IN THE INTEREST OF J. G., a child.
P. J., COOMER and MARKLE, JJ.
father of J. G. appeals the juvenile court's order
finding J. G. ("the child") to be dependent and
granting custody to the child's maternal grandmother. In
so doing, the father contends that (1) the court erred in its
finding of dependency because there was no clear and
convincing evidence the child was dependent; (2) the court
should have extended him a case plan for reunification with
the child; and (3) the court made no finding that he was
unfit to have custody prior to awarding custody to a third
party. For the reasons stated below, we conclude that the
juvenile court's order fails to sufficiently explain its
conclusion as to dependency and third-party custody.
Therefore, we vacate the juvenile court's order on
dependency and custody and remand the case for further
proceedings consistent with this opinion.
On appeal from an order finding a child to be a dependent
child, we review the juvenile court's finding of
dependency in the light most favorable to the lower
court's judgment to determine whether any rational trier
of fact could have found by clear and convincing evidence
that the child is dependent. In making this determination we
neither weigh the evidence nor judge the credibility of the
witnesses, but instead defer to the factual findings made by
the juvenile court, bearing in mind that the juvenile
court's primary responsibility is to consider and protect
the welfare of a child whose well-being is threatened.
and punctuation omitted.) In the Interest of R. D.,
346 Ga.App. 257, 259 (1) (816 S.E.2d 132) (2018).
Furthermore, "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."
(Citation omitted.) In the Interest of D. M., 339
Ga.App. 46 (793 S.E.2d 422) (2016).
viewed, the record shows that, in November 2016, the Division
of Family and Children Services ("DFCS")
investigated a report of inadequate supervision of the then
six-month old child after her mother allegedly poisoned both
her and the father by putting sulfur in their food. The
father took the child to the hospital, where he was met by
DFCS personnel. Following a medical exam, and after speaking
with the father, DFCS initially released the child into the
father's custody, but subsequently removed the child and
placed her with a family friend.
January 2017, the child's maternal grandmother filed a
deprivation petition against both parents, alleging that the
child was dependent due to (1) the mother's history of
drug abuse, erratic behavior, and arrest for attempting to
poison the father and child; and (2) the father's lengthy
criminal history, lack of employment, lack of stable housing,
and inability to provide proper medical care for the
child. DFCS also filed a deprivation petition on
behalf of the child.
an initial custody hearing, the juvenile court placed the
child in the temporary custody of DFCS. The court issued a
preliminary protective order, finding probable cause that the
child was dependent due to abuse and neglect, and that the
child was in need of the court's protection. At the
custody and detention hearing, the father, proceeding pro se,
stipulated to the child's dependency, allowing the child
to remain in DFCS's custody. The court also ordered the
father to submit to a hair follicle drug test.
subsequent hearing, at which the father was represented by
counsel, the father withdrew the stipulation to dependency.
DFCS also declined to stipulate that the child was dependent.
A child protective services investigator testified that DNA
testing revealed the father to be the biological father.
According to the investigator, the father was residing with
his brother and niece, and he was currently employed. The
investigator reported that the father's urinalysis drug
screen test came back negative. On this basis, DFCS
recommended the child be returned to the father. Although the
juvenile court initially granted the father custody, it then
vacated that order based on the prior stipulation of
dependency. Thereafter, the father legitimated the child.
custody hearing, an officer testified that the father had
been accused and charged with child molestation approximately
20 years ago, and that he subsequently pled guilty to
misdemeanor battery. The officer, however, had not observed
any interaction between the father and child. The court also
heard other evidence of the father's lengthy criminal
history, all occurring prior to the child's birth, and
none of which involved children. Another officer, who
investigated the alleged poisoning of the father and the
child, testified that, during his interactions with the
father, he appeared to be paranoid and under the influence of
worker advised the court that the child was not dependent,
and recommended that DFCS's custody be terminated and the
child returned to the father. He further advised that the
father had no stipulations with regard to the prior child
molestation charge that would prohibit him from being with
his child. The child's mother also testified, stating
that she felt the father was the best person to care for the
subsequent hearing, the juvenile court appointed a special
advocate ("CASA"), who recommended
non-reunification and that the child be placed with the
maternal grandmother, and that the father be allowed
visitation rights. The CASA admitted she had not visited the
father's residence. The father's hair follicle drug
screening test came back positive for amphetamine,
methamphetamine, and cocaine. The attorneys for the father,
mother, and DFCS all agreed that the father should be allowed
to work a case plan in order to be reunited with the child.
However, the juvenile court awarded custody to the maternal
grandmother, with supervised visitation for the parents, and
denied the father's request to work a case plan. This
father argues the juvenile court erred in finding dependency
because there was no clear and convincing evidence to support
such a finding. We conclude that the juvenile court's
order is insufficient and, therefore, we must vacate the
court's order, and remand the case with the direction
that the court make the appropriate findings of fact.
order entered following a dependency hearing "[s]hall
include findings of fact which reflect the court's
consideration of the oral and written testimony offered by
all parties. . . ." OCGA § 15-11-111 (b) (2).
"[T]he juvenile court is required to make factual
findings and state not only the end result of that inquiry
but the process by which it was reached." (citation and