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JACKSON v. RICHMOND DEPT. OF SOCIAL SERVICES



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JACKSON

v.

RICHMOND DEPT. OF SOCIAL
SERVICES


COURT OF APPEALS OF VIRGINIA

DECEMBER 28, 1999

Record No. 0226-99-2

MARY E. JACKSON

v.

RICHMOND DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES

Present: Chief Judge Fitzpatrick, Judges
Coleman and Bray

Argued at Richmond, Virginia

MEMORANDUM OPINION[1] BY JUDGE
SAM W. COLEMAN III

FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF RICHMOND

Randall G. Johnson, Judge

(Robert W. Carll, on brief), for appellant.
Appellant submitting on brief.

Alexandra Silva, Assistant City Attorney; Robin
M. Morgan, Guardian ad litem for the minor child
(Office of the City Attorney, on brief), for appellee.

 


Mary Jackson appeals from a decision
terminating her parental rights of her daughter, Ruth Jackson.
The issue on appeal is whether the evidence is sufficient to meet
the clear and convincing standard required for termination of
parental rights under Code ? 16.1-283(C). We find that the
evidence is sufficient and affirm the trial court’s ruling
terminating Mary Jackson’s residual parental rights.

BACKGROUND

In January 1995, approximately a week after her
birth, Ruth Jackson was removed from her parents’ custody due to
concerns raised by hospital personnel. Several days later, Ruth
Jackson was placed back in the custody of her parents, with legal
custody remaining with the Richmond Department of Social Services
(DSS) until March 1995. In July 1995, Ruth was again removed from
her parents’ custody because of allegations that she was abused
and neglected. At that time, Ruth’s father, Harold Jackson, was
hospitalized for a gunshot wound received during a drive-by
shooting. Mary Jackson had been hospitalized several times for
mental health problems, and she did not have a permanent
residence. The juvenile court returned Ruth to her parents’
custody, but ordered stabilization services to prevent future
removals from the home.

In the ensuing months, Mary Jackson was
repeatedly hospitalized for psychiatric problems and she was
still unable to maintain a permanent residence. During this
period, Harold and Mary Jackson would occasionally live together
at friends’ homes or hotels. DSS encouraged and assisted Mary
Jackson in moving to Norfolk, where her mother could assist her
with caring for Ruth. Mary Jackson, however, stayed in Norfolk
for only six days before returning to Richmond.

On April 24, 1996, Ruth was again removed from
her mother’s custody based on allegations that Mary Jackson was
unable to care for Ruth. In May 1996, Janet Kramer, Ruth’s foster
care worker, counseled Mary Jackson on various things she should
do in order to regain custody of her daughter. Kramer recommended
that Mary Jackson establish a stable residence, obtain full-time
employment, and obtain a psychological evaluation. While living
in Virginia, the Jacksons lived at twelve different locations.
Despite being advised to move to Richmond where services could be
provided and where the Jacksons would have access to the Richmond
Mental Health facility, Harold Jackson indicated that he
preferred to live in Chesterfield County. In June 1997, the
couple moved to Pennsylvania. Mary Jackson did not avail herself
of the referral by DSS to assist the Jacksons in obtaining
housing, employment, or a psychological evaluation.

When Ruth was placed in foster care in April
1996, she was dirty, had head lice, and was withdrawn. She has
been diagnosed with having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity
Disorder (ADHD). Ruth is a very active child, and she is more
difficult to care for than the average child. She attends a
special needs school and is enrolled in an early childhood
development program.

From April 1996 until June 1998, Mary Jackson
had supervised visits with Ruth. Until Mary Jackson moved to
Pennsylvania in June 1997, she visited Ruth at least once per
month; after Mary Jackson moved, she visited Ruth once in
September 1997, once in October 1997, once in February 1998, and
once in May 1998. During the visits, Ruth did not appear to bond
with her mother. She would cry when Mary Jackson tried to hold
her and seemed to be fearful of Mary Jackson. The Jacksons would
frequently telephone Ruth at her foster parents’ home to check on
her and to talk with her.

Howard Rosen, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist,
conducted a psychological evaluation of Mary Jackson on April 9,
1998. He diagnosed her with schizophrenia, dependent personality
disorder, and a history of alcohol abuse. Dr. Rosen stated that
Mary Jackson was deficient in identifying critical issues of
children’s feelings and presenting adequate solutions to
problems.

Dr. Rosen also stated that, although she
exhibited some "good" parenting skills while in a
controlled environment with support, her parenting skills
deteriorated rapidly when the child became "fussy." Dr.
Rosen predicted that if she were to care for Ruth, who had ADHD,
Mary Jackson’s schizophrenia would "escalate." He
concluded that without substantial community supports, Mary
Jackson is incapable of safely or adequately parenting a child.

ANALYSIS

"When addressing matters concerning a
child, including the termination of a parent’s residual parental
rights, the paramount consideration of a trial court is the
child’s best interests." Logan v. Fairfax County Dep’t of
Human Dev.
, 13 Va. App. 123, 128, 409 S.E.2d 460, 463 (1991).
Where the trial court hears the evidence ore tenus,
its decision is entitled to great weight and will not be
disturbed on appeal unless plainly wrong or without evidence to
support it. See Lowe v. Department of Pub. Welfare,
231 Va. 277, 282, 343 S.E.2d 70, 73 (1986).

Code ? 16.1-283(C)(2) provides that the
parental rights of a child placed in foster care may be
terminated if the court finds by clear and convincing evidence
that it is in the best interests of the child and that:

[t]he parent . . . , without
good cause, [has] been unwilling or unable within
a reasonable period not to exceed twelve months
from the date the child was placed in foster care
to remedy substantially the conditions which led
to or required continuation of the child’s foster
care placement, notwithstanding the reasonable
and appropriate efforts of social, medical,
mental health or other rehabilitative agencies to
such end. Proof that the parent . . . without
good cause, [has] failed or been unable to make
substantial progress towards elimination of the
conditions which led to or required continuation
of the child’s foster care placement in
accordance with [the parent's] obligations under
and within the time limits or goals set forth in
a foster care plan filed with the court
. . . shall constitute prima facie
evidence of this condition.

"’[T]he rights of parents may not be
lightly severed but are to be respected if at all consonant with
the best interests of the child.’" Ward v. Faw, 219
Va. 1120, 1124, 253 S.E.2d 658, 661 (1979) (quoting Malpass v.
Morgan
, 213 Va. 393, 400, 192 S.E.2d 794, 799 (1972)). The
termination of parental rights is a grave, drastic, and
irreversible action. When a court orders termination of parental
rights, the ties between the parent and child are severed forever
and the parent becomes "’a legal stranger to the
child.’" Lowe, 231 Va. at 280, 343 S.E.2d at 72
(quoting Shank v. Department of Soc. Servs., 217 Va. 506,
509, 230 S.E.2d 454, 457 (1976)).

The trial court found that Mary Jackson has
severe mental health problems, including schizophrenia and
dependent personality disorder. The trial court further found
that she failed to follow through with treatment plans and that
even assuming she did comply with the mental health care
providers’ treatment plans, she is unable to adequately provide
for Ruth’s well-being.

Despite the social services provided, Mary
Jackson did not follow through with the recommendations of the
social worker. By her own admission, she suffers from
schizophrenia and has been hospitalized more than twenty times.
She has been unable to consistently follow through with
recommendations and treatment plans provided by mental health
care providers. In 1996, at the request of mental health
personnel at one of the treatment facilities, Mary Jackson was
placed in an adult home, but she fled from the home twice,
stating that she needed her "freedom." Her mental
health problems contribute to her inability to successfully
parent Ruth, and it is unlikely that the problems will abate in
the future given her inability to maintain a treatment program.
Further, she failed to present any evidence that her mental
health condition is improving.

The record indicates that Ruth Jackson is doing
well in foster care where she has been since April 1996. She is
being treated for ADHD and is attending a special needs school.
Ruth’s foster parents actively seek community services to assist
her. She is receiving medical treatment for mood liability,
distractibility, and impulsiveness.

Ruth was in foster care for nearly four years,
while Mary Jackson was unable or unwilling to cooperate with the
agencies seeking to assist her. She has not demonstrated that she
is willing or able to remedy within twelve months the conditions
that led to Ruth being placed in foster care or shown good cause
for her failure or inability to do so. "It is clearly not in
the best interests of a child to spend a lengthy period of time
waiting to find out when, or even if, a parent will be capable of
resuming his responsibilities." Kaywood v. Halifax County
Dep’t of Soc. Servs.
, 10 Va. App. 535, 540, 394 S.E.2d 492,
495 (1990).

The trial court’s finding that the termination
of Mary Jackson’s residual parental rights was in Ruth Jackson’s
best interest and the court’s finding that DSS presented clear
and convincing evidence to meet the requirement of Code
? 16.1-283(C)(2) was supported by the record. Accordingly,
we affirm the decision.

Affirmed.

 

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Pursuant to Code ? 17.1-413, recodifying Code
? 17-116.010, this opinion is not designated for
publication.

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