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A.T. v. State

Court of Appeals of Utah

December 20, 2018

A.T., Appellant,
v.
State of Utah, Appellee.

          Third District Juvenile Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable Julie V. Lund No. 1137406

          Sheleigh A. Harding, Attorney for Appellant

          Sean D. Reyes, Carol L.C. Verdoia, and John M. Peterson, Attorneys for Appellee

          Jeannine Timothy, Guardian ad Litem

          Judge Diana Hagen authored this Opinion, in which Judges David N. Mortensen and Ryan M. Harris concurred.

          OPINION

          HAGEN, Judge

         ¶1 A.T. (Mother) appeals the termination of her parental rights as to C.T. (Child), arguing that termination was not in Child's best interest. Mother relies on this court's recent decision in In re B.T.B., 2018 UT App 157, contending that termination was not strictly necessary because the juvenile court could have allowed Mother's parents (Grandparents) to have guardianship of Child. In B.T.B, we concluded that a court may not find that termination of parental rights is strictly necessary until it has considered or explored "less-permanent arrangements," such as custody or guardianship with a family member. Id. ¶ 55. Because the juvenile court correctly applied our holding in B.T.B. by exploring guardianship and custody with Grandparents before terminating Mother's parental rights, we affirm.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶2 Mother is a minor who lives with Grandparents and her five younger siblings. Mother has been a caretaker of her younger siblings since she was eleven. When Mother was thirteen, she was allegedly sex-trafficked by her older sister, and became pregnant and contracted HIV as a result of rape by an unknown man. At that time, the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) took custody of Mother.

         ¶3 Mother gave birth to Child at the age of fourteen and was returned to Grandparents' custody. Shortly after the birth, DCFS received a report that Mother had threatened to kill herself and Child. DCFS found Mother and Child living in a park and placed both in DCFS custody.[1] Mother denied that she intended to harm Child but threatened to harm herself if forced to return to Grandparents' home at that time. DCFS filed abuse, neglect, and dependency petitions as to Mother and Child. At a shelter hearing in Child's case, the juvenile court made findings that Mother had been adjudicated incompetent to stand trial in a previous delinquency matter and that she and Child should remain in DCFS custody.

         ¶4 Mother and Child were placed by DCFS into a girls' group home. While there, Mother engaged in multiple outbursts in which she made ostensibly aggressive and threatening comments toward Child. Mother also threatened to take her own life again but later testified that she was just angry and that she did not mean what she said. At one point during their stay at the group home, Child was removed from Mother and taken to the hospital because Child was dehydrated. The staff at the group home indicated that Mother needed ongoing supervision "regarding the most basic caregiving skills" for Child. The psychologist who later evaluated Mother drew a similar conclusion, testifying that Mother "does not have a bond with [Child]" and "does not have the cognitive capacity to make decisions for [Child] and keep her safe."

         ¶5 Mother eventually returned to Grandparents' home, but Child was placed with foster parents, who were friends of Mother and Grandparents. The juvenile court ordered reunification with Mother as the primary permanency goal for Child and adoption as the secondary goal. The court also ordered reunification services for Mother that required her to participate in "therapy to address her past trauma," take medication and monitor the progression of her HIV, attend school, "work with her peer parent to gain parenting skills," and have supervised visitation with Child. DCFS also recommended that Grandparents attend family therapy with Mother.

         ¶6 Although Mother attended individual therapy, she was never given a psychological evaluation, and Mother and Grandparents did not participate in family therapy. In addition, Mother did not participate in peer parenting and failed to take the medication as prescribed to address her HIV and emotional issues. DCFS explained at Mother's termination trial that it had failed to secure peer parenting resources because peer parenting had been unsuccessful during Mother's previous case.

         ¶7 After Mother failed to complete reunification services, the court changed the primary permanency goal for Child to permanent custody and guardianship with Grandparents.[2]Guardianship with Grandparents remained the primary permanency goal for only one month. At the end of the one-month period, DCFS requested that the primary goal be changed to adoption, citing a number of ongoing concerns. DCFS expressed concern about Child remaining in Grandparents' home because Grandparents had failed to make sure that Mother attended medical appointments relating to her HIV infection, had failed to ensure that Mother's medication was "filled and taken on a consistent basis," had failed to participate in peer parenting, and had allowed Mother's older sister, who allegedly sex-trafficked and assaulted Mother, back into the home. DCFS was also concerned about Grandparents' financial ability to care for Child and the fact that the home was not kept clean and only had one bathroom. Furthermore, although Grandparents had placed Mother's younger siblings in daycare, there were still hours during the day where ...


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