Petition to Terminate Parental Rights Dismissed for Lack of Abuse or Neglect, Reasonable Efforts to Reunite the Family, and Due Process – Published Opinion from Ky. Court of Appeals

K.D.H. v. Com., Cabinet for Health & Fam. Servs.

Spencer Circuit Court

After the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (“the Cabinet”) petitioned to terminate Mother’s parental rights, Family Court held a hearing, ultimately terminating Mother’s parental rights. Mother appealed.

The Court of Appeals held that there was no clear and convincing evidence that the children were abused or neglected. The petition was based on a single incident of the children being exposed to drug use in a shed occupied by Maternal Grandmother in which Mother was allegedly involved. There was no evidence that Mother failed to attend to the children’s need or subjected them to abuse. Although she stipulated to neglect based on initial positive drug screens, she submitted to more than 50 drug screens throughout the matter, almost all of which were negative. Furthermore, an assessment from Centerstone stated that she did not meet the criteria for substance use diagnosis or treatment.

The Court of Appeals also held that the Cabinet failed to provide reasonable efforts to reunite the family. Her case plan requirements did not allow Mother to have any reasonable prospect of satisfactory completion given her circumstances. Mother was determined to be indigent, then was required to refrain from using illegal substances, call for drug screen protocol outside her home county at her expense, attend supervised visitation at $50 per visit, participate in substance misuse and mental health assessments, complete a parenting class, obtain stability by having appropriate employment, housing, and transportation, and pay child support based upon imputed income. Mother made significant efforts, including submitting to more than 50 drug screens at a total cost to her of $1,675.00; completing the required assessments at Centerstone; paying, as she was able due to indigency and unemployment, child support and providing clothes and gifts for the children at the supervised visitations; paying $50 per supervised visit to exercise her limited opportunity to visit her children at a facility located outside her home county; ensuring that Maternal Grandmother, whom the Cabinet identified as the source of Mother’s drug problem, no longer resided at the home and eliminating all contact with Maternal Grandmother; and attempting to obtain a driver’s license. The actions did not evince a settled purpose to forego all parental duties and relinquish all parental claims to the children. Mother made reasonable efforts to reunify her family, but the case plan put unreasonable obstacles in her way.

Finally, the Court of Appeals held that Mother was deprived of due process where Family Court could not hear or understand her in a Zoom hearing. The Court of Appeals reversed Family Court’s judgment terminating Mother’s parental rights with instructions to dismiss the Cabinet’s petition.

Digested by Nathan R. Hardymon

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