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Aleise H. v. Department of Child Safety

Court of Appeals of Arizona, First Division

November 8, 2018

ALEISE H., Appellant,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF CHILD SAFETY, A.W., J.H., M.H., Appellees.

          Appeal from the Superior Court in Maricopa County No. JD31087 The Honorable Jo Lynn Gentry, Judge

          Maricopa County Public Advocate's Office, Mesa By Suzanne Sanchez Counsel for Appellant

          Arizona Attorney General's Office, Tucson By Autumn Spritzer Counsel for Appellee Department of Child Safety

          Chief Judge Samuel A. Thumma delivered the Opinion of the Court, in which Acting Presiding Judge Maria Elena Cruz and Judge Randall M. Howe joined.

          OPINION

          THUMMA, CHIEF JUDGE

         ¶1 Aleise H. (Mother) challenges the superior court's order terminating her parental rights to her biological children A.W., J.H. and M.H. Mother argues the court improperly found termination was in the children's best interests and failed to make adequate findings. Because Mother has shown no reversible error, the order is affirmed.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2 In August 2015, the Department of Child Safety (DCS) took A.W. (born in 2006), J.H. (born in 2014) and M.H. (born in 2015) into care. At that time, Mother and the children lived with Harry H., the father of J.H. and M.H.;[1] Mother and Harry H. had a history of domestic violence. As to Mother, DCS' dependency petition alleged neglect and that she was unwilling or unable to provide proper and effective parental care and control. The court found the children dependent as to Mother in October 2015 and adopted a case plan of family reunification, with a concurrent case plan of severance and adoption for J.H. and M.H.

         ¶3 For a time, Mother engaged in services and was described as making progress. As a DCS case manager reported, however, in August 2017 Mother said she was going to Oregon "for a family death, or something like that. And she ended up not coming back." Ultimately, Mother returned to Arizona in December 2017, went back to Oregon after a week or two and then returned to Arizona in early 2018. While in Oregon, Mother had "minimal" contact with DCS and the children. As a result, the court changed the case plan to severance and adoption. DCS' motion sought termination based on abandonment, mental deficiency and 15-months' time-in-care, also alleging that termination was in the best interests of the children. See Ariz. Rev. Stat. (A.R.S.) § 8-533(B)(1), (3), (8)(c) (2018).[2]

         ¶4 Although Mother appeared at the initial termination hearing, she did not attend trial, which proceeded in her absence. The court heard testimony from a DCS case manager and a DCS case specialist and received exhibits. As relevant here, the case manager testified that termination was in the children's best interests, adding that termination and adoption by the current placement, a maternal aunt, would provide the children permanency and stability. The case specialist testified that the younger children had been with the placement their entire lives, the placement was meeting the children's needs and termination would provide needed stability. This same witness testified the children would suffer if parental rights were not terminated: "[t]hey would continue to be in a place where permanency was still not set for them. . . [T]hey wouldn't know where they're going to be for the rest of their lives." The evidence also showed the children were adoptable even if the current placement was unable to adopt.

         ¶5 In granting the motion, the court found DCS had shown by clear and convincing evidence the three statutory grounds alleged. The court then found DCS proved by a preponderance of the evidence that termination was in the best interests of the children. The court noted that "all three children are placed together in a prospective adoptive home. This home has demonstrated its willingness and ability to meet all of the needs of the children. Adoption will provide each of these children with the permanence and stability that they otherwise lack." Noting the children had been in care for nearly three years, the court added that "the children will continue languishing in foster care for an indefinite period of time" absent termination. The court also found the children were adoptable.

         ¶6 In written findings of fact and conclusions of law, the court echoed these findings. As to best interests, the court found termination

would provide the children with permanency and stability. The children are residing in an adoptive placement which is meeting all of their needs. The children are considered adoptable and another adoptive placement could be located should the current placement be unable to adopt. Continuation of the parent-child relationship would be a detriment to the children because it would delay permanency, leaving the children to linger in care for an indeterminate period since the children do not have parents who are able to care for them.

         This court has jurisdiction over Mother's timely appeal pursuant to Article 6, Section 9, of the Arizona Constitution, A.R.S. §§ 8-235(A), ...


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