We are excited to provide a new opportunity for those passionate about law that pertains to adoption and child welfare: a weekly summary of relevant case law or legislative changes and why these matter for orphan care.
We are casting a wide net in defining which cases are relevant because we believe that orphan care encompasses a broad range of issues. An orphan is a vulnerable child left without adequate familial provision and protection from evil.
There is real evil in the world – evil that will always seek to abuse, neglect, and rob vulnerable children. Orphan-Care Law is that body of law that relates to addressing and alleviating the affliction of these vulnerable children.
C.H. and R.H. v. Franklin County Department of Human Resources, 2130757 and 2130758 (Ala. Civ. App. 2015).
For the professional orphan-care community, this case exemplifies the hard lesson that there are no shortcuts – or at least that shortcuts often have high costs. Like surgeons, orphan-care professionals hold children’s lives in their hands. We must maintain meticulous attention to detail.
For Franklin County DHR, this case should have been a home run. After all, they had previously successfully terminated the parental rights of three of C.H. and R.H.’s other children. Termination of this fourth child’s parental rights should have been a foregone conclusion – right?
Perhaps this is why Franklin County DHR presented an “Amended Petition,” asserting the successful termination of parental rights (TPR) of R.H. and C.H.’s three other children as an additional basis for TPR of the child in this case. Franklin County DHR even went so far as to ask the Juvenile Court to take “judicial notice of everything . . . set out in the [a]mended [p]etition.”
The child in the case at hand was born almost a year prior to the entry of the order terminating the older three children’s parental rights. The child was picked up by DHR at the hospital, and the child continuously remained in foster care. Franklin County DHR’s initial plan for the child was reunification. However, that plan changed to termination of parental rights after the three older children’s parental rights were terminated.
Although § 12-15-319, Code of Alabama, certainly permits the juvenile court to consider termination of a siblings’ parental rights as a factor in a TPR petition, the court must take into account “evidence regarding their current circumstances” regarding “inability or unwillingness” of the biological parent to care for their child. On appeal, C.H. and R.H. argued that the court and DHR failed to do just that – take their present circumstances into account.
The Court of Civil Appeals agreed with C.H. and R.H. and stated that taking current conditions of the biological parents into consideration “is implicit in the requirement that termination of parental rights be based on clear and convincing evidence.” The Court of Civil Appeals builds its case for what was lacking in the record and what evidence should have been presented (which I encourage our professional community to reference on page 11 of the attached opinion). The Court of Civil Appeals’ frustration with the situation, and their unanimous decision, seems to come through in their summary statement: “The entire transcript in this case is 31 pages long and contains very little relevant evidence.”
For the lawyer-folks out there, the holding in the case is as follows: “Given the paucity of evidence DHR presented in support of its petition to terminate the parents’ parental rights to the child, we conclude that the juvenile court erred in determining that DHR had met its burden of presenting clear and convincing evidence that grounds existed warranting the termination of the parents’ parental rights.”
What lessons are here for the orphan-care community? There are no shortcuts to caring for orphans. It should have been a no-brainer to terminate C.H. and R.H.’s parental rights. Meticulous attention to detail matters in both brain surgery and orphan-care law.
Lest you walk away thinking that the Court of Civil Appeals is composed of heartless judges that sit in an ivory tower of books and esoteric words like “paucity,” I will leave you, in closing, with the last sentence of the opinion: “We note, however, that, if the situation warrants and the best interests of the child would be served, DHR may file a new petition to terminate the parents’ parental rights and seek to present evidence demonstrating that termination of parental rights is appropriate.”
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
Read the entire case file here.
Photo by libertygrace0.