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In re Jabari B.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

February 2, 2018

In Re JABARI B.[1]

          Assigned on Briefs August 1, 2017

         Appeal from the Juvenile Court for Davidson County No. 219847 Sheila Calloway, Judge.

         This appeal involves the termination of a mother's parental rights to her minor child. Following a bench trial, the trial court found that clear and convincing evidence existed to support the termination of the mother's parental rights on the statutory grounds of abandonment for failure to provide a suitable home, substantial noncompliance with the requirements of the permanency plan, and the persistence of conditions which led to removal. The court further found that termination of the mother's rights was in the best interest of the child. The mother appeals. We affirm.

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

          C. Michael Cardwell, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Tasha B.

          Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter, and Kathryn A. Baker, 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 Frank G. Clement, Jr., P.J., M.S. and Brandon O. Gibson, J., joined.


          JOHN W. McCLARTY, JUDGE.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Jabari B. was born to Tasha B. ("Mother") and William L. ("Father") (collectively "the Parents") in March 2010. Mother and Father never married. Father was not listed on the Child's birth certificate; however, Mother identified him as the father. He also held himself out as the father.

         The Tennessee Department of Children's Services ("DCS") removed the Child from the Parents in the early morning hours of May 26, 2015, based upon an allegation of abandonment. The record reflects that the Parents were without housing and took up residence with a couple they recently met a few days prior to the Child's removal. On May 25, 2015, the Parents left the Child with the couple to purchase marijuana. The couple notified DCS that the Child had been abandoned when the Parents did not promptly return with the marijuana. The Parents later claimed that the couple advised them that they could not stay unless they provided them with marijuana. The Child was adjudicated as dependent and neglected by order of the court, entered on February 2, 2016, due to their placement of the Child in a position of improper guardianship and by making the poor decision to leave him with strangers while they purchased marijuana.

         Two permanency plans were entered, one on July 13, 2015, and a revised plan on April 6, 2016, each of which contained the following requirements for each parent: (1) obtain and maintain stable housing; (2) complete a parenting assessment and follow recommendations; (3) complete a mental health assessment and follow recommendations; (4) submit to random drug screens; (5) resolve legal issues; and (6) participate in meetings and the Child's medical and educational appointments. These plans were ratified by the trial court. The record reflects that neither parent failed a drug screen while the Child was in DCS custody and that allegations of drug abuse were unfounded.

         DCS filed a petition to terminate Mother's parental rights on June 3, 2016, based upon the statutory grounds of abandonment for failure to remit support, to visit, and to provide a suitable home; substantial noncompliance with the permanency plan; and the persistence of conditions which led to removal.[2] The case proceeded to a hearing in October 2016. At that time, Mother still had not obtained stable housing, attended parenting classes as indicated following her completion of the parenting assessment, or completed a psychological assessment as indicated. She also did not appear for the Child's assessments or attend meetings regarding the Child's care.

         As pertinent to this appeal, Krishana Overstreet, a family service worker for DCS, testified that she has been assigned to this case since the Child's entry into custody. She noted that this was her first case as a DCS employee and that she worked with Carla Ballard in providing services. She provided that Mother has only attended one child and family team meeting. She noted that Mother was also present for one foster board hearing, a permanency plan staffing, and a court hearing

         Ms. Overstreet asserted that housing has been an issue throughout the tenure of the case. While Mother had a permanent mailing address with her maternal family, she was living in shelters or hotel rooms with Father. Ms. Overstreet offered to provide services but was told that housing had been secured; however, Mother's leasing information was never supplied as requested. She later visited an address supplied by Mother in August 2015, but there was no answer to her knock on the door. Further, there was no indication that anyone lived there. Mother later confirmed that she no longer lived at that address. She stated that Mother's only confirmed residence was at Mother's grandmother's house. There was not enough space in the home for the Child to reside, and those living there indicated that the Child could not live there.

         Ms. Overstreet stated that she provided a list of housing resources and provided applications for special housing programs. She claimed that Mother never followed up on the resources provided by her. Instead, Mother advised her that she was on a waiting list for several other housing programs. However, Ms. Overstreet called the programs and found no indication that Mother had actually filed an application.

         Ms. Overstreet stated that Mother was approved for visitation supervised by her and also had therapeutic visitation services through Camelot. She moved visitation to several different locations and at different times, including the weekend to accommodate her. She even provided bus passes for approximately two months. Mother failed to arrive on time and attend regularly until February 2016. She acknowledged that since that time, the Child responded positively and was responsive to Mother during visitation.

         Ms. Overstreet stated that Mother did not participate in the development of the permanency plans but was present when the court ratified the plans.[3] Mother completed her parenting assessment in February 2016. The recommendations were as follows: attend intensive parenting classes, complete a psychological assessment, and receive counseling for victims of domestic violence and attend a support group.[4]

          Ms. Overstreet testified that Mother failed to attend parenting classes or complete a psychological assessment following her completion of the parenting assessment. She stated that she scheduled the psychological assessment and even provided transportation but that Mother was not at the address provided by Mother at the scheduled time. She noted that the driver waited for Mother for a full hour before finally leaving.

         Ms. Overstreet stated that the Child was eligible for the regional intervention program that would allow Mother the opportunity to receive instruction on how to address the Child's behavioral issues. Mother failed to participate. However, she did participate in the development of the Child's Individualized Education Program ("IEP") and attended a meeting in April 2016.

         Ms. Overstreet recalled that at the time of removal, the Child did not speak and was not prepared for entry into school, meaning he did not know "shapes or colors or objects that children of his age should . . . know." She provided that he was developmentally delayed by approximately two years. She believed he has made a "complete turnaround." She stated,

[The Child] was unable to speak or interact with anyone other than people he had known. He could not tell you what his name was. He knew his mom and his dad's name, and that was pretty much it. We would ask him questions. He was nonverbal - his standard was really low for how old he was. He talks now. He communicates with other people. He has a best friend.
He was kind of - the only way to describe it, he was, in a sense, almost feral how he was initially at the daycare center he was at. He would take off his clothes and run around. He would bite and kind of hit the other students at that last daycare. He actually got dismissed from the daycare several times a week because of his behaviors.

         She claimed that the Child is now doing "exceptionally well" even though he is still delayed. She acknowledged that the Child cared for the Parents but explained that his relationship with them was more of a friendship than a parental relationship.

         Ms. Overstreet stated that the Child lives in a foster home with another child. She provided that he was "extremely attached" to the child and referred to her as his sister. She believed returning him to Mother at this point would diminish the progress he has achieved. She expressed doubt as to whether Mother was capable and willing to adequately address his needs or even her needs as evidenced by her continued lack of housing. She noted that the Child's foster mother worked with him and even decorated his room in an effort to further assist him in learning and identifying objects.

         Mother denied knowledge concerning the various requirements contained in the permanency plans. However, she agreed that there were certain tasks she was required to complete to regain custody of the Child. She testified that she has attempted to secure housing but that she has been repeatedly advised by various housing developments to wait until the following year. She asserted that Ms. Overstreet never provided her with housing resources or offered to assist her in completing a housing application. She provided that Ms. Overstreet did not "want to be bothered" with her because of threats made by Father. She stated that she secured housing in November and December 2015 in a rooming house and that she provided Ms. Overstreet with the address. She later left the rooming house when the rent increased. She stated that she has completed approximately 30 housing applications since that time.

         Mother asserted that she completed her parenting assessment in February 2016. She explained that she was unable to complete it before that time because of her work schedule during the holidays. She failed to attend her psychological assessment because Ms. Overstreet only provided one day's notice. She explained that she was scheduled to work that day and could not leave work. She further claimed that she could not attend parenting classes because Ms. Overstreet failed to file the appropriate paperwork in time. She denied receiving a list of classes and asserted that she telephoned Ms. Overstreet to request assistance but that Ms. Overstreet did not return her call. She acknowledged her failure to attend the Child's medical appointments but claimed that she was unable to attend due to her work schedule and lack of transportation. She stated that she has also not received notice of any recent medical appointments or a copy of the Child's IEP.[5]

         Mother acknowledged that the Child exhibited signs of a speech delay at the time of removal. She claimed that she was attempting to address the issue but had trouble scheduling appointments through her insurance. She noted that he was on a waiting list at Vanderbilt to address his speech and at Tom Joy Head Start prior to his removal.

         Mother testified that she consistently maintained visitation when able and provided toys and clothing at visitation. She explained that she scheduled her own visitation through Camelot in December but that she missed visitation in January because

          Ms. Overstreet failed to return her calls. She described a loving relationship between herself and the Child and claimed that she wished she could take him home with her. She acknowledged that her housing remained unstable. She explained,

I've been trying to do a lot of things for my son. And even though they say I don't care about him, I have tried to do everything. I always want to see him. I bring him stuff, not because the people want me to do things. I've been trying to do things for my son. I've been caring, loving. I tell him I love him. I don't know what he's going ...

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