DILLARD, C. J., DOYLE, P. J., and MERCIER, J.
mother of J. W. appeals from a juvenile court order granting
the maternal grandfather's petition for permanent
guardianship of J. W., a minor child born on March 28, 2003.
The mother contends that the juvenile court erred because the
evidence was insufficient to support findings that (1)
continuing efforts of reunification would be detrimental to
the child, and (2) guardianship was in the best interests of
the child. Because the record supported the juvenile
court's findings, we affirm.
reviewing the findings that support a guardianship order,
this [C]ourt construes the evidence in favor of the judgment
and determines whether a rational trier of fact could have
found clear and convincing evidence that reunification
services should not be provided. We neither weigh the
evidence nor determine the credibility of witnesses; we defer
to the juvenile court's factfinding and affirm unless the
appellate standard is not met.
viewed, the evidence shows that the mother met J. W.'s
father when they were using methamphetamine together. The
father and mother dated for a few months, but after they
stopped seeing each other romantically, the mother learned
that she was pregnant with J. W. According to the mother,
during the first several years of J. W.'s life, she began
using methamphetamine on a daily basis - eventually doing it
"constantly like non-stop" - "neither one of
us was exactly the best parent." Her drug use was due in
part to the strain of "working at night and trying to
take care of everything and the baby [J. W.] during the
day." In the meantime, the mother gave birth to two
additional children, and from a very young age, J. W. began
to exhibit behavioral problems; and after J. W. was evaluated
later, he was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome,
reactive attachment disorder, and post traumatic stress
summer of 2015, when J. W. was twelve, the mother was evicted
and could not maintain housing or employment, a dependency
action was initiated, and J. W. was adjudicated dependent and
placed with his maternal grandfather. In October 2015, a
final adjudication of dependency was entered along with a
disposition order adopting a reunification case plan for the
mother and granting custody to the grandfather until further
order from the juvenile court. The case plan required that J.
W. receive appropriate mental health counseling and that the
mother: attend residential drug treatment and remain sober,
work with parenting coaches to gain insight into her own
parenting and J. W.'s needs, acquire stable, drug-free
housing, develop healthy and supportive relationships with
law-abiding people, and refrain from contacting people
actively using drugs or engaging in other criminal activity.
early 2016, a review order was entered finding that J. W. had
stabilized in the grandfather's home and improved in
school, and the court ordered that additional benefits be
sought for the child and visitation by the mother could ensue
as approved by J. W.'s therapist. In July 2016, the
grandfather petitioned the juvenile court for permanent
guardianship over J. W., and after a preliminary hearing in
September 2016, the court held a hearing in February 2017,
which hearing was continued until May 2017 because the mother
was without legal representation. Following a final hearing,
which included testimony from the mother, the grandfather,
the guardian ad litem ("GAL"), and J. W.'s
therapist, the juvenile court entered an order granting the
permanent guardianship. The mother now appeals.
mother contends that the evidence did not support a finding
by clear and convincing evidence that continuing efforts of
reunification would be detrimental to J. W. Because there is
evidence specifically showing that, in light of J. W.'s
diagnosed disorders, continued uncertainty about his living
situation and guardianship would be harmful, we disagree.
a juvenile court is authorized to appoint a permanent
guardian, the court is required to "[f]ind that
reasonable efforts to reunify such child with his . . .
parents would be detrimental to such child. . .
." At the hearing, the evidence showed that
the mother had made substantial progress on her case plan by
entering into a residential treatment facility and remaining
sober, attending counseling, and obtaining employment. But
there was also evidence that, since the case plan was put
into effect, she had entered into and wished to maintain a
romantic relationship with a boyfriend on probation for
possession of methamphetamine, despite five months earlier
telling the juvenile court that she had no interest in
dating, and she understood the risks inherent in entering
into a romantic relationship with someone else in recovery
from drug addiction. At the time of the final hearing, the
mother had decided to move from the Douglas County area
(where J. W. went to school, received therapy, and lived with
his grandfather) to the Savannah, Georgia area, temporarily
residing in two locations until arriving at her third a week
before the final hearing.
to the mother's relocation and housing circumstances,
there was evidence from both the GAL and from J. W.'s
therapist, a licensed practicing counselor, addressing J.
W.'s heightened need for stability due to his diagnosis
of Asberger's syndrome and post-traumatic stress
disorder. It was undisputed that since moving in with his
grandfather, J. W. had progressed significantly - his
behavior improved, he had begun developing positive
relationships with peers, and he had moved from an assistive
classroom to a classroom in a "regular middle school,
[in] which, amazingly, he's done pretty well." J.
W.'s progress was attributed to the therapy and stability
he enjoyed while living with his grandfather. The GAL
testified that because of his condition, J. W. needs "a
lot of stability" and would not "do well with
change. . . so I think that it would be probably very
detrimental to his progress to move him."
J. W.'s therapist testified that "he's still
working through his trauma[, ] and . . . sometimes he
experiences . . . a re-traumatization, which is indicat[ed]
by his behaviors." The therapist explained that
"what I'm referring to when I say that is,
especially the ongoing court situation and the consistent
reminders of [']where am I going to be['] and
[']who will I be placed with['] and [']what does
my future look like[?']" Therefore, "if a court
situation comes about and he knows that there may be a
change, " his behavior regresses. The therapist
emphasized in this testimony that, due to J. W.'s
diagnoses, disruptions in stability, such as a move to
Savannah with his mother to live with his younger siblings,
would "set him back at a very important [time]."
This was also based on his history with his mother when J. W.
"was responsible for caring for his [younger] siblings[,
] . . . and . . . facing the potential for that
responsibility again creates anxiety and re-traumatizes
him." Based on J. W.'s need for stability, the
mother's history and current lack of established,
long-term stability and sobriety, the therapist concluded
that a permanent guardianship with his grandfather
"would be very helpful." The therapist specifically
explained that a reunification plan would be harmful because
it would prolong the uncertainty: "[J. W.] needs . . .
something he can hold onto, something he can say this is
what's going to happen and we're going to plan around
testimony about J. W.'s needs at the time of the final
hearing and the mother's history and her circumstances at
the final hearing provided clear and convincing evidence that
continuing to work a reunification plan would be detrimental
to J. W. Accordingly, this enumeration is without
mother also contends that the evidence failed to show that
guardianship was in the best ...