IN THE INTEREST OF A. B. et al., children.
MILLER, P. J., ANDREWS and BROWN, JJ.
Miller, Presiding Judge.
Wright appeals from the juvenile court's order
terminating her parental rights to her eight children,
arguing that the juvenile court erred by (1) permitting the
most recent case manager, rather than the previous one, to
testify at the termination hearing, (2) finding that there
was current dependency, (3) finding that the dependency was
likely to continue, (4) finding that the continued dependency
was likely to cause harm to the children, and (5) denying her
motion for a new trial. After a thorough review of the record,
we conclude that the juvenile court properly terminated the
mother's parental rights with respect to three of the
children, but not as to the other five, because there was no
evidence addressing the likelihood of continued harm stemming
from the dependency for the remaining five children.
Accordingly, we affirm the termination order as to the two
oldest children and the youngest, but must reverse as to the
other five children.
appeal from a juvenile court's decision to terminate
parental rights, we review the evidence in the light most
favorable to the juvenile court's ruling and determine
whether any rational trier of fact could have found by clear
and convincing evidence that the parent's rights should
be terminated. In the Interest of C. S., 319 Ga.App.
138, 139 (735 S.E.2d 140) (2015). Nonetheless,
this deferential standard of review is tempered by the fact
that there is no judicial determination which has more
drastic significance than that of permanently severing a
natural parent-child relationship. It must be scrutinized
deliberately and exercised most cautiously. The right to
raise one's children is a fiercely guarded right in our
society and law, and a right that should be infringed upon
only under the most compelling circumstances.
(Footnote omitted.) In the Interest of E. G. L. B.,
342 Ga.App. 839, 840 (805 S.E.2d 285) (2017).
viewed, the evidence shows that on August 14, 2014, the
Georgia Department of Family and Children's Services
("DFCS") took Wright's eight children, ranging
in age from five days old to twelve years old, into custody
after learning that the family was living in an abandoned
apartment with no running water or electricity. The children
lacked medical and dental care and were not attending school.
Additionally, the family had limited food and water, there
was trash piled up around the apartment, and there had been
instances of violence in the home. Based on those living
conditions, DFCS filed a dependency petition and an amended
dependency petition, alleging that the children lacked
parental care or control, the father was using marijuana, and
there had been acts of family violence and verbal abuse in
the home, especially against the two oldest children.
juvenile court found the children dependent and in need of
the court's protection as a result of the allegations of
abuse and neglect. This finding was never appealed The
juvenile court noted the emotional and physical abuse alleged
by the two oldest children and that the newborn child had to
be hospitalized immediately for hypothermia upon being taken
into custody Thereafter, DFCS set up a case plan with the
goal of reunification for the parents The juvenile court
adopted the case plan, concurrent with reunification and
guardianship, which required the mother to do the following:
(1) complete a parental fitness/psychological evaluation; (2)
obtain and maintain stable housing; (3) obtain and maintain a
source of income; (4) sign a release of information; (5)
attend all hearings; (6) notify DFCS of any changes of
address, phone numbers or jobs within 48 hours; and (7)
contact DFCS to schedule appointments to discuss her
progress. The two oldest children required trauma
assessments, and the remaining children were to be assessed
for various therapies. The children were placed in several
different foster homes and given sibling visitation. The
parents were given visitation with all of the children.
September 2014, all of the children underwent assessments at
Bagley Youth Development. The oldest child's trauma
assessment showed that she suffered from PTSD as a result of
abuse and neglect. The oldest child revealed that she
suffered beatings with a stick, a belt, and a metal pole. She
further witnessed the abuse of her siblings and other
trauma assessment of the second oldest child reported that
she also had been the victim of physical abuse and had
witnessed the abuse of her siblings along with domestic
violence in the home. She was frightened of her parents, but
also missed them. She suffered from depression, anxiety, and
symptoms of PTSD.
October 2014 and April 2015, the mother made some progress on
her goals, but had yet to obtain the necessary income and
housing. At a hearing on April 30, 2015, the oldest
child's therapist testified that the child disclosed that
her parents were physically and mentally abusive, she had
been "parentified, " she had nightmares about
returning home, and she no longer wished to visit her
parents. The therapist testified that the child was diagnosed
with PTSD and continued contact with her mother was
detrimental to her. Additionally, the therapist testified
that the other children had been exposed to the parents'
violent behavior. Further, the children's case manager
testified that she had observed at least five visits with the
parents and that the two oldest children and one of the
middle children cried and said they were afraid to go home.
this hearing, in 2015, the juvenile court suspended
visitation between the two oldest children and the parents.
Later that year, DFCS changed the case plan from
reunification to adoption. During a permanency hearing in
December 2015, the juvenile court noted that the parents had
not completed family therapy or the necessary bonding
assessments, and that the mother had ceased her individual
March of 2016, DFCS filed for termination of the parents'
rights, alleging that the children were dependent, that the
dependency would continue and cause harm, and that the
parents had not completed their reunification case plan.
appointed special advocate ("CASA") submitted a
report in June 2016, finding that the two oldest children did
not wish to see their parents and hoped to be adopted. The
third oldest child wanted to return to her parents, and the
remaining children were too young to express a preference.
The CASA recommended that the children remain in their
current foster placement with the long-term goal of adoption.
2016, the parents were indicted for cruelty to children,
aggravated assault, family violence battery, and terroristic
threats. As a condition of bond, the parents were barred from
having any of the minor children live with them.
subsequent termination hearing, the oldest child testified
that she did not want to return to her biological parents and
that she wanted to be adopted by her foster parent. She
stated that her parents had beaten her from the time she was
five years old, that she was consistently responsible for
parenting her younger siblings, and that she would be beaten
if the younger children did anything wrong. Her parents
usually struck her with a belt, but on one occasion they used
a stick. Additionally, her mother called her names and
threatened her with a knife. She was not allowed to leave the
house or go to school, but was not home schooled either. She
did not believe her parents could change, despite progress on
their case plans, because she had seen prior instances in
which they resorted to their old behavior once supervision
second oldest child's therapist testified that the child
experienced PTSD and persistent depressive disorder with
anxious distress as a result of the physical and verbal abuse
she and her siblings suffered. She noted that the child had
been parentified, either by her parents or by her older
sister, and that if she made a mistake while in charge of the
younger children, she would be abused. She testified that the
child wanted to be adopted, in part because she was afraid
that if she were returned to her parents, she would be
punished for speaking out about the abuse. The therapist
noted that the child's condition had improved with
therapy, and she recommended that the child be adopted given
the severity of her PTSD and the trauma she suffered.
eight-year-old daughter testified that she wanted to visit
her parents, but would want to live with them if they had a
better home than they did before. The seven-year-old girl and
six-year-old boy both testified that they wanted to return to
their parents. The remaining children did not testify.
case manager Aliandrise Johnson testified, over the
mother's objection, that she was the current case manager
for the children, and that she based much of her testimony on
the other reports and documents from previous case managers.
She reported that the mother had not completed individual
counseling, the parents had not paid any child support, and
she could not verify the mother's income. She explained
that she had visited the parents' home, but there were no
beds, clothes, or toys for the children. ...