs December 05, 2014

Appeal from the Juvenile Court for Dickson County No. 0214014CC A. Andrew Jackson, Judge

Jennifer L. Honeycutt, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, B.S.R.

Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter, and Alexander S. Rieger, Assistant Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee, Department of Children's Services.

Andy D. Bennett, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Richard H. Dinkins, and W. Neal McBrayer, JJ., joined.

OPINION

ANDY D. BENNETT, JUDGE

Donald C. and Deven C. were born to B.S.R. ("Mother") and D.C. ("Father") in 2008 and 2011, respectively. Mother's and Father's parental rights were terminated in June 2014. Mother, but not Father, filed a notice of appeal. Because Father does not appeal the termination of his rights, we limit our discussion to the termination of Mother's parental rights.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

The Department of Children's Services ("DCS") filed a petition in July 2012 to adjudicate Donald and Deven dependent and neglected based on two different referrals indicating lack of supervision and exposure to nonprescription narcotics. The record includes evidence that when he was three years old, Donald was observed unaccompanied at a playground. He crossed the street by himself and was nearly hit by a car that was backing up in a parking lot. When confronted, Mother acknowledged that Donald was outside by himself. Mother grabbed Donald's arm and scolded him for getting her into trouble. Shortly after this event, the manager of the apartment where Mother and the children lived found Donald alone at the playground with a knife in his possession. Mother stated she was not concerned that Donald had a knife because it was "not sharp." DCS conducted an investigation and found that Mother was suffering from back pain and was unable to supervise her children. DCS also discovered that Mother was taking narcotic drugs without a prescription.

The children were initially placed with Mother's relatives, but this proved to be an unsatisfactory situation. DCS filed a dependent and neglect petition on November 12, 2012, seeking temporary legal custody of the children. On November 13, 2012, Mother signed a permanency plan that was developed with the assistance of a DCS social worker. The goals of the plan were for Mother to visit with the children, provide a safe and stable drug-free home, complete an appropriate home-study, and participate in family therapy. A condition of Mother's visitation was that she submit to random drug tests and that she test negative for any illegal substance before visitation could occur.

Mother visited with the children three times at the end of 2012, after the development of the permanency plan. Mother's visits were terminated shortly after these visits based on what a DCS social worker described as "extreme excessive behaviors exhibited by the oldest child, Donald." According to the social worker, Donald was urinating on the walls, he was acting overly aggressively, and he was using "language [that] was incredible for a four-year-old, not in a good way."

On January 23, 2013, the trial court ordered that Mother's visitation with the children be terminated until the children were evaluated by Dr. Janie Berryman, a clinical psychologist. The trial court entered an order in February 2013 in which it found the children were dependent and neglected and awarded custody of the children to DCS. Donald and Deven were placed with foster parents.

Mother was tested for drugs on February 15, 2013, the day that the dependency and neglect petition was heard, and she tested positive for opiates and oxycodone. Mother was tested again on March 27, 2013, when she was at court for a review hearing. This time Mother tested positive for oxycodone, opiates, and cocaine. Mother attended a three-week treatment program in Kentucky in April 2013. Upon leaving the facility, it was recommended that Mother continue out-patient therapy, attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, obtain a sponsor, and work through the twelve-step program. No evidence was introduced that Mother has followed these recommendations.

A hearing was held in December 2013 to review the permanency plan. The trial court noted that DCS was making reasonable efforts towards helping Mother reach the permanency goals, but that Mother was not in substantial compliance. Specifically, the court found that Mother:

has not established a stable residence, has no completion of parenting classes, has not had consistent clean drug screens, has not completed hair follicle analysis, has not completed psychiatric assessment and has not completed aftercare plans for drug treatment . . . .

The court also noted that therapeutic supervised visitation of Deven by Mother had been approved on the condition that Mother complete parenting classes, but that Mother had failed to satisfy this condition.

DCS filed a petition to terminate Mother's and Father's parental rights in February 2014. The grounds DCS alleged included abandonment, failure to comply with the requirements of a permanency plan that was put into place in November 2012, and persistence of conditions. A trial was held on June 14, 2014, at which neither Mother nor Father appeared. The individuals who testified included a DCS supervisor, two different DCS case workers, a psychologist who has worked with Donald, and a therapist who has seen Mother.

Dr. Berryman testified at trial that she had diagnosed Donald with post-traumatic stress disorder based on some of the child's behavior, some of it sexualized. The psychologist explained as follows:

He's described some domestic violence. I know that it's basically a fact that he actually witnessed somebody getting shot in front of him in his mother's presence at a hotel, somewhere here in Dickson when he was still living with the parents.
He has got a lot of disturbing behaviors. He sexually acts out, indicating to me that he has seen something, or heard something, or something has happened to him somewhere, though he has not disclosed any specific sexual abuse.
He has talked about - - he has an obsession with knives and guns that is beyond what I think that a child his age should have. . . . [T]here's just this ...

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