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151039 - In re McCarthy, Minor

In re N. S. A. McCarthy, Minor
Department of Human Services,
Joshua J. Miller
(Appeal from Ct of Appeals)
(Oakland-Brennan, M.)
Tracy Reed,
Susan L. Loveland


Tracy Reed lost parental rights to three of her four children in January of 2012.  At that time, the court concluded that termination of Reed’s parental rights was not in the best interests of the fourth child, a teenaged daughter, although the daughter remained a temporary ward of the court.  Reed was living in Georgia; her daughter was in foster care in Michigan.  The court adopted a parent-agency agreement that called for Reed to maintain contact with the Department of Human Services (DHS), engage in therapy, have weekly contact with her daughter, complete a home assessment of her Georgia residence, and provide documentation of her employment. 
By December of 2012, DHS filed a petition to terminate Reed’s parental rights to her daughter.  The agency contended that Reed failed to make substantial progress with the parent-agency agreement.  To terminate parental rights, a trial court must find by clear and convincing evidence that at least one statutory ground for termination has been established.   MCL 712A.19b(3).  Once a statutory ground for termination has been proven, the trial court must then find that termination is in the child’s best interests.  The factors to be considered are set forth at MCL 722.23, and include the child’s reasonable preference, if the child is old enough to express such a preference. 
The trial court held a hearing to determine if statutory grounds for termination existed, and to consider Reed’s daughter’s best interests.  DHS’s witnesses testified that Reed failed to comply with the parent-agency agreement, and that she was unable to adequately parent her daughter.  Reed testified regarding the difficulty that she had in obtaining a home assessment in Georgia, and regarding her contact with her daughter.  Reed’s daughter testified that she did not want her mother’s parental rights terminated.  The lawyer-guardian ad litem (LGAL), on behalf of the daughter, recommended that a guardianship be created and that Reed’s parental rights not be terminated.  After several days of hearings, the trial court found statutory grounds for termination, and concluded that termination was in the daughter’s best interests.
Reed sought review of this decision in the Court of Appeals.  The Court of Appeals acknowledged that the trial court made brief, definite, and pertinent findings of fact regarding the termination decision, but it concluded that the trial court failed to make adequate conclusions of law.  It remanded for further proceedings, and retained jurisdiction.  The trial court, on remand, set forth the statutory grounds for termination.  The case returned to the Court of Appeals, which then affirmed in an unpublished per curiam opinion.  The panel agreed with the trial court that statutory grounds for termination were established by clear and convincing evidence.  It also concluded that the trial court did not clearly err when it concluded that termination was in the daughter’s best interests.  She had been in foster care for over two years, explained the panel, and Reed’s relationship with her deteriorated due to a lack of personal contact.  Reed was given a second opportunity to reunite with her daughter, when the trial court initially declined to terminate her parental rights, but she failed to take advantage of it.  “The child is now a teenager exhibiting behavioral issues and there is no evidence suggesting that [Reed] is prepared to address those issues, or evidence that [Reed] would be in any position to provide the safe, stable, and secure environment that the child requires in the foreseeable future.”
Reed appealed.  On March 26, 2015, the Court granted the oral argument application, and ordered the parties and the LGAL to address whether termination of parental rights was in the best interests of the child.  In particular, the parties and the LGAL were directed to address the consideration given to the child’s age, her expressed desire for her mother to retain parental rights, and the LGAL’s concurrence that parental rights should not be terminated.  See MCL 722.23(i).