Assigned on Briefs February 23, 2015
Appeal from the Juvenile Court for Campbell County No. J2013-364 Joseph M. Ayers, Judge
R. Keith Hatfield, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellant, B.C.
Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter, and Mary Byrd Ferrara, Assistant Attorney General, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Tennessee Department of Children's Services.
Charles D. Susano, Jr., C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which D. Michael Swiney and John W. McClarty, JJ., joined.
CHARLES D. SUSANO, JR., CHIEF JUDGE
The Child was born to Mother in April 2012. No father is listed on the birth certificate. The Child remained continuously in Mother's custody until Mother's arrest on June 6, 2013, for allowing methamphetamine to be manufactured in her home with the Child present. DCS immediately placed the Child in foster care. A urine screen revealed there was methamphetamine in his system, and a hair follicle test confirmed positive results dating back 90 days. Following her arrest, Mother remained in jail for a total of twelve days, until June 18, 2013. In October 2013, Mother was convicted pursuant to her guilty pleas of promotion of methamphetamine manufacture, simple possession of a Schedule II controlled substance, and child neglect. She was placed on supervised probation for a period of four years and granted judicial diversion.
In July 2013, DCS developed a permanency plan with a goal of returning the Child to Mother. On August 7, 2013, DCS filed a petition to terminate Mother's rights to the Child. The petition alleged two grounds for termination – abandonment by wanton disregard and severe child abuse. On November 27, 2013, following an adjudicatory hearing, the juvenile court declared the Child dependent, neglected and severely abused. Trial on the termination petition took place on February 6, 2014. Regarding her criminal convictions, Mother admitted that she had allowed a third party to manufacture methamphetamine in the home she shared with the Child. In return, she was paid $50 and given drugs for her own use. According to her testimony, Mother began using methamphetamine three years earlier and regularly smoked it some three times a week. Mother said she stopped using methamphetamine while pregnant with the Child, but resumed her drug habit when the Child was two months old. After the Child's removal, she stopped smoking methamphetamine but continued to smoke marijuana for a few more months, until September 2013. As a result, she failed three drug screens administered by DCS after her release from jail.
The proof showed that Mother completed permanency plan tasks including parenting classes, and a mental health and drug/alcohol evaluations, and she was set to complete recommended intensive outpatient drug treatment within a week. She had passed weekly drug screens since October 2013. Mother had exercised regular visitation with the Child except during her brief time in jail.
The Child's DCS foster care worker, Christy Lester, described the Child as being "wild, " with "no regulation of emotion whatsoever" and uncontrolled behavior when he initially entered state custody. Since entering foster care, the Child had become "much more calm and loving, " and was developing normally. As a result of the severe abuse adjudication, DCS was relieved of exercising reasonable efforts to reunify Mother and the Child. Ms. Lester testified, however, that she remained in contact with Mother, encouraged her to work on her permanency plan tasks, and made efforts to assist her to secure suitable housing. Regarding Mother's interactions with the Child, Ms. Lester had observed visits and concluded that Mother loved Child but had very little control over him.
At the time of trial, the Child was nearly two. He had remained in the same foster care home throughout the nine months since his removal. Ms. Lester observed that he was "very attached" to his foster parents, particularly his foster mother. The foster mother had worked with the Child and he had progressed from the "violent" behavior he showed initially – throwing objects, biting, pulling hair and otherwise trying to harm himself or others B to age-appropriate play and an ability to better control his emotions. Since accepting the Child into their home, the foster parents had become interested in adopting him.
For her part, Mother had lived in three different places since the Child's removal. At the time of trial, she was living with a friend of her mother, but testified she had arranged to rent an apartment of her own with assistance provided through her outpatient drug treatment program. She was employed for the past three weeks at McDonald's. Prior to then, her last employment was a year earlier, when she worked at a marina for three months. Mother relied on food stamps and other government assistance and help from her parents for support.
On March 24, 2014, the trial court ordered Mother's parental rights terminated. The court found that the ground of severe abuse was clearly and convincingly established as reflected by the November 2013 adjudicatory order. The court found that the remaining ground alleged B abandonment by wanton disregard B was not established.The court further found, also by clear and convincing evidence, that termination of Mother's parental rights is in the Child's best interest. Mother filed a timely notice of appeal.
As taken verbatim from her brief, Mother presents the following ...