In recent rulings, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals has overturned the termination of one’s parental rights (TPR) if an adoptive placement has not been identified. T.W. v. Calhoun Cnty. Dep’t Hum. Res., [Ms. CL-2022-0694, June 2, 2023] ___ So. 3d ___, ___ (Ala. Civ. App. 2023). However, in R.A. v. Madison County Department of Human Resources, the Court reverses course in upholding a lower court’s TPR ruling despite there being no adoptive resource.
The Court relies on the well settled standard from Ex parte Beasley as a two-prong test for determining TPR: “(1) clear and convincing evidence must support a finding that the child is dependent; and (2) the court must properly consider and reject all viable alternatives to a termination of parental rights.” Ex parte Beasley, 564 So. 2d 950, 954 (Ala. 1990). The lower court made a compelling case that TPR was justified by the two-prong test.
The mother in this case is R.A., who had three children that were in the care of the Madison County Department of Human Resources. R.A. had twelve-year-old twins (L.A. and O.A.) that suffer from autism, cerebral palsy, and multiple sclerosis. They are almost completely nonverbal and require supervision twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. The youngest child, Q.A., is around eight years old and is cognitively normal. The twins live in a group-home setting with care to support their needs, and Q.A. is in foster care.
R.A. repeatedly missed drug tests and tested positive for cocaine and methadone. The opinion goes on for several pages describing the mother’s inability to consistently remain drug-free. The court states that “. . . the mother’s failure to address her use of controlled substances was a sufficient basis for the juvenile court to conclude that the mother could not properly parent or supervise the children, including the twins, whose special needs required constant care and supervision, which the mother had never provided for the twins.” It should also be noted that the mother established a pattern of beginning drug treatment programs and then quitting before completion.
As the previous trend of the court might direct, since there was no likely candidate to adopt the twins because of their intense health needs, TPR would be overturned. T.W. set that precedent. The Court felt the need to explain their departure. In T.W. the child in focus was unlikely to achieve permanency because of intense special-needs. “DHR presented no evidence indicating that [T.W.] had acted in any disruptive, antagonistic, or any other manner that makes the continuation of [the existing foster-care] arrangement untenable.” Because of that, the Court did not uphold the termination of T.W.’s parental rights.
In this case, the Court reversed course. The mother has proven time and again her refusal to work appropriately with the caretakers of her twins and that an ongoing relationship would not be in their best interest. “[T]he mother had alienated the staff at the group home in which the twins resided. Her belligerent attitude had, in fact, alienated other service providers . . .” The Court quotes from the juvenile court that “ ‘we’re running out of people that were willing and able’ to transport and supervise visitation . . . ‘at this point, if she keeps burning these bridges, there’s nothing [the juvenile court] can do to keep visitation going.’ ” They conclude that “. . . the situation in the present case – specifically, the mother’s conduct – prevents the maintenance of the status quo from serving as a viable alternative to termination of the mother’s parental rights.”
The Court handed down this opinion clarifying that there doesn’t always have to be a viable alternative for TPR to commence. In rare situations, like this one which has children with very intense health needs, TPR can still be a best option for the kids. R.A. demonstrated an inability or lack of willingness to stay off of drugs and work well with the transporters from the group home. Her hostility and drug use make her an unsafe and unstable person in the lives of her children. Because of this, it was in the best interest of the children to have R.A.’s parental rights terminated.