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In re Da'Vante M.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

December 12, 2017


          Assigned on Briefs November 1, 2017

         Appeal from the Juvenile Court for Jackson County No. 2016-JV-70 Tiffany Gentry Gipson, Judge.

         This appeal concerns termination of a father's parental rights. The Tennessee Department of Children's Services ("DCS") filed a petition in the Juvenile Court for Jackson County ("the Juvenile Court") seeking to terminate the parental rights of Craig M. ("Father") to his three minor children Da'Vante, Brandon, and Leaddra ("the Children").[1] After a trial, the Juvenile Court entered an order terminating Father's parental rights on the grounds of failure to provide a suitable home, substantial noncompliance with the permanency plans, and persistent conditions.[2] The Juvenile Court also found that termination of Father's parental rights is in the Children's best interest. Father appeals to this Court. We affirm the judgment of the Juvenile Court.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Juvenile Court Affirmed; Case Remanded

          James M. Judkins, Smithville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Craig M.

          Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter, and Jordan K. Crews, Assistant Attorney General, for the appellee, the Tennessee Department of Children's Services.

          Sheila L. O'Regan, Guardian Ad Litem. [3]

          D. Michael Swiney, C.J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Andy D. Bennett and Kenny W. Armstrong, JJ., joined.




         In 2013, allegations arose concerning sexual abuse of Leaddra by her maternal grandfather, Charles C. ("Grandfather"). At a court hearing in Warren County, Father agreed to protect the Children from Grandfather. Despite Father's agreement, DCS received a referral in July 2015 alleging that Grandfather was living with Father and the Children. DCS explained to Father that he must keep Grandfather away from the Children. Not long thereafter, a Tennessee State Trooper stopped to help a vehicle with a flat tire. The vehicle contained Father, the Children, Grandfather, and a convicted sex offender. The Children were removed from Father's home and entered state custody on July 17, 2015.

         In December 2015, the Juvenile Court adjudicated the Children dependent and neglected. Permanency plans were developed for Father. Among other things, the permanency plans required Father to obtain suitable housing and follow mental health recommendations. DCS planned specialized training for Father. These efforts stopped when Father failed to sign a release. In December 2015 and March 2016, Father completed psychological and parenting assessments. The first assessment stated, in part: "[Father] lacks understanding of his current treatment regimen and the test results indicate he has poor insight into his own thought processes and behaviors." The second assessment stated that Father would require specialized training in order to successfully be reunited with the Children. Father never completed the recommendations of the assessments. Father worked at Hardees and Sonic, earning $7.75 per hour at both jobs. As of trial, Father had not visited the Children since June 2016. Father had lived in a trailer in Jackson County until March 2016. Father then moved in with friends in McMinnville.

         The Children initially were placed in the same foster home. However, Leaddra subsequently was placed in a different home because she needed special treatment. In September 2016, DCS filed a petition seeking to terminate Father's parental rights to the Children. This case was tried in February 2017.

         Amanda Snedaker ("Snedaker"), a family service worker who worked on the Children's case, testified as follows:

Q. Did [Father], you provided reasonable efforts, you just testified to, did [Father] provide reasonable efforts to establish a suitable home during the time period of July 18th, 2015, to November 18th, 2015?
A. During that time, the physical home environment that he was in was suitable; however, at that point, at the point of the children's removal, it was not suitable in the sense that [Grandfather] was residing with him at the time of the removal. And then, there were psychological evaluations and things that needed to be completed during that time to ensure that the safety of the children would be maintained if they were returned to his care.
Q. Now, who is [Grandfather]?
A. [Grandfather] is the children's maternal grandfather, [Mother's] father.
Q. And why was he an issue to return the children with him being in the home?
A. The initial referral came into the Child Safety Office, stating that [Grandfather] was residing in the home with [Father] and the children. And back in 2013, there had been substantiated report in Warren County of sexual abuse by [Grandfather] against Leaddra [M.].
Q. And that would not be a safe environment --
A. Correct.
Q. -- to return those four children? Excuse me, those three children?
A. Correct.
Q. And why was it necessary for [Father] to complete a psychology assessment and recommendations?
A. It was necessary in that CPSI Ramsey, as well as other staff at DCS, had indicated to [Father] that [Grandfather] could not be around the children. That there would be an additional restraining order filed and that he was not permitted to be near the children. That was reiterated several times. Late, the evening of a child and family team meeting, where that was reiterated, they were, [Father] was in White County, there was a tire blow out in the vehicle that they were in, and when a Tennessee State Trooper pulled over or pulled over to assist them, it was found that [Father], [Grandfather] and the three children, as well as another convicted sex offender were in the vehicle.
Q. So, was there reason to believe that he wasn't understanding the need to protect the children or --
A. That's correct.
Q. What were the conditions that led to the removal of the children from the home? And if you aren't familiar, I can ask Pam Ramsey, since she was the worker. But if you are familiar and have personal knowledge of it --
A. The children were removed from the home, because they were exposed to a known, to a, an individual who had previously substantiated charges of sex abuse of the, against one of the children.
Q. And what are the conditions today that prevent the children from being returned to [Father's] home?
A. [Father], at this point, does not have suitable housing for the children and has not completed the steps of the permanency plan.

         On cross-examination, Snedaker testified:

Q. Okay. On subsection C, you swore under oath, that you, he reviewed the criteria and procedure for termination of parental rights. You've reviewed that with him; is that correct?
A. That was done at the initial permanency plan meeting, and his former attorney, Mr. Hoeppner, was actually there for that as well.
Q. Okay. Were you, were you there?
A. Yes.
Q. My question is, how does that help him get a home, reviewing the criteria for termination of parental rights?
A. How does the criteria help him --
Q. Yeah.
A. -- get a home?
Q. Yeah, basically y'all are stating that he failed to establish a suitable home in the first four months. I'm wanting to know how review criteria for TPR relates to that.
A. Well, I would say that it makes him aware of the need to have a suitable home. That criteria is something that gets reviewed with all of the parents who have children in DCS custody. And it goes over the reasons that rights could potentially be terminated. And not having a suitable home falls under, something that was listed in the permanency plan. And noncompliance with the permanency plan is in the criteria.
Q. Okay. But you testified earlier that he's a man who has trouble, basically remembering things or keeping, keeping track of tasks; is that correct?
A. In my experience, yes.
Q. Okay. Okay. You've got, you've got offering and providing the parent transportation, confirming that he has reliable transportation. You've got that listed twice, but -- all right. How many times did you contact him to reschedule mental health appointments?
A. Mental health appointments or appointments through Scott Herman?
Q. Well, through Scott Herman and through any offender training.
A. The initial appointment, he attended his intake on October 27th. That appointment he did make. I had to reschedule the November appointment for the psychological assessment. I spoke with him about that. And that was rescheduled for the three December dates. Then, he was informed by myself as well as Centerstone, at that time, there was a worker through Centerstone who was working with [Father] and the family, who spoke with him about that January 7th parenting assessment. I was in the home on January the 5th, prior to, two days prior to that appointment and we had discussed that appointment. And then, I had to reschedule that appointment for the March 17th date, because he, the time frame, I guess [Father] got the timing wrong of that appointment on the 7th. He indicated that he thought it was scheduled for eleven o'clock and it had been scheduled for eight o'clock. So, but he did make that appointment on March 17th.
Q. All right. So, he was able to do that for himself? To make, to schedule the appointment for himself?
A. Well, he was able to attend the appointment that was, was scheduled.
Q. Okay.
A. I actually did the scheduling of the appointment with the Mr. Herman's office.
Q. Okay. There were a couple of things that Mr. Herman suggested that I haven't heard much on, and I'll ask them to you. Mr. Herman suggested that he receive specialized training and offender training. Tell me how you went about setting that up.
A. Well, those dates that were scheduled in December that ended up needing to be utilized for assessment times were appointment times that had been scheduled for that non-offender training. When I spoke with Mr. Herman subsequent to the completion of all of [Father's] evaluations, those being the psychologicals in December, as well as the parenting assessment in March, when I came back and resumed working with the family and on the case in April, I had contacted Mr. Herman and at, he indicated to me when I contacted him that due to scheduling, he wouldn't be able to do the non-offender training for [Father] and that I should look for another provider to do that. I did reach out to other providers in Cookeville. I wasn't able to obtain another provider in Cookeville, and at that point [Father] had relocated to McMinnville, which is when I reached out to the provider at Cheer to try to find out if they could provide that service to him.

         Another key witness at trial was Father himself. Father testified regarding his efforts in the case as follows, in part:

Q. All right. All right. Let's talk about, once DCS got involved in your life, what did, you know, they have asked you to do a lot of things, have they not?
A. (Nodded head affirmatively.)
Q. Okay. Could you, tell us why you haven't been able to do those things.
A. Well, because of some of the financial situations that I've had in the past.
Q. Okay. Let, let's fast forward to the, before the, before they filed their petition. Did you stay in contact with Ms. Snedaker?
A. I tried to as much as possible, yes, sir. I tried to as much as possible. But due to some complications, my minutes on my phones were limited. I did still have unlimited texting. I tried when I could.
Q. Okay.
A. Everything, like I said, you know, I was working a lot and I had more on me than I could handle, because I was trying to work and trying to do what they was trying to do at the same time. And I just feel like I was, had a build up on me, you know. But I was still trying to do what I was trying to do. Trying to work and trying to do what they tried to tell me to do all at the same time, you know.
Q. Could, could you do it? I mean, did they help you -- do you feel like they helped you?
A. I feel like the help was limited, because DCS in McMinnville, Carolyn made me understand a lot more things, and help with more provider services than they did down here. The services down here was limited, but they didn't do exactly what they was supposed to, is the way that I feel about the situation. Now, they said --
Q. You state you felt like you got good services in McMinnville?
A. I feel, yes, I did, because when it comes to a point that I was down, and I explained to the DCS services about the financial situation that we were in, they recommend other services like places that could have helped me out.
Q. You love, do you love your ...

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