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In re Adoption/Guardianship of Jasmine D.

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

June 30, 2014

IN RE: ADOPTION/GUARDIANSHIP OF JASMINE D

Page 838

Appeal from the Circuit Court for Howard County, William V. Tucker, Judge.

Submitted by: Tamara D. Sanders (Paul B. DeWolfe, Public Defender on the brief) all of Baltimore MD. for Appellant.

Submitted by: Hilma J. Munson (Leslie Ridgway, Douglas F. Gansler, Attorney General on the brief of Baltimore, MD) Constance J. Ridgway (Darlene Wakefield, Law Offices of Darlene A. Wakefield on the brief all of Columbia, MD.) for Appellee.

Panel: Meredith, Woodward, Sharer, J. Frederick (Retired, Specially Assigned), JJ. Opinion by Woodward, J.

OPINION

Page 839

[217 Md.App. 720] Woodward, J.

On September 5, 2002 Jasmine D. (" Jasmine" ) was born to appellant, Stephanie N. (" Ms. N." ) and an unknown father. Jasmine was three years old when she first entered foster care, and has spent over five of her eleven years of life in foster care as a result of Ms. N.'s alcoholism. Jasmine's most recent placement in foster care began on November 4, 2009, and continues to the present. On December 2, 2009, Jasmine was adjudicated a Child in Need of Assistance (" CINA" ) in the Circuit Court for Howard County, sitting as a juvenile court, and she was placed in the care and custody of appellee, the Howard County Department of Social Services (the " Department" ).

When its efforts toward reunification with Ms. N. failed, the Department filed a Termination of Parental Rights (" TPR" ) petition in the juvenile court on March 18, 2013. After a trial [217 Md.App. 721] held on August 28 and 29, 2013, the juvenile court found that Ms. N. was an unfit parent and that termination of parental rights would be in Jasmine's best interests, and thus issued an order terminating Ms. N.'s parental rights.

Ms. N. appealed and presents one question for our review: Did the trial court err in terminating [Ms. N.'s] parental rights? We answer this question in the negative and accordingly affirm the judgment of the juvenile court.

BACKGROUND

Jasmine was first placed in foster care in February 2006 after Ms. N. was found to be intoxicated and unable to care for Jasmine. In July 2006, Jasmine was returned to Ms. N.'s care, but was then removed from October 2006 until January 2007 when Ms. N. " relapsed on alcohol." From February to May 2008, Jasmine was placed in foster care for a third time, again due to Ms. N.'s problems with alcohol. Her most recent removal from Ms. N.'s custody began on November 4, 2009.

On the morning of November 4, 2009, Mr. L., Ms. N.'s live-in boyfriend, arrived at Jasmine's elementary school to discuss an incident that had occurred previously between Jasmine and another child. Because Mr. L. was not Jasmine's parent, the school would not speak with him about Jasmine. Mr. L.'s visit, however, prompted the school principal, Nancy Thompson, to review Jasmine's enrollment folder, where she discovered that Ms. N. had not provided all of the necessary documents for Jasmine when she was enrolled. School personnel then called Ms. N. to ask for the missing documents. Ms. N. responded to the phone call by yelling that

Page 840

she did not want Jasmine to be taken away from her.

Sometime after the phone call, Ms. N. arrived at Jasmine's elementary school and demanded to remove Jasmine from her class, reiterating Mr. L.'s complaint about the school's handling of the issue between Jasmine and another student. Ms. N. was intoxicated, and Thompson noted that the odor of alcohol coming from Ms. N. was " overwhelming." She also had visible injuries on her face that Ms. N. admitted were the [217 Md.App. 722] result of a domestic dispute with Mr. L. that had occurred earlier that day. Ms. N.'s intoxication and her injuries prompted school personnel to call the police.

When the police arrived, the officers indicated that they had responded to another domestic violence issue at Ms. N.'s home the previous weekend. Bobby Feher, a Child Protective Services Investigator, also arrived at the school with her supervisor. Feher observed that Ms. N. " clearly smelled of alcohol," had mud on her jacket, had a bruise and laceration on her face, and was " emotionally augmented throughout the contact with her and her emotions vacillated from crying hysterically, to being belligerent with the officers by calling them ass holes . . . [and calling] my supervisor a bitch." Ms. N. denied drinking alcohol, but admitted that she had taken oxycontin or oxycodone that day for a dental issue. She refused a breathalyzer when offered.

Feher told Ms. N. that Ms. N.'s behavior raised concerns about Jasmine's safety, and asked if Ms N. could help devise an alternative plan for Jasmine's care. Ms. N. " became extremely belligerent" at that point, and refused to enter into a safety plan. Because Ms. N. refused to create a safety plan, Feher removed Jasmine from Ms. N.'s care that day, placed the child in a foster home, and filed a shelter care petition.

A shelter care hearing took place the following day. Prior to the hearing, Ms. N. called Feher stating that she could not attend the hearing because she had to go to work. She told Feher that she wanted her daughter back, and admitted to consuming alcohol the previous day. Ms. N., however, was seen near Jasmine's school at the time of the shelter care hearing, when she had told Feher that she would be at work. At the conclusion of the hearing, the juvenile court ordered that Jasmine remain in foster care.

On November 16, 2009, Feher visited Ms. N.'s home for a prescheduled visit. She found nothing of concern about the home environment, but noted that Ms. N. again admitted that she had been drinking on the day Jasmine was removed from Ms. N.'s care, and admitted that she had continued to use [217 Md.App. 723] alcohol and live with Mr. L. Ms N. also stated that she had initiated alcohol services in the past, but made excuses for not successfully completing them. Feher offered the Department's services with regard to a substance abuse assessment and toxicology screen, but Ms. N. refused Feher's help.

Around the time of the shelter care hearing, Ms. N. called the Department stating that she did not want to have visitation with Jasmine because she was embarrassed by the injuries inflicted on her by Mr. L. and did not want Jasmine to see her. On November 19, 2009, Ms. N. called the Department to say that she was still not comfortable visiting Jasmine, noting that Mr. L. was " giving her a hard time." By this time, Ms. N. had already canceled multiple visits with Jasmine. She left additional messages with the Department the following two days, the first day stating that she loved Jasmine but wanted to give her up for adoption because she was tired of fighting, but the second day asserting that Feher " was not going to be specifying

Page 841

anything about her daughter, [and] that she [was] going to sue the County." Feher believed Ms. N. had been drinking on the second day.

On December 2, 2009, a master recommended that Jasmine be adjudicated CINA and placed in the care and custody of the Department. The juvenile court accepted the master's recommendations and also ordered Ms. N. to complete a substance abuse assessment, a domestic violence assessment, and a mental health assessment, and to participate in recommended treatment.

After the CINA adjudication, on January 11, 2010, Ms. N. began meeting with a psychiatrist, Dr. Daniel D. Storch. On February 24, 2010, Dr. Storch was called to the Howard County General Hospital after Ms. N. threatened to commit suicide. Dr. Storch learned that Ms. N. had a blood alcohol level of .329 and had tested positive for marijuana.

On February 25, 2010, Cheryl Lawson-Anderson, Ms. N.'s social worker at the Department, called Dr. Storch to inform him that she had received at least five to six voicemails from Ms. N. saying that she was going to commit suicide. Dr. [217 Md.App. 724] Storch met with Ms. N. later that day, and she explained that she had been having a bad week, but that she " got [her] medicine [and] feel[s] 80% better." Ms. N. stated that she had called the school in addition to Lawson-Anderson to say that she missed her daughter and admitted that she " might have said" she was going to hurt herself. Ms. N. told Dr. Storch that she would not hurt herself, however, and that she would go to counseling and start back in Alcoholics Anonymous (" AA" ).

Dr. Storch completed a psychiatric evaluation for Ms. N. based on their two meetings on January 11 and February 25, 2010, and diagnosed her with mood disorder and alcohol dependence. Dr. Storch recommended that Ms. N. continue substance abuse treatment and domestic violence counseling, that she attend ninety AA meetings in ninety days, and that she receive psychiatric treatment.

On March 2, 2010, Ms. N. entered into a service agreement with the Department, and agreed to maintain contact with Jasmine, complete a psychiatric evaluation, submit to a drug and alcohol evaluation, submit to a domestic violence assessment, provide Jasmine financial support, and provide proof of employment. The Department agreed to arrange regular visits between Jasmine and Ms. N., and to refer Ms. N. to appropriate resources and supportive services. Ms. N. completed the drug and alcohol evaluation, the domestic violence assessment, and had previously completed the psychiatric evaluation through Dr. Storch.

On January 5, 2011, Ms. N. and the Department entered into a second service agreement to ensure that Ms. N. was continuing in therapy and complying with Department recommendations. Ms. N. agreed to continue treatment for alcohol abuse, submit to random drug and alcohol testing, attend domestic violence counseling, and continue to see her psychiatrist and follow all treatment recommendations including participating in AA meetings.

Ms. N. partially complied with the requirements of the second service agreement. She met with her therapist, Lana [217 Md.App. 725] Fink, a clinical social worker at the Howard County Health Department, but missed many of the appointments. Between July 2010 and October 2012, Scott Alpert, a licensed clinical professional counselor and certified chemical dependency counselor, conducted random drug screening for Ms. N. Ms. N. had nine positive tests for alcohol and refused to take a random test approximately thirty

Page 842

times.[1] Alpert had to temporarily suspend services four times due to her refusal to submit to drug testing.

Ms. N. participated in some AA meetings, but complained that the meetings depressed her and made her want to drink. She attended domestic violence classes, but continued her relationship with Mr. L. The Department arranged for Ms. N. to enter inpatient treatment for alcohol dependence four times, but Ms. N. refused each offer, stating that she did not drink. The service agreement also allowed Ms. N. to have ...


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