Pursuant to Ind. Appellate Rule 65(D), this Memorandum Decision shall not be regarded as precedent or cited before any court except for the purpose of establishing the defense of res judicata, collateral estoppel, or the law of the case.
Appellant-Respondent K.F. ("Mother") appeals the juvenile court's order terminating her parental rights to S.S. She raises the following restated issue on appeal: whether the Appellee-Petitioner the Indiana Department of Child Services ("DCS") presented sufficient evidence to support termination of her parental rights to S.S. Specifically Mother contends that DCS did not prove by clear and convincing evidence that (1) the conditions that resulted in S.S.'s removal could not be remedied within a reasonable amount of time, (2) continuation of the parent-child relationship posed a threat to the well-being of S.S., and (3) termination was in S.S.'s best interest. Concluding that the evidence is sufficient to support the termination order, we affirm.
Facts and Procedural History
Mother is the biological parent of S.S., who was born on July 27, 2011.
On March 5, 2015, the juvenile court held a hearing for a periodic case review, and on March 6, 2015, the juvenile court issued an order stating that the permanency plan would continue to be reunification with Mother. On July 2, 2015, a hearing was held on the permanency plan. On July 16, 2015, the juvenile court issued an amended order changing the permanency plan to adoption with a concurrent plan for reunification.
On October 7, 2015, the juvenile court issued an order placing S.S. under the guardianship of his maternal grandmother.
On or about January 4, 2016, DCS removed S.S. from his grandmother's care and placed him with a foster family. On January 19, 2016, the trial court issued an order stating that on December 31, 2015, the grandmother said that she could no longer care for S.S. and asked that he be removed from her care. The juvenile court affirmed that S.S. should remain the in foster family's care.
On May 10, 2016, DCS filed a verified petition for involuntary termination of parental rights. After a permanency hearing on July 7, 2016, on July 25, 2016, the juvenile court issued an order stating that the permanency plan would be adoption.
On January 31, 2017, a fact-finding hearing was held on DCS's termination petition. At the hearing, DCS's family case manager ("FCM") and the psychologist that worked with Mother during the CHINS proceedings, Dr. Anthony Berardi, testified that termination of parental rights was in the best interest of S.S. Based upon all of the evidence presented, the juvenile court issued an order granting DCS's petition for termination of parental rights on February 23, 2017. In doing so, the juvenile court made the following pertinent specific findings:
Appellant's App. Vol. II, pp. 11-14.
S.S. has been placed in a stable home with a foster family. He has been living with the foster mother for over three years, and she testified that she would be able to continue caring for him.
Discussion and Decision
This court has long had a highly deferential standard of review in cases concerning the termination of parental rights. In re K.S., 750 N.E.2d 832, 836 (Ind. Ct. App. 2001). When reviewing a termination of parental rights case, we will consider only the evidence and reasonable inferences that are most favorable to the judgment. In re D.D., 804 N.E.2d 258, 265 (Ind. Ct. App. 2004), trans. denied. Thus, we will not reweigh the evidence or judge the credibility of the witnesses. Id. We will only set aside the court judgment terminating a parent-child relationship if it is clearly erroneous. In re B.J., 879 N.E.2d 7, 14 (Ind. Ct. App. 2008).
The traditional right of a parent to establish a home and raise her children is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Bester v. Lake Cnty. Office of Family and Children, 839 N.E.2d 143, 145 (Ind. 2005). Furthermore, we acknowledge that the parent-child relationship is "one of the most valued relationships of our culture." Id. However, parental rights are not absolute and the law allows for the termination of such rights when a parent is unable or unwilling to meet her responsibilities as a parent. In re T.F., 743 N.E.2d 766, 773 (Ind. Ct. App. 2001), trans denied. The purpose of terminating parental rights is to protect the child, not to punish the parent. Id. The juvenile court may terminate the parental rights if the child's emotional and physical development is threatened. Id. The juvenile court need not wait until the child has suffered from irreversible harm. Id.
Before an involuntary termination of parental rights may occur, DCS is required to prove by clear and convincing evidence that:
I. Conditions Resulting in Removal Not Likely to Be Remedied
"We begin by emphasizing that a trial court need not wait until a child is irreversibly influenced by a deficient lifestyle such that his or her physical, mental, and social growth is permanently impaired before terminating the parent-child relationship." Castro v. State Office of Family & Children, 842 N.E.2d 367, 372 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006). "When the evidence shows that the emotional and physical development of a child in need of services is threatened, termination of the parent-child relationship is appropriate." In re L.S., 717 N.E.2d 204, 208 (Ind. Ct. App. 2002).
When determining whether there is a reasonable probability that a parent will remedy the conditions resulting in their child's removal from the home, a trial court engages in a two-step inquiry. First the trial court "must ascertain what conditions led to their placement and retention in foster care." In re K.T.K., 989 N.E.2d 1225, 1231 (Ind. 2013). Second, the trial court must determine "whether there is a reasonable probability that those conditions will not be remedied." Id. The statute does not simply focus on the initial reason or reasons for removal, "but also those bases resulting in continued placement outside the home." In re A.I. v. Vanderburgh Cnty. OFC, 825 N.E.2d 798, 806 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005).
Mother argues that the evidence does not support the finding that there is a reasonable probability that the conditions that resulted in S.S.'s removal will not be remedied because the initial reason S.S. was removed was the bruising found on his body. Mother further argues that the trial court focused on Mother's inability to care for S.S., which was not a factor in his original removal. Mother, however, is misreading the statute. Under Indiana Code section 31-35-2-4(b)(2)(B)(i), DCS must show a "reasonable probability that the conditions that resulted in the child's removal or the reasons for placement outside of the home of the parents will not be remedied." (emphasis added). "[I]t is not just the basis for the initial removal of the child that may be considered for purposes of determining whether a parent's rights should be terminated, but also those bases resulting in the continued placement outside of the home." In re A.I., 934 N.E.2d at 806. As DCS and the juvenile court noted, S.S. continued to remain outside of his Mother's care due to her inability to properly supervise and care for him.
The juvenile court made numerous thoughtful findings regarding Mother's instability, lack of consistent housing and employment, unstable and sometimes violent relationships with her three different fiancés, psychological issues, inability to manage stress, drug use, and inability to meet S.S.'s special needs notwithstanding the myriad of services that were designated to address her issues throughout the underlying CHINS and instant termination proceedings. Specifically, the record reveals that during the underlying CHINS proceeding Mother has had at least eight jobs, has moved numerous times, has had three different live-in and unemployed fiancés, and is incapable of understanding and addressing S.S.'s special needs and dietary restrictions. Despite the extensive services provided to Mother over the course of several years, the juvenile court determined, at the time of the termination hearing, that Mother was incapable of providing S.S. with a safe and stable environment nor is she capable of meeting S.S.'s special needs caused by his autism spectrum disorder, global development delays, and special dietary needs. Based upon the ample evidence that Mother is "unable to demonstrate the ability to understand and the ability to implement the tools necessary to take care of [S.S.'s] special needs," and her inability to maintain stable employment and housing, we conclude that Mother has not sustained her burden to show that the juvenile court's determination in this regard was clearly erroneous. Appellant's App. Vol. II, p. 14.
II. Continuation of the Parent-Child Relationship Posed a Threat to the Child's Well-being
Next we address Mother's claim that DCS failed to show by clear and convincing evidence that the continuation of the parent-child relationship would be detrimental to S.S. Under Indiana Code section 31-35-2-4(b)(2)(B), DCS need only prove that "[t]here is a reasonable probability that the conditions that resulted in the child's removal or the reasons for the placement outside the home of the parents will not be remedied," that "[t]here is a reasonable probability that the continuation of the parent-child relationship poses a threat to the well-being of the child," or that the child has been adjudicated as CHINS on two separate occasions. As discussed above, DCS presented ample evidence for the juvenile court to conclude that there was not a reasonable probability that the reasons for continued placement outside of the parent's home would not be remedied. Because Indiana Code section 31-35-2-4(b)(2(B) is written in the disjunctive, and in light of our conclusion relating to the probability that the conditions leading to continued placement outside of the parent's home would not be remedied, we need not consider Mother's claim as to whether the evidence is sufficient to prove that the parent-child relationship posed a threat to the S.S.'s well-being.
III. The Child's Best Interest
Finally, we address Mother's claim that DCS failed to prove that termination of her parental rights was in S.S.'s best interest. When reviewing such claims, we are mindful of the fact that the juvenile court is required to look beyond the factors identified by DCS and consider the totality of the circumstances. McBride v. Monroe Cnty. Office of Family & Children, 798 N.E.2d 185, 203 (Ind. Ct. App. 2003). In doing so, this court must subordinate the interest of the parent of the child involved. Id.
In addressing whether continuation of the parent-child relationship is in S.S.'s best interest, we note that the DCS case manager and the psychologist, Dr. Berardi, testified that termination was in S.S.'s best interest. Such testimony is sufficient to support the juvenile court's conclusion in this regard. See In re A.B., 887 N.E.2d 158, 170 (Ind. Ct. App. 2008). However, additional evidence further supports the juvenile court's conclusion. S.S. has autism spectrum disorder and global developmental delays. Consequently, S.S. requires a special diet, a calm environment, and a routine schedule. If he does not receive these things, S.S. is likely to have tantrums during which he will throw himself to the ground, throw things, head-butt objects or people until he bleeds, or pick his nose until he bleeds.
Furthermore, during the CHINS proceedings Mother lived in at least eight different residences in multiple school districts, held at least eight different jobs, and had three unemployed and live-in fiancés. Mother also has a personality disorder that causes her to enter into volatile romantic relationships. Mother has broken the collarbone of one of her ex-fiancés, and her current fiancé has hit her on at least one occasion. Despite the violence, Mother has no plans to end the relationship. In fact, Mother expects the current fiancé to help her care for S.S. This is clear evidence that Mother is likely to continue engaging in a very tumultuous and violent lifestyle. It is likely that exposing S.S. to such a negative environment would cause him to engage in behavior that is harmful to himself and others.
The testimony from service providers established that Mother has not "shown that she understands, and can meet his needs, based on his diagnosis and his behavior and the special requirements that he has." Tr. pp. 52-53. Dr. Berardi opined that Mother is "[p]reoccupied with her emotional neediness" and she "clearly put[s] her own needs before her son's needs for a stable mother and home life." Ex. p. 14. Dr. Berardi further opined that Mother's psychological issues make it unlikely that she will reach a level of stability that would allow her to care for her son. Consequently, Dr. Berardi recommended that DCS seek alternative permanency plans for S.S.
In sum, Mother's history of instability, and psychological issues, as well as her lack of understanding of how to meet S.S.'s special needs, support the juvenile court's decision to terminate her parental rights. We decline her invitation to reweigh and reassess the evidence related to the challenged findings. We therefore conclude that the juvenile court did not clearly err in terminating Mother's parental rights with S.S.
We affirm the judgment of the juvenile court.
May, J., and Barnes, J., concur.