Session February 21, 2018
from the Juvenile Court for Hamilton County No. 276891 Robert
D. Philyaw, Judge.
W. ("Mother") appeals the September 25, 2017 order
of the Juvenile Court for Hamilton County ("the Juvenile
Court") terminating her parental rights to the minor
child Riley W. ("the Child") upon the grounds of
substantial noncompliance with the permanency plan pursuant
to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(2) and persistent
conditions pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(3).
We find and hold that grounds for terminating Mother's
parental rights to the Child pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann.
§§ 36-1-113(g)(2) and (g)(3) were proven by clear
and convincing evidence and that it was proven by clear and
convincing evidence that the termianation was in the
Child's best interests. We, therefore, affirm the
September 25, 2017 order of the Juvenile Court terminating
Mother's parental rights to the Child.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Juvenile
Court Affirmed Case Remanded
C. Veazey, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellant, Lindsey
Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter; and
Erin A. Shackelford, Assistant Attorney General for the
appellee, State of Tennessee Department of Children's
MICHAEL SWINEY, C.J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which CHARLES D. SUSANO, JR. and THOMAS R. FRIERSON, II, JJ.,
MICHAEL SWINEY, CHIEF JUDGE.
Child was taken into State custody in June of 2016 after
being born drug-exposed and was subsequently adjudicated
dependent and neglected. In April of 2017, the State of
Tennessee Department of Children's Services
("DCS") filed a petition seeking to terminate the
parental rights of Mother and John P.
("Father") to the Child. The case proceeded to trial
in July of 2017. Mother failed to appear at trial.
trial, Channing Phillips, a family service worker with DCS,
testified. Ms. Phillips testified that she acquired
responsibility for the Child's case in October of 2016.
Ms. Phillips explained that the Child had entered State
custody on June 5, 2016 after DCS received a referral for a
drug exposed child at birth at Erlanger. Ms. Phillips stated
that Mother had drug issues.
permanency plan ("the Permanency
Plan") initially dated in July of 2016 was
created for the Child. Ms. Phillips testified that a
permanency plan meeting was held on October 11, 2016. At that
meeting, the Permanency Plan was reviewed, and Mother signed
the statement of responsibilities. Ms. Phillips explained
that although the Permanency Plan was in place when she took
over the case, Mother did not sign the statement of
responsibilities until the October meeting. Under the
Permanency Plan, Mother was to have an A&D assessment and
follow the recommendations of the assessment, submit to drug
screens and verify sobriety, refrain from using illegal
substances and from abusing legal substances such as alcohol
and prescription medications, participate in domestic
violence classes or counseling, work with in-home service
providers on maintaining good parenting skills and making
sure her home is clean and safe, provide proof of legal
verifiable income, resolve legal issues and not obtain any
new legal charges, stay in contact with DCS, visit the Child
regularly, and maintain housing for three consecutive months,
among other things. Ms. Phillips was asked if Mother ever
indicated that she did not understand her responsibilities
under the Permanency Plan, and Ms. Phillips stated: "No,
[she] always - - [she] knew what was on it and what [she]
needed to do."
Phillips testified that Mother eventually did have an A&D
assessment. The recommendation of the A&D assessment was
for Mother to attend an intensive out- patient program at the
Council for Alcohol & Drug Abuse Services
("CADAS"). At the time of trial, Mother had not
even begun an intensive out-patient program.
reported that she was working, and Ms. Phillips confirmed
this by calling Mother's place of work. Mother, however,
failed to provide a paystub or other evidence of income.
Mother reported that she gets paid daily and does not have a
paystub or a way to track her income.
Phillips testified that Mother did submit to random drug
screens, but tested positive for illegal substances. Ms.
Phillips stated that Mother disputed the failed drug screens.
Ms. Phillips explained:
[Mother] would always have an excuse for the drug screens.
She would say maybe she was kissing [Father] and that's
how she was positive for certain things, or maybe it was the
house she was living in. You know, she had different excuses.
Or maybe the drug test was wrong.
Phillips knowledge, Mother never had an independent drug
failed to provide proof of housing. Ms. Phillips testified
that stability has been a problem for Mother. Since Ms.
Phillips has had the case, Mother has had three or four
different addresses. Mother gave one address as a mailing
address, but has never lived at that address. Ms. Phillips
stated that at one time Mother reported that she had a place
and that she was going to be able to pay rent and have a
lease. Ms. Phillips requested a copy of the lease, but Mother
never provided one. The last time Ms. Phillips spoke with
Mother, Mother reported living with a friend.
Phillips occasionally supervised visitation between Mother
and the Child and "would try to be in the office when
the visits were going on so [she] could step in and see kind
of what was going on." Ms. Phillips did not have any
concerns about the visitations themselves. She stated that
Mother brought snacks, fed the Child, and changed the
Phillips was asked what she did to assist Mother, and she
testified that she made several A&D appointments for
Mother; provided bus passes; gave her resources for grief
counseling and parenting classes; followed up with
Transformation Project, which the previous caseworker had
tried to get Mother into; followed up with Sound Living
Counseling; searched for Section 8 housing and mailed in an
application for housing; typed up a referral for Mother for
Chattanooga Community Kitchen for services; provided flyers
for a health clinic, domestic violence classes, and a
financial program; and gave Mother a referral for a Room at
the Inn. When Mother could not get in to a Room at the Inn
due to her lack of identification, Ms. Phillips directed
Mother on how to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles and
obtain an identification card.
did complete the A&D assessment and went to the first
intake appointment for counseling. Ms. Phillips, however,
does not believe that Mother has made enough progress for the
Child to be placed in her care. Ms. Phillips has concerns
about Mother's drug use, her failure to complete an
intensive out-patient program, her lack of stable housing,
her lack of verifiable income, and an incident that occurred
during a visitation. Ms. Phillips would not be comfortable
allowing Mother unsupervised visitation.
Phillips testified that the Child is placed with a foster
family and is doing well. The Child is healthy and exhibits
no developmental delays. She attends daycare and is walking
and starting to run. Ms. Phillips testified that the Child
does not appear to have any lingering effects from the drug
exposure at birth. Ms. Phillips believes it is in the
Child's best interest for Mother's rights to be
Wolfe Blackwell, a transporter for DCS, testified at trial.
She has been a transporter for almost 18 years. Ms. Blackwell
transports the Child and supervises the visitations. Ms.
Blackwell began supervising the Child's visitations on
October 11, 2016, and her last visit was July 11, 2017. Ms.
Blackwell testified that in total she supervised 34 visits.
Of those 34 visits, Mother attended 23 and missed 11.
Blackwell had no concerns about Mother's interactions
with the Child during visitation. Ms. Blackwell stated:
"Interaction was appropriate and she met the child's
needs about feeding her and changing her and hold her and
everything." Mother would bring snacks for the Child and
has brought a stuffed animal to the visits.
Blackwell did have concerns, however, about a serious
incident that occurred during one visit. She described the
That was July the 11th. We were going to be off on July the
4th. So on a visit of June the 27th I asked [Mother] if we
could do a two-hour visit on July the 11th, because we were
going to be off on the 4th, the day of her visit. And so we
both agreed that we would do it from 9:00 to 11:00.
So on July the 11th she came in and visitation went as it
always has. And [the Child] became kind of fussy, and so
[Mother] asked me if she could bring her outside the
visitation room and walk her up and down in front of the
visitation room. And in the past, I agreed to let her do it,
because when [the Child] has to have a lot of things that she
can focus on. I mean, she's very smart. And so [Mother]
was outside. She was walking up and down in front of the
visitation room. And she asked me what time it was. And I
told her it was approximately 10:27. And she stated that she
needed to get out of there. She needed to get to work. Which
I thought was very odd, because it was a two-hour visit. And
regular visits is 10:00 to 11:00 scheduled, so I didn't
understand why, you know, she wasn't going to do her two
So [Mother] bent over in front of my cube in the - - I'm
sorry - - in the visitation room to pick up her child and a
toy. And when she stood up and walked off, I saw a piece of
paper right where she was standing. And so I went over. I
picked the paper up. And I opened it up. And there was powder
and crystals that was inside the paper. There were no active
visits going on in the office at the time. Her visit was the
There was a case manager in my cube at the time. And I asked
her if she could stay in the cube so I could see if I could
find the case manager. She was in a meeting. So I went and
washed my hands. Got a dry paper towel. Put the paper in it.
Took it back to my cube. Hid it. Got [the Child] and we left.
[Mother] also followed me out. I text the case manager to let
her know that I found a powdery substance in a piece of paper
that was right in the same spot that [Mother] was standing
did not see Ms. Blackwell find the piece of paper because
Mother had her back to Ms. Blackwell at the time. Ms.
Blackwell testified that she does not know what was in the
Phillips testified that she received the text from Ms.
Blackwell, retrieved the paper from where Ms. Blackwell had
hidden it, notified her supervisor, and then called the
police. Ms. Phillips tried to email Mother to let Mother know
that they needed to speak about the incident. Ms. Phillips
She e-mailed me back. It's like she wanted to talk about
it over e-mail. I felt like it was best that we talked about
it over the phone due to the fact that we were advised not to
have any more visits after that. Once I spoke to her on the
phone - - I called her at the new number that she gave me --
she got very agitated. She asked if we had any cameras in the
DCS office. I said no. I told her to talk to David, her
attorney, because David already knew about it. And she said
that she didn't understand why we were blaming her and
that she believed that Kathy planted it for -- on -- for
[Mother], that Kathy had it and was blaming it on [Mother]. .
. . When I told her what it was, she never -- you know, it
was like she was more, that's just not mine. That's
not mine. I didn't drop that. And then she e-mailed me
back and she -- you know, that's when I forwarded her on
to David and I just, you know, said please talk to David
Phillips testified that the police declined to arrest Mother
because Mother was not present when they collected the paper.
D. ("Foster Mom") is the Child's foster mother.
The Child has lived with Foster Mom since February of 2017.
Foster Mom testified that the Child is her cousin. When
Foster Mom and her husband found out that the State had
custody of the Child, they contacted DCS and requested to be
allowed to be foster parents. Foster Mom further explained
that she is related to Father. She stated, however, that she
does not have a relationship with either Father or with
Mother. Foster Mom testified that Father and Mother do not
contact her, and she does not allow them any sort of
visitation with the Child.
Mom stated that her household consists of "Me, my
husband, and we have another adult who lives there, Alan, who
we've had guardianship of him when he was 16. He was a
youth in our home. We were his youth leaders at the time. And
his mom passed away so he's been with us since."
Mom testified that the Child has allergies, but the Child is
healthy other than that. Foster Mom testified that the Child
is bonded with Foster Mom's family. Foster Mom and her
husband wish to adopt the Child if the Child becomes
available for adoption.
trial, the Trial Court entered its very detailed Order
Terminating Parental Rights and Order of Full Guardianship on
September 25 2017, terminating Mother's parental rights
to the Child after finding and holding, inter alia,
that grounds for termination for substantial noncompliance
with the Permanency Plan pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. §
36-1-113(g)(2) and for persistent conditions pursuant to
Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(3) had been proven by
clear and convincing evidence and that it had been proven by
clear and convincing evidence that the termination of
Mother's parental rights was in the Child's best
interests. In the September 25, 2017 order the Juvenile Court
specifically found and held, inter alia:
7) The subject child was born on June 5, 2016 at Erlanger
Hospital. The Department received a referral alleging drug
exposed child. The hospital sent out the child's meconium
for accurate testing of the child's drug exposure. The
results indicated that the meconium was positive for
amphetamine and methamphetamine.
8) The mother, [Mother], used methamphetamine during her
pregnancy. The Respondents resided together for the duration