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Jennifer S. v. Department of Child Safety

Court of Appeals of Arizona, First Division

August 9, 2016

JENNIFER S., Appellant

         Appeal from the Superior Court in Maricopa County No. JD527006 The Honorable Karen L. O’Connor, Judge

          Law Office of Holly A. Bartee, Chandler By Holly A. Bartee Counsel for Appellant

          Arizona Attorney General’s Office, Mesa By Nicholas Chapman-Hushek Counsel for Appellee Department of Child Safety

          Judge Lawrence F. Winthrop delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Presiding Judge Peter B. Swann and Judge Donn Kessler joined.


          WINTHROP, Judge:

         ¶1 Jennifer S. ("Mother") appeals the juvenile court's order terminating her parental rights to Z.S. ("the child").[1] Mother challenges the statutory bases found by the juvenile court in terminating her parental rights, including the court's determination that her history of chronic substance abuse rendered her unable to discharge parental responsibilities and that reasonable grounds existed to believe the condition would continue for a prolonged indeterminate period. Relying in part on this court's previous opinion in Raymond F. v. Arizona Department of Economic Security, 224 Ariz. 373, 231 P.3d 377 (App. 2010), we conclude the juvenile court properly considered whether evidence of Mother's sobriety in the months immediately preceding the severance hearing was outweighed by Mother's significant substance abuse history, relapse history, and failure to engage in services for more than a year after the dependency petition was filed. Because reasonable evidence supports the juvenile court's determination, we affirm.


         ¶2 Mother, the biological mother of the child, has a long history of substance abuse - including methamphetamine, cocaine, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), alcohol, and other substances - which began approximately twenty-five years ago, when she was fourteen years old. While on probation[3] between 2010 and 2012, she twice finished drug treatment and, except for "a couple of slip ups, " achieved a total of approximately one year of sobriety through the help of TERROS, but then relapsed using methamphetamine. She used methamphetamine throughout her pregnancy in 2012 and 2013, even though she knew of potential "developmental issues" resulting from the drug abuse, and declined prenatal care.

         ¶3When the child was born in June 2013, both Mother and the child tested positive for methamphetamine. The child was premature and significantly underweight, but was eventually sent home with a safety monitor to live with Mother, who was unemployed and lived in a one-bedroom apartment with a friend ("Michael"), who also had a history of substance abuse.[4]

         ¶4While the child was with Mother, the Department of Child Safety ("DCS")[5] made clear Mother was to remain sober and offered her services-including drug testing through TASC, substance abuse treatment through TERROS, and parenting services through Healthy Families Arizona and Family Preservation. Mother, however, did not fully comply with the services. She failed to engage in substance-abuse treatment through TERROS; moreover, she twice failed to show up at TASC for urinalysis testing and failed to test on five other occasions before submitting to a hair follicle test and oral swab, both of which came back positive for methamphetamine on August 23, 2013. She failed to show up for testing at least two more times, and then, on September 3, tested positive for methamphetamine. Nevertheless, she denied using illegal drugs. DCS then removed the child from Mother's care and placed the child in the temporary care of a licensed foster placement.

         ¶5 In September 2013, DCS filed a dependency petition alleging the child was dependent based on Mother's substance abuse and neglect. Mother denied the allegations in the petition but submitted the dependency issue to the juvenile court, which found the child dependent as to Mother in October 2013.

         ¶6The court approved a case plan of family reunification concurrent with an alternative plan of severance and adoption. The court ordered DCS to provide, and Mother to participate in, services through TASC and TERROS, as well as parent aide services and a psychological consultation contingent on her sobriety.

         ¶7 Over the next year, Mother generally engaged in the services provided by DCS, but her continued problems with methamphetamine affected her success. For example, between February and September 2014, Mother engaged in parent aide services, and Mother's parent aide sought to assist her in securing stable housing and employment. Mother's parent aide service referral closed unsuccessfully, however, because Mother had not achieved transitional or unsupervised visitation with the child because of her ongoing substance abuse. Also, Mother's scheduled August 2014 psychological evaluation was postponed due to a lack of sobriety.

         ¶8 Because Mother's prior service referral with TERROS had closed due to her lack of compliance, she engaged in substance-abuse treatment through Valle Del Sol for approximately four months before transferring back to TERROS in January 2014. At the intake assessment with TERROS, the assessor concluded Mother was at "medium" risk of relapse, in part because Mother believed she could continue to associate with other illegal-drug users without negatively affecting her ability to maintain sobriety.[6] Between late January and early August 2014-despite Mother's expressed confidence in her ability to maintain sobriety ...

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