Heard April 15, 2015
Appeal From Lee County. Gordon B. Jenkinson, Family Court Judge. Appellate Case No. 2014-000785.
John D. Elliott, of Law Offices of John D. Elliott P.A., of Columbia; and Cody Tarlton Mitchell, of Lucas Warr & White, of Hartsville, for Appellant.
Scarlet Bell Moore, of Greenville, for Respondent.
Edgar R. Donnald, Jr., of Sumter, for the Guardian ad Litem.
[412 S.C. 461] KONDUROS, J.
Sheronda D. Williams (Mother) appeals the family court's order terminating her parental rights to her eight-year-old daughter (Child). On appeal, Mother argues (1) termination of parental rights (TPR) was not in Child's best interest and (2) the permanency plan adopted by the family court does not address Child's needs or interests and should be modified. Because we find TPR is not in Child's best interest, we reverse and remand for a new permanency planning hearing.
In September 2010, Child was placed in emergency protective custody after the Department of Social Services (DSS) received a report alleging Child " had fresh and old bruises on her hip, legs[,] and face." Police officers and DSS determined Mother caused the injuries. After Child was removed, she spoke to a forensic interviewer and disclosed she had been sexually abused. DSS and police officers never determined who perpetrated the sexual abuse.
The family court timely held a merits hearing and determined Mother and her husband, Kelvin, physically neglected Child and her brother and Child was sexually abused by an unknown perpetrator. The family court ordered Mother to undergo a psychological evaluation and follow all recommendations.
Dr. Jessie Michael West, a clinical psychologist, evaluated Mother in February 2011. Dr. West determined Mother had symptoms suggestive of schizophrenia, psycho-affective disorder, or bipolar disorder, and he believed Child " may have a [412 S.C. 462] similar psychiatric disorder [that] would predispose [Mother] to increased anger [and] excessive discipline." Dr. West believed Mother would not be able to parent effectively until her mental conditions were treated. He recommended a psychiatric evaluation and individual counseling for Mother and marital counseling for Mother and Kelvin.
In December 2012, the family court dismissed Kelvin from the action after a paternity test excluded him as the biological father. The family court determined Antwan Boyd (Father) was Child's biological father.
In December 2013, the family court held a TPR hearing. At the hearing, Dr. West testified Child had frequent temper tantrums and needed an adult in the home who could stabilize her. Dr. West opined the combination of Mother's and Child's personalities could create a hostile environment. He believed Child would be a constant stressor on Mother and Mother would need extra support to handle Child's behavior. Dr. West also believed Mother needed medication and counseling to ensure Child's safety.
Demetrius Adams, a DSS caseworker, testified Mother completed parenting classes and a psychological evaluation, obtained stable housing, and completed some counseling. Mother was referred to individual counseling but only attended two sessions and did not complete it. Additionally, Mother did not complete marital counseling. Adams testified Mother visited Child when she could arrange transportation, explaining Mother lived in Bennettsville and Child was placed in West Columbia. She stated Mother was " pretty faithful about visiting [Child] minus a couple of breaks."
Adams admitted Father contacted DSS in 2010, shortly after Child was placed in foster care, indicating he believed he was Child's father. After Father took a paternity test that confirmed he was Child's father, he requested Child be placed with him. Because Father lived in North Carolina, DSS sought a home study through the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC). Father later asked DSS to stop the home study and never asked DSS to resume it.
[412 S.C. 463] At the time of the TPR hearing, Child was placed at Three Rivers Residential Facility because she threatened suicide, behaved defiantly, and could not be managed in a therapeutic foster home. She attended an on-site special education school and a " high intensity after class." Child had lived in nine different placements, including relative placement, foster homes, and another residential facility, and she was in her second residential stay at Three Rivers. Child had directed abuse and other abnormal behaviors toward other children, and Adams believed it would be difficult for Child to be in a home with other children. Adams stated DSS had identified a single female without any children who lived in North Carolina as someone who might be interested in adopting Child. According to Adams, the potential adoptive parent was a ...