In the Interest of H. G. D. et al.
MCFADDEN, P. J., BRANCH and BETHEL, JJ.
and Gena Clark, grandparents of two children, H. G. D. and H.
D., appeal following the juvenile court's entry of a
permanency order and its denial of their motions to intervene
and for custody. The Clarks argue ten separate enumerations
of error by the juvenile court. In short, they argue that the
juvenile court erred by: (1) changing the case number on the
removal and protective hearing orders to make them part of
the pending dependency action; (2) holding a permanency
hearing and awarding the Thomas County Division of Family and
Children Services custody; (3) splitting physical and legal
custody of the children; and (4) denying their motion to
intervene. We disagree and affirm for the following reasons.
record reflects that the Department of Human Services filed
dependency actions following a finding that the home H. G. D.
and H. D. shared with their mother was filthy, that the
mother was abusing methamphetamine, and domestic violence had
been reported between the mother and her boyfriend. The
children were removed to live with their maternal
grandparents, the Clarks. However, while living with the
Clarks, H. G. D. and H. D. began suffering from behavioral
outbursts that necessitated a protective hearing. In
particular, H. D., who was nine years old at the time,
admitted to trying to harm or kill herself. She was later
admitted to a mental health hospital. Additionally, hospital
staff observed Mrs. Clark hitting H. G. D., who was three
years old, and allowing H. D. to be physically abusive to H.
these incidents, on July 8, 2016, the juvenile court removed
H. G. D. and H. D. from the custody of the Clarks and gave
the Thomas County Division of Family and Children Services
("DFCS") temporary custody. After H. D.'s release
from the hospital, H. D. and H. G. D. were placed separately
in local foster homes and visitation was suspended with their
mother and the Clarks. H. D. has continued to suffer from
suicidal ideation and self-harming behaviors and has been
recommended for intensive psychiatric therapy. H. G. D. has
begun pre-kindergarten, and his foster parents and teachers
report no academic or behavioral issues.
these placements, the Clarks filed a motion for custody with
the juvenile court alleging that DFCS had failed to file a
dependency action against them. They also filed a motion to
intervene in the permanency action regarding the children. At
the permanency hearing on August 12, 2016, which the Clarks
attended, the juvenile court determined that the safest
placement for the children would be in DFCS custody. The
juvenile court denied the Clarks' motion to intervene
based on lack of standing and denied them custody of the
children based on the evidence presented at the hearing that
necessitated their removal from the custody of the Clarks in
the first instance. This appeal followed.
Clarks first argue that the juvenile court erred by changing
the case number on the removal and protective hearing orders
to make them part of the pending dependency actions. The
Clarks argue that the removal order and protective hearing
order appearing under the revised case numbers are void and
should not be considered by this Court because the petitions
for dependency resulting in these orders were filed under
different case numbers. They further argue that the juvenile
court cannot "circumvent the docketing system, "
that it lacks valid grounds for modifying the orders, and it
did not comply with the notice and hearing requirement set
forth in OCGA § 15-11-32 (f). We disagree.
§ 15-11-32 (f) requires the court to hold a hearing when
a petition seeking relief under Section 15-11-32 is filed.
See OCGA § 15-11-32 (f). However, none of the
parties filed a petition seeking relief under OCGA §
15-11-32, thus a hearing under OCGA § 15-11-32 (f) was
not required. Rather, Thomas County DFCS filed a dependency
complaint with juvenile court so as to notify it of the
problematic circumstances the children were facing while in
the temporary custody of their grandparents, the Clarks. The
juvenile court removed the children from the custody of the
Clarks and after a preliminary protective hearing (which the
Clarks attended), awarded custody of the children to DFCS.
The case numbers on both the dependency removal order and
preliminary protective hearing order were changed, nunc pro
tunc, so as to be made part of the existing case of
dependency. The juvenile court's change to the temporary
custody arrangement thus operated as a change to its earlier
order finding the children dependent and awarding the Clarks
temporary custody. The juvenile court has the inherent
authority to change, vacate, or modify its earlier temporary
custody order if it found that doing so would be in the best
interests of H. G. D. and H. D. See OCGA §
15-11-32 (b); In re A. V. B., 222 Ga.App. 241, 244
(2) (474 S.E.2d 114) (1996); In re K. B., 188
Ga.App. 199, 200 (2) (372 S.E.2d 476) (1988). The evidence in
the record supports the juvenile court's finding that it
was no longer in the best interests of the children to remain
in the custody of the Clarks, and the juvenile court was
authorized to change its order regarding temporary custody.
We find no error here.
The Clarks next argue that the juvenile court erred by
holding a permanency hearing and entering an order awarding
DFCS custody of the children. The Clarks suggest that there
was a gap of approximately eight days during which the
children were technically no longer in the care of DFCS
because the complaints (which were initially filed under
different case numbers) regarding the condition of the
children under the Clarks' care were dismissed before
custody was given to DFCS at the permanency hearing. And
because the children were not technically in DFCS custody,
the Clarks argue the juvenile court could not have a
permanency hearing. The Clarks misunderstand the facts of
order removing the children from the Clarks' custody was
filed on July 8, 2016. A preliminary protective hearing was
held on July 11, 2016, whereby the children were found to be
dependent and were placed in DFCS custody. On August 4, 2016,
the juvenile court amended the case numbers on these orders
so as to make them part of the existing case of dependency.
That same day, the juvenile court dismissed the dependency
complaint that was filed under a separate case number. Thus,
the children remained in DFCS custody continuously, and the
juvenile court did not err when it held the permanency
hearing on August 12, 2016. The Clarks' argument
therefore lacks merit.
Clarks further argue that a juvenile court may only remove a
child from temporary custody where the child's parent
completes the case plan or where the child is found dependent
under care of temporary custodian, neither of which occurred
here. Even if we were to assume, arguendo, that the
Clarks' assertion is correct, the children were found
dependent in the temporary custody of the Clarks at the July
11, 2016 hearing. Thus, we find this assertion of error
meritless, as well.
Clarks argue that the juvenile court failed to comply with
the order and hearing requirements set forth in OCGA §
15-11-181, and that a separate dependency hearing and order
should have been entered with respect to their care of the
children. But the children had already been found dependent
and had been placed in the temporary custody of the Clarks
because of their dependency. The juvenile court was not
required to find the children dependent once more before
changing its order regarding temporary custody of the
children. Rather, pursuant to OCGA § 15-11-32 (b), the
juvenile court could do so where it found the change to be in
the best interests of the children.
custody is just that-temporary. A temporary custody award
differs "in its nature and purpose from an award of
permanent custody. The temporary award is intended to create
an interim arrangement that serves the best interests of the
child pending adjudication of the rights of the mother and
father." See Pace v. Pace, 287 Ga. 899, 900
(700 S.E.2d 571) (2010) (punctuation and citations omitted).
Once a child has been adjudicated dependent and until
permanent placement is established, the children are the
responsibility of the court, and the court places them
temporarily until a permanent placement can be found.
Therefore, we cannot say that the juvenile court erred here.
Clarks argue next that the juvenile court erred by giving
DFCS physical custody of the children when it had already
awarded legal custody to the Clarks. The Clarks are mistaken.
The Clarks were given temporary physical and legal custody of
the children on March 16, 2016. However the Clarks'
physical and legal custody was terminated when the children
were removed from their care via court order on July 8, 2016.
Physical and legal custody of the children was then