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A. A. v. Jefferson County Department of Human Resources

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

August 24, 2018

A.A.
v.
Jefferson County Department of Human Resources

          Appeal from Jefferson Juvenile Court (JU-16-119.02)

          MOORE, JUDGE.

         A.A. ("the mother") appeals from a judgment entered by the Jefferson Juvenile Court ("the juvenile court") terminating the mother's parental rights to D.A. ("the child"). We reverse the juvenile court's judgment.

         Facts and Procedural History

         On May 2, 2017, the Jefferson County Department of Human Resources ("DHR") filed a petition requesting that the juvenile court terminate the mother's parental rights to the child.[1] After a trial, the juvenile court entered a judgment on February 22, 2018, terminating the mother's parental rights to the child. On February 28, 2018, the mother filed a postjudgment motion; that motion was denied on March 1, 2018. On March 7, 2018, the mother filed her notice of appeal.

         Facts

         LaShonda Spencer, a former social-service case manager for DHR, testified that the child, whose date of birth is December 8, 2009, entered foster care in January 2016, after the mother tested positive for cocaine during her pregnancy with the child's younger half sibling, K.T.[2] Spencer testified that, at the shelter-care hearing, the mother had stipulated to the child's dependency because of the mother's drug use.

         Spencer testified that, at the time the child entered foster care, there was a warrant for the mother's arrest based on a charge of possession of marijuana in the first degree. The mother testified that that charge had originated in 2009 and that, as a result of that charge, she had submitted to drug treatment, but she had not completed the treatment. An order entered into evidence indicates that, on July 21, 2016, the mother was "revoked from the 'CLEAN' program,' [was] adjudged guilty of Possession of Marijuana First Degree," and was "sentenced to 24 months" but that her "sentence [was] suspended and she [was] placed on 2 years of supervised probation [conditioned on] payment of court costs, probation supervision fees and drug screens."

         According to Spencer, the mother was to submit to color-code drug testing, to submit to a substance-abuse assessment, to obtain and maintain suitable employment and housing, and to complete a parenting program. Spencer testified that the mother had completed both a substance-abuse assessment and a parenting course but that she had not maintained consistent employment and housing or consistently tested on color code. Spencer testified that the mother had complied with a referral for individual counseling. She also testified that the mother had completed drug treatment at Alethia House in March 2016. The mother testified that Alethia House is an outpatient drug-treatment program.

         The mother testified that she had been evicted from her government housing in December 2016 after it was reported that her children were no longer living with her. She testified that she had lived with friends from December 2016 until July 2017 and that she had worked at a Burger King fast-food restaurant for some time leading up to July 2017.

         According to Spencer, the mother had determined that she needed additional help after completing treatment at Alethia House, so the mother had enrolled in the Lovelady Center. The mother testified that she began the program at the Lovelady Center on July 8, 2017. Spencer testified that the mother had received both individual counseling and drug treatment through the Lovelady Center. According to the mother, she had worked in the Lovelady Center's thrift shop during her time there, but, she said, she had not been paid for working there. The mother admitted that she had been "kicked out" of the Lovelady Center in late November 2017 because of allegations that she is "gay." Scarlett Holt, the foster-care supervisor at DHR who had supervised the social workers assigned to the mother's case, testified that, in December 2017, a representative from the Lovelady Center had informed her that the mother had been discharged from their program as a result of a rule violation.

         The mother testified that she had enrolled in the Expect a Miracle Recovery Program on December 1, 2017. According to the mother, that program involves living at the program's rehabilitation facility and receiving counseling; she testified that the program is "[m]ore like a transition home." She testified that, in the almost one-month period leading up to the February 2018 trial, she had been employed at Adesa, an automobile-auction business. The mother testified that, at the time of the trial, she was enrolled in the "Dannon Project," and, she said, once she produces two months of clean drug screens, she will be entitled to a voucher from the Dannon Project to obtain an apartment or a house.

         Spencer testified that the mother had attended every visit with the child. She testified that the mother had not provided money for the child but that she had provided gifts, clothing, and food. Holt testified she was not aware of the mother's having provided any monetary support for the child from September 2017 (when Spencer was no longer assigned the case) through January 2018. The mother admitted that, at the time of the trial, there was a fraud case pending against her for having continued to receive food stamps for the children even though they were not in her custody.

         Lucretia Dixon-Carter, the mother's social worker in the three weeks preceding the trial, testified that the records from the color-code program indicate that the mother had tested only two times in December 2017, had not tested at all in January 2018, and had tested only once so far in February 2018. The drug-screen results from the color-code program were admitted into evidence. A letter from the manager of the color-code program that was introduced into evidence indicates that the mother's color had been called four times in December 2017 and January 2018 and had been called once so far in February 2018. The drug screens to which the mother had submitted in December 2017 and February 2018 were negative for drugs. In fact, the mother's last positive result had been on July 6, 2017.

         The mother testified that she had been tested for drugs through her probation and that she had never tested positive. She also testified that she is required to test for drugs weekly as part of the Expect a Miracle program and that she had also been tested for drugs at the Lovelady Center. The mother testified that she had missed drug screens for the color-code program because of transportation issues, work, or sickness. The mother testified that she had not used cocaine regularly but that "pain killers" had been her drug of choice. When asked if she was still struggling with drugs, the mother responded: "No, sir, not so much." She further testified that she was "dealing" with her drug problem.

         Standard ...


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