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In re Miracle F. H.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

April 1, 2015

In re MIRACLE F. H.[1]

Assigned on Briefs December 10, 2014.

Appeal from the Juvenile Court for Bradley County Nos. J08408 Kurt Andrew Benson, Judge.[2]

Lisa Ashley McLain Gaither, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellant, Crystal M. H.

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

John W. McClarty, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Charles D. Susano, Jr., C.J., and Thomas R. Frierson, II, J., joined.

OPINION

JOHN W. McCLARTY, JUDGE.

I. BACKGROUND

This family's involvement with the Tennessee Department of Children's Services ("DCS") began on November 2, 2011, when Miracle F. H. ("the Child") was removed from the home of her father, Dale H. ("Father"). DCS received a referral with allegations that the Child had been forced to participate in Father's suicide attempt. The mother of the Child, Crystal M. H. ("Mother"), was not a placement option at that time due to her transience and methamphetamine abuse.

On April 19, 2012, by agreement of the parties, the Child was declared dependent and neglected and placed in DCS custody. The permanency plan required Mother to: undergo an alcohol and drug assessment and follow its recommendations; submit to random drug screens; not associate with drug dealers or users; keep all medications, knives, and sharp objects away from the Child; notify the appropriate authorities if the Child attempts to harm herself; not expose the Child to any type of traumatic episodes; resolve all legal issues and not incur new charges; obtain appropriate housing; and comply with all court orders, including child support orders.

On September 9, 2013, DCS filed a petition to terminate Mother's parental rights. A trial was conducted on April 24, 2014. Rita Eastmond, a licensed professional counselor with Youth Villages in Arlington, Tennessee, testified that she had worked with the Child since February 2014. According to Ms. Eastmond, the Child had a history of self harm. She noted that the Child had been doing better recently, but had bit herself on her thumb a few days prior to the trial. At the time of the trial, the Child had been in residential treatment for more than a year and a half.

Ms. Eastmond observed that the Child and Mother had family counseling sessions telephonically. During these sessions, Mother promised to visit and send packages to the Child, but never has. The Child, however, places great importance on her relationship with Mother and enjoys talking to her.

Mother, 34 years old at the time of the hearing, related that she had a history of methamphetamine abuse that escalated when she began the process of separating from Father. She noted that during the separation, she was living in various places away from her children[3] and was unable to see them very often. When the children came into state custody, DCS notified Mother, who was living in Virginia at the time. Between the time of her separation and the removal of the children into state custody, Mother recalled speaking to the children maybe once "on a good month."

Mother told the trial court that she attended an intake for substance abuse counseling at Mount Rogers Community Counseling in December 2011, but subsequently failed to attend the recovery support services that began a week later. The facility thereafter attempted to contact Mother, but upon receiving no response, closed her case. On January 17, 2013, Mother failed a hair follicle drug screen, testing positive for amphetamine/methamphetamine. She also admitted that from 2011 until trial, she continued to associate with drug dealers and bought and used drugs.

Mother confirmed that in August 2012, she was ordered to pay child support, but only made payments in April 2014, immediately preceding trial. She admitted that she was charged with assault and battery in the summer before trial, and while those specific charges were later dismissed, she was also charged with failure to appear and a capias was issued against her. This led to a probation violation for failure to report on time, for which she was arrested on a fugitive warrant.

Shortly before trial, Mother claimed that she had undergone an alcohol and drug assessment and a mental health intake. She contended that she had an appointment with a realtor the day after trial to obtain appropriate housing. In regard to the permanency plan, Mother could only confirm that she kept in contact with Candace Milligan, the DCS family services worker.

According to Mother, she visited the Child in Memphis four or five different times. DCS and Youth Villages provided her gas cards and a room to stay in during these visits. Despite this assistance, Mother blamed her lack of visitation on her finances. She ...


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