final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.
Appeal from the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County Lower
Tribunal No. 14-15790, Laura Stuzin, Judge.
Thomasina Moore and Laura J. Lee (Tallahassee), for
Perkins, for Department of Children & Families; Kevin G.
Thomas, for K.H., the Mother, for appellees.
SCALES, LINDSEY, and GORDO, JJ.
appeal arises from a trial court order denying a petition by
the Department of Children and Families ("the
Department") for termination of parental rights of K.H.
("the Mother") as to her child, J.H.
BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
one of the Mother's fourteen children, was born on
November 10, 2005, and was removed from the Mother's
custody when he was a year old. He has had scarce contact
with the Mother since that time and they have no parent-child
relationship. The Mother is diagnosed with a lifelong
psychotic condition that renders her unable to parent. She is
presently committed to the Department and undergoing
treatment for her mental illness. She is incapable of
functioning alone and incapable of safely providing
supervision and care for the child.
J.H. was a year old, a Georgia court placed him with his
adult sister, Tiffany. The Georgia court found that efforts
to reunify J.H. with the Mother would be detrimental to the
child and therefore reunification was not in his best
interest. Thereafter, J.H. resided with Tiffany, who he
refers to as his mom. In 2014, Tiffany consented to a
withhold of adjudication of dependency as to J.H. and his
twin sister following allegations of physical abuse. In March
2015, the court removed him from Tiffany's custody and
placed him in the Department's legal custody. The court
found it was in the child's best interest to be placed in
foster care. In March 2017, the court again modified
J.H.'s placement finding it was in his best interest to
be placed with a pre-adoptive non-relative. However, after
eighteen months, the non-relative caregiver requested J.H. be
removed from the home due to continuous aggressive and
concerning behavior. J.H. was again placed in foster care.
October 2017, the Department filed a petition for termination
of parental rights as to the Mother, which was amended in
November 2018, five days before the trial. The amended
petition proceeded under section 39.806(1)(c), Florida
Statutes, which provides: "Grounds for the termination
of parental rights may be established . . . [w]hen the parent
. . . engaged in conduct toward the child . . . that
demonstrates that the continuing involvement of the parent .
. . in the parent-child relationship threatens the life,
safety, well-being, or physical, mental, or emotional health
of the child irrespective of the provision of services."
§ 39.806(1)(c), Fla. Stat. (2018).
November 2018, the trial court held an adjudicatory hearing
on the Department's petition for termination of parental
rights of the Mother. During the trial, the Department
presented testimony from Dr. Michael DiTomasso, a licensed
forensic psychologist, Ermine Brooks, the guardian ad litem
("GAL"), Diana Barker, the Mother's mental
health case manager, and from the deposition of Dr. Indu
Senapati, a board certified psychiatrist.
Senapati was the Mother's treating psychiatrist at the
South Florida State Hospital for more than six
months. Dr. Senapati conducted a comprehensive
evaluation of the Mother's history of mental illness,
medical history, psychiatric history, family history, and
history of drug use. She continued to meet with her
frequently for treatment. The Mother reported she was
diagnosed with mental illness in her twenties and has been
repeatedly hospitalized. Dr. Senapati testified the
Mother's diagnosis is schizoaffective disorder
(depressive type), which causes her to have hallucinations,
delusions, disorganized thoughts, depressive mood, and
suicidal thoughts. The Mother admitted having a history of
suicide attempts and hearing voices that tell her to do bad
things. Dr. Senapati testified the Mother has borderline
intellectual functioning. Dr. Senapati declared the Mother
suffers from a lifelong condition and is incapable of
functioning on her own. She recommended the Mother continue
to reside in a residential facility where her compliance with
medication and treatment can be monitored.
DiTomasso, an expert in psychological evaluations of parents
in dependency proceedings, testified regarding his evaluation
of the Mother. He reviewed all pertinent documents relating
to the Mother, conducted a clinical interview, and performed
psychological testing. Dr. DiTomasso concluded the Mother
suffers from a psychotic condition that renders her unable to
parent. Dr. DiTomasso testified she cannot meet J.H.'s
needs and is likely to physically harm him. He testified she
lacks empathy toward children, lacks nurturing skills, and
sees independence in children as threatening. She does not
have a good grasp of children's developmental abilities
and needs. Moreover, the Mother has a history of substance
abuse. Dr. DiTomasso fears she could revert to cocaine abuse
and pose a higher risk of harm to ...