FROM JUVENILE COURT ORLEANS PARISH NO. 2016-333-01-TR-A,
SECTION "A" Honorable Ernestine S. Gray, Judge
Katherine M. Dowling Department of Children and Family
Services COUNSEL FOR STATE OF LOUISIANA/APPELLANT
Hill ORLEANS PUBLIC DEFENDERS COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE/D.S.
composed of Judge Terri F. Love, Judge Paula A. Brown, Judge
Dennis R. Bagneris, Sr., Pro Tempore
F. LOVE, JUDGE.
case arises from the trial court's denial of the
Department of Children & Family Services'
("State") petition to terminate parental rights.
The trial court found that termination of the mother's
parental rights was not in the best interest of the child
considering the mother is attending and making progress in
her therapy sessions, the close relationship shared by the
parent and child, and Louisiana's reluctance to terminate
parental rights but in the most extreme circumstances. Based
on the totality of the circumstances presented, we find the
decision to deny termination of parental rights was not
manifest error. Accordingly, the trial court's ruling
denying the State's petition to terminate parental rights
HISTORY AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND
29, 2016, J.S. entered foster care, following allegations
that her mother D.S. physically abused her for which D.S. was
arrested. The State filed a Child in Need of Care petition,
and J.S. was subsequently adjudicated a Child in Need of
Care. Thereafter, the State filed a petition to terminate
parental rights against D.S. based on a 16-year old
conviction in Alaska relating to the abuse of her son.
Meanwhile, D.S. was charged in Orleans Parish Criminal
District Court with respect to the alleged physical abuse of
her daughter J.S. D.S. later pled guilty pursuant to La.
C.Cr.P. art. 894 to one count of domestic abuse battery in
violation of La. R.S. 14:35.3 and was placed on probation. As
a condition of probation, D.S. was required to enroll in and
complete a court approved domestic abuse intervention program
and court approved parenting classes. She complied with the
requirements of her probation and all services ordered by the
Orleans Parish Criminal District Court.
was presented at trial that D.S. also complied with all
services requested by the State and orders of Orleans Parish
Juvenile Court. Additionally, D.S. participated in programs
offered through the Salvation Army, including "Tokens of
Hope, " a service that provides ongoing case management
services for her and J.S.
trial, D.S. acknowledged her prior conviction involving her
son as well as her conviction relating to the abuse of J.S.
With respect to the incident involving J.S., D.S. testified
that she was angry at the person she was living with at the
time, who had accused her of "sleeping around."
D.S. stated that she took her anger out on J.S. by slapping
her. She further testified that she has learned better ways
to manage her anger and stress. She stated that when she
begins to feel angry or stressed she can take a walk outside,
confide in friends, and utilize the resources, services, and
programs offered through her current support system.
Julie Larrieu ("Dr. Larrieu"), a Professor of
Psychiatry in Behavior Sciences at Tulane University School
of Medicine and member of the Tulane Parenting Education
Program (T-PEP), testified as an expert in clinical
psychology with an emphasis in parent-child relationships and
infant mental health. Based on her evaluation of D.S., over
the course of treatment, Dr. Larrieu testified that D.S. has
difficulty opening up and trusting people. Dr. Larrieu opined
that at the time of the trial, she did not believe D.S. could
safely parent J.S. She testified that D.S. had only made
"minimal clinical progress" over the course of 30
sessions. She explained that in order for D.S. to progress to
the second stage of treatment, she must acknowledge and take
responsibility for what happened to J.S. and understand what
she needs to do differently to keep herself and her daughter
Larrieu opined that because it could take years to
rehabilitate, D.S. would be unable to make the progress
needed to safely parent in a "timeframe sensitive for
[J.S.]" Nevertheless, Dr. Larrieu admitted certain
factors at the outset of her treatment slowed her progress.
Dr. Larrieu acknowledged that D.S. explained that she was
instructed initially not to discuss the allegations involving
J.S. because criminal charges were pending at the time. Dr.
Larrieu conceded, however, that when the criminal matter was
resolved, D.S. had become more forthcoming as trust was
built. Although in her opinion D.S. could not assess whether
someone was safe or not, Dr. Larrieu further acknowledged
that D.S. raised the issue voluntarily after she was offered
assistance and support, on two separate occasions, from men
she did not know well. Dr. Larrieu admitted that the
discussion arose during therapy sessions and that afterwards
D.S. did not accept assistance or make any arrangements with
Larrieu testified that depending on the parent's own
trauma history, on average, it takes 35-50 sessions for a
parent to "make real sustain[ed] behavior changes so
that [misconduct] does not happen again." Dr. Larrieu
indicated that D.S. had excellent attendance. At the time of
the trial, D.S. had attended 30 sessions, and she and her
daughter had been observed four times together. She expressed
concern that because J.S. thinks she has to take
psychological and emotional responsibility, she will be
unable to develop her own identity and sense of self. Dr.
Larrieu testified that it was apparent from observations
together that J.S. and D.S. "really love each
Casby ("Ms. Casby"), a foster care social worker
employed by DCFS, testified that J.S. has expressed a desire
to live with her mother. Similarly, Sharon Alexis ("Ms.
Alexis"), the Shelter Manager at The Salvation Army and
"Tokens of Hope" program coordinator, testified as
to her interactions with D.S. She stated that Tokens of Hope
is an intensive case management program that aids homeless
men and women to break the cycle of homelessness by assessing
their needs and providing access to helpful resources. Ms.
Alexis testified that D.S. is an ...