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 counseling.
The Family Court found that a litany of grounds justified the termination of parental rights, and that finding was not clearly erroneous.