On September 7, 2011, the Cabinet
for Health and Family Services filed a petition for the involuntary termination
of parental rights against Mother and Father. The Cabinet had filed two
dependency petitions regarding the children, alleging that they were abused or
neglected under KRS 600.020(1). The September 23, 2009, petition alleged that
the children had been left unsupervised without adequate food and that the
parents acknowledged that their substance abuse issues interfered with their
ability to care for the children. In a second dependency petition filed in
February 2010, the Cabinet alleged physical abuse against one of the children
during a supervised parental visit, lack of supervision of the children, and
the parents’ substance abuse issues. After a temporary removal hearing, the
children were placed in the custody of the Cabinet.
Throughout the dependency cases, the
parents were ordered to participate in supervised visitation, remain clean and
sober, comply with court orders, complete a psychological assessment, complete
a substance abuse assessment, and complete parenting classes. These orders were
incorporated into a case plan signed by the parents. The psychological
assessments showed that Mother’s intellectual functioning was in the borderline
range and that she could not care for young children without significant
outside assistance. Mother also acknowledged anxiety, depression and a nerve
disorder. Father’s psychological testing revealed cognitive function in the
extremely low range and recommended parenting education courses.
Mother and Father did not fully
comply with the recommendations in the assessments. Mother tested positive for
alcohol, and Father tested positive for cocaine during random alcohol and drug
screenings. Neither parent provided proof of completion of the ordered
parenting classes or attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
The Family Court found that the
children would continue to be abused or neglected if returned to parental
custody and that termination of parental rights was in their best interest. The
parents’ mental and substance abuse issues made it clear that they would not be
able to provide even minimally acceptable care to the children. The court also
found that the children had been stable since their placement in foster care.
The parents appealed.
In order to terminate a parent’s
rights, Kentucky courts must find by clear and convincing evidence that the
child has been abused or neglected, that termination is in the child’s best
interests and that at least one of the grounds listed in KRS 625.090(2)
exists. The trial court has a great deal
of discretion in the involuntary termination of parental rights. The parents
argued that the Family Court erred in terminating their rights because the
Cabinet did not meet its burden.
Since the parents stipulated to the
abuse and neglect of their children alleged in the two dependency petitions,
there was ample evidence to support the Family Court’s finding that the
children were abused and/or neglected. The termination was in the best interest
of the children because the court considered how the parents’ mental and
cognitive disabilities affected their parenting. The Cabinet also made all reasonable efforts
to reunite the children with their parents before filing the termination
petition. The parents’ continued disregard for court orders and progress of
their children while in the Cabinet’s custody demonstrates that the Cabinet
could not have helped the family reunite. At the time of the termination
hearing, the children had been in the Cabinet’s custody for twenty-four months.
The parents had failed to provide essential food, shelter, clothing and medical
care to the children during that time, thus the children had been abandoned for
more than ninety days as required under Kentucky law. Furthermore, the children
had formed a strong bond with the foster parents and no longer required
The Family Court found that a litany
of grounds justified the termination of parental rights, and that finding was
not clearly erroneous.