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In re Steven C.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

June 15, 2015

IN RE STEVEN C.[1]

Assigned on Briefs April 10, 2015

Appeal from the Juvenile Court for Davidson County No. 2012003155, PT180389 Sophia Brown Crawford, Judge

Thomas H. Miller, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Steven R. C.

Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter; Kathryn A. Baker, Assistant Attorney General, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, the Tennessee Department of Children's Services.

Richard H. Dinkins, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Frank G. Clement, Jr., P. J., M. S., and W. Neal McBrayer, J. joined.

OPINION

RICHARD H. DINKINS, JUDGE

Steven C. was born, out of wedlock, on May 15, 2012, to Kesha D. W. ("Mother") and Steven R. C. ("Father"); at the time of the birth Mother and Steven tested positive for cocaine. A referral was made to the Department of Children's Services ("DCS") and an investigation initiated. The DCS case worker determined that Mother and Steven could be admitted to the Rainbow Program, a residential drug treatment program housed at Meharry Medical College, for detoxification and therapy; Mother agreed to enter the program and reported to the program upon her release from the hospital on May 17. At some point prior to June 8 Steven joined Mother at the Rainbow program. On June 8 Mother decided to leave the treatment program before completing it and DCS was notified. Due to Mother's leaving the program, Steven was placed in temporary DCS custody; on June 12 DCS initiated a proceeding in Davidson County Juvenile Court to have Steven declared dependent and neglected and to remain in DCS custody; an emergency custody order was entered on that date placing Steven in DCS custody. On October 5 a hearing was held to adjudicate the dependent and neglect petition, at which time an agreement was announced wherein Mother and Father consented to a finding of neglect and agreed that Steven would remain in the custody of DCS.[2]

The first of three permanency plans was developed July 6, 2012, with a goal of return to parent. Father was incarcerated and did not attend the August 17 hearing to ratify the July 6 plan. The second plan was developed on May 20, 2013, with a goal of adoption.[3] Father did attend the May 24 ratification hearing, during which the plan and the criteria for termination were explained to him and the plan approved. In the order approving the May 2013 plan, the court held that DCS had been making reasonable efforts to reunify Mother and Father with Steven, identifying specific measures taken. Pertinent to the issues in this appeal, the court noted that Father was not in substantial compliance: "Father is currently incarcerated for [domestic violence] charge against [Mother]. . . . He has participated in therapeutic visitation but has done nothing more. He is reportedly diagnosed as schizophrenic and receives mediation and treatment."[4] The court did not relieve DCS of its responsibilities.

The third permanency plan was developed on March 31, 2014, with a goal of adoption; Father did not appear at the April 25 ratification hearing. Counsel for Father was present at each of the ratification hearings. All three permanency plans required Father to submit to random drug screens; schedule, complete, and follow all recommendations from an Alcohol and Drug assessment; participate in services to address the domestic violence issues within the home; complete and follow all recommendations from scheduled parenting assessment; secure and maintain appropriate housing; attend, participate, and follow all recommendations for the mental health assessment; attend all of Steven's medical appointments; show that he is able to financially provide for Steven. The third plan added the action step that parents will "refrain from involvement in illegal activities/behaviors." In the order approving the third plan, the court again noted the reasonable efforts DCS had made to assist in getting Mother and Father to comply with the plan and made a finding that Father was not in substantial compliance.[5]

On October 13, 2013, DCS filed a Petition to Terminate Parental Rights and for Full Guardianship. The grounds alleged as to Father were abandonment by incarcerated parent, willful failure to visit or support, wanton disregard for the welfare of the child, substantial non-compliance with the permanency plans, and persistence of conditions; the petition further alleges that termination would be in the best interest of the child.

The case was heard before the Juvenile Court for Davidson County on July 24, 2014; on September 16 the court entered an order terminating the parental rights of both parents. Father's rights were terminated on the grounds of persistence of conditions and substantial non-compliance with the permanency plans.

Father appeals, stating the following issues: [6]

I. Whether DCS exercised reasonable efforts to reunite the child with his Father.
II. Whether the trial court erred in terminating Father's parental rights pursuant to ...

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