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Out-of-State Services Counted in Mother’s Case

Deborah Elkins//May 16, 2016

Out-of-State Services Counted in Mother’s Case

Deborah Elkins//May 16, 2016

The Court of Appeals affirms termi­nation of a mother’s residual parental rights; a Virginia circuit court could con­sider the history of rehabilitative support services provided to mother in Tennessee after her 3-year-old daughter was placed in foster care there in 2005, in deciding to terminate mother’s residual parental rights in 2014.

The child was removed from moth­er’s custody in 2005 when she was three years old and living in Bristol, Tennessee. A Tennessee court granted permanent custody to the child’s great aunt and un­cle in 2010. In 2013, she was removed to another foster family, as her elderly great-aunt suffered from dementia and her relatives could no longer care for her. She lives with a foster family that wishes to adopt her.

The mother argues that when the Vir­ginia social services workers became in­volved in the case, the child was in the custody of the elderly relatives. She ar­gues the child was placed in foster care at that time because the relatives were unable to care for her. According to appel­lant, she was not personally responsible for any serious or substantial threat to the child because her abuse or neglect preceded the placement with the elder­ly relatives. She asserts that the facts leading to the child’s recent removal have nothing to do with her ability to parent. We disagree.

Original placement

The mother ignores the fact that the child was in the custody of the elderly rel­atives due to an order from the Tennessee court that specifically found the mother was unable to provide for the day-to-day medical, educational, physical and emo­tional needs of the child and there was no evidence that her home would ever be a safe place for the child to return. At the time of the termination hearing in the Washington County Circuit Court in 2014, that condition had not changed.

Further, Va. Code § 16.1-283(B)(2) spe­cifically allows the trial court to consid­er the larger history of “efforts made to rehabilitate” the mother. The statutory language includes efforts made by any agencies. It is not limited to the petition­ing agency or even to agencies within Vir­ginia. And the agency was not required to provide services to the mother in or­der for the court to terminate her paren­tal rights under Code § 16.2-283(B). The statute merely requires the court to take into consideration the efforts made to rehabilitate the parent by any public or private social, medical, mental health or other rehabilitative agencies prior to the child’s initial placement in foster care.

Despite years of receiving on-going ser­vices in Tennessee, the mother was un­able to correct the conditions that left the child at risk of abuse or neglect. The trial court was not limited to considering only those services provided in Virginia.

The child, who was 13 years old at the time of the hearing, acknowledged that she loved her mother but would not feel comfortable spending the night at hermother’s residence and she wanted to be adopted by the “right family,” which she identified as her foster family. Under Code § 20-124.3(8), the child was entitled to have the court consider her reasonable preference as it determined her best in­terests. Considering her age, the length of time she resided in a DSS placement and the mother’s failure to remedy the condi­tions that caused her placement in foster care in 2005, the trial court did not err in finding that it was in the child’s best inter­ests to terminate the mother’s residual pa­rental rights and approve foster care with the goal of adoption.

Judgment affirmed.

Eaton v. Washington County Dep’t of Social Services (O’Brien) No. 1271-15-3, May 10, 2016; Washington County Cir. Ct. (Lowe) Jordan C. Pennington for ap­pellant; James R. Hodges; L. Dudley Senter III, GAL. VLW 016-7-131, 14 pp.

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