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In re Parental Rights as to R.T.

Supreme Court of Nevada

June 29, 2017

IN THE MATTER OF THE PARENTAL RIGHTS AS TO R.T., K.G.-T., N.H.-T. AND E.H.-T., MINOR CHILDREN.
v.
WASHOE COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES, Respondent. JACQUELINE G., Appellant,

         Appeal from a district court order terminating appellant's parental rights. Second Judicial District Court, Washoe County; Egan K. Walker, Judge.

          Jeremy T. Bosler, Public Defender, and John Reese Petty, Chief Deputy Public Defender, Washoe County, for Appellant.

          Christopher J. Hicks, District Attorney, and Tyler M. Elcano, Deputy District Attorney, Washoe County, for Respondent.

          BEFORE HARDESTY, PARRAGUIRRE and STIGLICH, JJ.

          OPINION

          PARRAGUIRRE, J.

         In this case, we are asked to determine whether one's parental rights may be terminated due to poverty and, if not, whether the district court's termination order was improperly based on the appellant's poverty. We take this opportunity to clarify that poverty is not, and has never been, a valid basis for terminating one's parental rights. Additionally, we hold the district court's termination order was not predicated on the appellant's poverty and is supported by substantial evidence. Therefore, we affirm the district court's order.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Appellant Jacqueline G. is a 26-year-old mother of four children: R.T., K.G.-T., N.H.-T., and E.H.-T. From October 2012 to April 2013, respondent Washoe County Department of Social Services (WCDSS) received several reports indicating Jacqueline did not have adequate housing for her children. WCDSS discovered that Jacqueline had changed residences several times, had been evicted from her most recent residence, and had exhausted all local resources for housing. As a result, R.T., K.G.-T., and N.H.-T. were removed from Jacqueline's custody in April 2013 and placed with a foster parent.

         Jacqueline received a case plan, which required her to: (1) obtain and maintain housing; (2) obtain and maintain a stable income, either through welfare or employment; and (3) demonstrate that she could care for her children's basic needs (e.g., keep the home clean, pay her bills on time, and get the children to appointments and school on time). Jacqueline's case was also placed in a program that allowed her to receive assistance from the Children's Cabinet, a nonprofit agency that provides services to families in need.

         On January 1, 2014, E.H.-T. was born. Shortly thereafter, Jacqueline was evicted from her apartment, and she eventually moved into a trailer with the father of her children. During this time, WCDSS received a report indicating Jacqueline's residence was not safe for the child. An assessment worker visited the residence and observed a broken window, a broken glass door, a broken refrigerator, a knife on the counter, dirty dishes, and some trash and piles of clothes throughout the living room. However, E.H.-T. was not yet mobile, and the room where E.H.-T. slept was relatively clean and free of clutter. Therefore, E.H.-T. was not removed from Jacqueline's custody.

         Following a domestic dispute, Jacqueline moved out of the trailer. Eventually, Jacqueline moved into a motel room, and an assessment worker scheduled a time to visit Jacqueline at the residence. The assessment worker observed significant clutter, animal feces and urine, and dirty diapers throughout the room. The assessment worker concluded that the environment posed a safety risk to E.H.-T. because E.H.-T. was now mobile. As a result, E.H.-T. was subsequently removed from Jacqueline's custody and placed with the foster parent. Jacqueline received another case plan, which was similar to her first case plan. In addition, Jacqueline was asked to participate in therapy and to undergo a psychosocial evaluation to ensure her purported depression and anxiety did not interfere with her ability to reunite with her children.

         From October 2012 to July 2015, Jacqueline had resided in approximately 15 different shelters, apartments, and motels. Meanwhile, WCDSS and the Children's Cabinet provided Jacqueline with several services to help her find affordable housing, including referrals and assistance with the Reno Housing Authority, Section 8 housing, victim assistance programs, and low-income energy assistance programs. In addition, WCDSS and the Children's Cabinet helped Jacqueline find employment opportunities and apply for jobs. Nonetheless, Jacqueline quit, or was terminated from, almost every job she held within a month's time. WCDSS also referred Jacqueline to several mental health professionals for evaluations and counseling. Many of these individuals testified that therapy would have helped treat Jacqueline's anxiety and depression. Although Jacqueline was referred to at least three separate therapists, services were discharged with each therapist after Jacqueline failed to attend appointments.

         Ultimately, WCDSS concluded that Jacqueline had made minimal progress on her case plan goals. On July 17, 2015, WCDSS filed an amended petition to terminate Jacqueline's parental rights. A six-day bench trial was held, in which 21 witnesses testified, including Jacqueline, several social workers, and several mental health professionals. After the trial, the district court issued an order terminating Jacqueline's parental rights with respect to all four children. Specifically, the district court held: (1) Jacqueline failed to overcome NRS 128.109's presumptions with respect to R.T., K.G.-T., and N.H.-T.;[1] (2) Jacqueline demonstrated only token efforts to care for her children under NRS 128.105(1)(b)(6); and (3) the best interests of the children were ...


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