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In re Jamel H.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

July 13, 2015

In Re JAMEL H., et. al. [1]

Session Date May 14, 2015

Appeal from the Juvenile Court for Hamilton County Nos. 259926, 259927 Hon. Robert D. Philyaw, Judge

Rachel M. Wright, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellant, Ann H.

David C. Veazey, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellant, Johnny J.

Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter, and Rebekah A. Baker, Senior Counsel, 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 D. Michael Swiney and Thomas R. Frierson, II, JJ., joined.

OPINION

JOHN W. McCLARTY, JUDGE

I. BACKGROUND

Jamel H. was born to Ann. H. ("Mother") in April 2005.[2] Breanna J. was born to Mother and Johnny J. ("Father") in July 2009. Mother lived with Father, who assisted her in caring for Jamel and Breanna (collectively "the Children") until he was arrested for violating his probation on November 4, 2011. He was subsequently ordered to serve a ten-year sentence and was incarcerated at Turney Center Industrial Complex. The Children remained with Mother, who moved in with her father and her uncle. Mother had received assistance from the Tennessee Department of Children's Services ("DCS") as a minor due to her father's use and manufacturing of methamphetamines. Mother eventually left Jamel at the residence and took Breanna with her to look for more suitable housing. Jamel was placed into protective custody on October 17, 2012, after Mother's father was hospitalized and the residence was condemned and deemed unsuitable for habitation. Thereafter, Mother attended a child and family team meeting with Breanna on October 22, 2012. Breanna was placed into protective custody when Mother tested positive for marijuana and professed that she was unable to provide for herself or the Children. The Children were subsequently adjudicated as dependent and neglected and placed into foster care.

DCS developed four permanency plans from November 2012 until October 2013. These plans were ratified by the trial court. All four plans required Mother to complete an alcohol and drug assessment and follow all recommendations, submit to random drug screens, participate in domestic violence counseling and education, participate in grief counseling, obtain and maintain stable housing for three months, obtain and maintain a legal income, sign all necessary releases, notify DCS of any changes in circumstances, visit the Children, and apply for TennCare. Three of the plans required Father to obtain and maintain stable housing for three months, obtain and maintain a legal income, sign all necessary releases of information, and notify DCS of changes in circumstances.

On March 17, 2014, DCS filed a petition to terminate each parent's parental rights to their respective children. DCS alleged that termination was supported by the statutory grounds of abandonment for failure to visit and for failure to provide a suitable home and substantial noncompliance with the permanency plans. Relative to Father, DCS further alleged that he had never visited Breanna, that DCS had been unable to assist him in providing a suitable home because he was incarcerated, and that he had failed to comply with the requirements contained in the permanency plan by not providing a suitable home or visiting Breanna.

A hearing was held at which several witnesses testified on September 29, 2014. Kalia Williams, a family service worker for DCS, testified that the Children have remained in the same foster home since June 2013. She asserted that the Children are "doing well" and "seem[] to have adjusted very well." She stated that they each have their own rooms and are the only children in the foster home.

Ms. Williams testified that Father had not visited Breanna since her removal. She acknowledged that Father was incarcerated at the time of removal and had been incarcerated since that time. She related that she communicated with Father via mail and by telephone. She asserted that Father had not completed any requirements contained in the permanency plans but then admitted that Father had maintained contact with DCS. She also admitted that she did not send Father any releases for information and that he was unable to maintain housing or provide proof of an income due to his incarceration. She agreed that she would have revised the requirements in the permanency plans if she knew that he would remain incarcerated for such a long period of time. She acknowledged that Father had actually not failed to comply with the requirements in the permanency plans but asserted that his incarceration was simply too long for DCS to work with him. She last spoke with him in April 2014, when he advised her that he did not want his parental rights terminated. She asked him to provide her contact information for family members that might provide a home for Breanna. He did not provide her with the requested information. She related that he advised her that he was in a program that provided for his release within ten months.

Ms. Williams testified that she discussed the criteria and procedures for termination with Mother and that she later hand-delivered a letter to Mother in which she outlined the consequences for failure to follow the requirements in the permanency plans. She stated that Mother visited consistently until May 2013. She related that since that time, Mother had not called, written letters, or sent anything for the Children. She claimed that Mother's brother could not even provide contact information for Mother. She noted that Mother had also not completed any of the requirements in the plans.

Ms. Williams agreed that Mother had been in foster care herself until she reached the age of majority. She knew that Mother did not drive or have a cell phone. She also agreed that Mother had been in and out of an abusive relationship since the Children were removed from her custody. She claimed that she made two referrals to a shelter for Mother in May 2013 but that she was unable to confirm Mother's placement because she could not locate Mother. She stated that Mother claimed that her boyfriend prevented her from using the telephone and visiting the Children. She acknowledged that she observed Mother's injuries. Likewise, she testified that she believed that Mother's boyfriend prevented Mother from visiting the Children.

Father testified that he lived with Mother when Breanna was born and that he remained in the home with them providing daily care for Breanna until his incarceration on November 4, 2011. He provided that he was serving a ten-year sentence and was not eligible for parole until August 2015. He noted that he would serve approximately two more years if he was not paroled. He agreed that Breanna needed permanency and that he was not in a position to care for her. He acknowledged that Breanna was happy in her current placement and that adoption was likely best for her.

Foster Mother testified that the Children had been in her care for approximately one year and five months. She related that the Children are "fantastic" and "wonderful." She believed that they had bonded to her and her husband and asserted that she intended to adopt the Children if they became free for adoption. She provided that she and her husband could provide for the Children's educational, medical, financial, and emotional needs. She stated that the Children had been in therapy for "anger issues" but claimed that they are responding to therapy and seem well-adjusted. She worked with Breanna specifically ...


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