Submitted: October 11, 2017
Below: Family Court of the State of Delaware File No.
CN15-03033 Petition No. 16-13203 File No. CN15-02126
16-09-07TN Petition Nos. 15-07560 16-27360 File No.
CN15-0212116-09-06TN Petition Nos. 15-07539 16-27619
Valihura, Vaughn, and Traynor, Justices.
T. Vaughn, Jr. Justice.
16th day of November 2017, upon consideration of
the parties' briefs and the record on appeal, it appears
Appellant, Karen Gibson, appeals from a Family Court order
granting permanent guardianship of one of her children to the
child's paternal grandparents and terminating her
parental rights in two other children. She makes two claims
on appeal. She contends: (1) the Family Court erred in
concluding by clear and convincing evidence that the
permanent guardianship and termination of her parental rights
was in the best interest of the children; and (2) the Family
Court erred in concluding by clear and convincing evidence
that she failed to plan for the needs of the children.
Karen Gibson is the mother of Sandy G., born November 16,
2009, and Ivy R. and Israel R. ("Twins"), born
August 25, 2012. The children were removed from their
mother's care on March 20, 2015, when the Department of
Services for Children, Youth and Their Families
("DSCYF") filed for and received temporary custody
of all three children.
DSCYF was contacted on March 18, 2015, regarding concerns of
medical neglect of the Twins and physical abuse of Sandy. A
decision making meeting was held the same day. The Twin's
physician, Deborah Consolini, M.D., expressed concerns about
the medical wellbeing of the Twins. The Twins were born
premature with developmental complications causing them to
spend the first two years of their lives in a hospital
setting. The Twins were discharged to Gibson's care in
2014 but Dr. Consolini found they were not attending
scheduled medical appointments and not making developmental
progress. All three children resided with Gibson and Mr. R in
a garage like structure on the maternal grandparent's
property. Gibson agreed to a safety plan under which the
children would move into the maternal grandparent's main
home and Gibson would take the Twin's to all medical
March 19, 2015, a DSCYF worker met with Sandy at her daycare
regarding physical abuse allegations, and Sandy was taken to
A.I. DuPont Hospital to be examined. She presented with
bruising to her forehead, arms and legs, including a bruise
to her inner right thigh resembling a belt buckle, which
Sandy indicated were inflicted by Mr. R. The following day
DSCYF visited the maternal grandparent's home and found
that Gibson had not moved the children into the main home as
required by her safety plan. DSCYF's emergency custody
petition was filed and granted by the Family Court that day.
March 25, 2015, a Preliminary Protective Hearing was held.
Gibson was present but Mr. R was not. The Family Court heard
evidence regarding the medical neglect of the Twins and
allegations of the physical abuse of Sandy by Mr. R. The
Family Court found probable cause existed that the children
were dependent and found it in their best interest to remain
in DSCYF custody.
April 22, 2015, an Adjudicatory Hearing was held. Gibson was
present but Mr. R was not. His whereabouts were unknown but
DSCYF suspected he was living in Philadelphia. Gibson denied
knowing his whereabouts or speaking to him since the children
entered DSCYF's custody. Gibson stipulated to a finding
of dependency. In addition, Gibson entered into a case plan
which included: obtaining and maintaining stable housing and
income; completing a parent education course; completing
mental health and substance abuse evaluations and any
recommended treatment; completing domestic violence and anger
management courses; attending the children's medical
appointments; and attending visitation with the children.
May 19, 2015, a Dispositional Hearing was held. Gibson was
present but Mr. R was not. His location was not known and a
warrant had been issued for his arrest relating to
Sandy's abuse. Gibson stipulated to a finding of
dependency. Gibson's DSCYF treatment worker testified
that she provided Gibson information on Section 8 housing
options, contact information for domestic violence counseling
and anger management programs, and referred her to
psychological and substance abuse evaluations. On this date,
the paternal grandparents filed a Petition for Permanent
Guardianship of Sandy.
September 24, 2015, a Review Hearing was held. Gibson and Mr.
R were present. Mr. R had been arrested in Philadelphia for
second degree assault of Sandy and endangering the welfare of
a child. At the time of this hearing he was incarcerated
pending trial. Gibson was living at a home in Philadelphia
with relatives of Mr. R but she denied knowing his
whereabouts before his arrest. Gibson's DSCYF treatment
worker told the Family Court that Gibson had attended a case
planning meeting on July 15, 2015, but failed to attend the
next scheduled meeting on September 22, 2015. DSCYF presented
evidence that Gibson was still residing in Philadelphia. The
Family Court found the children remained dependent by a
preponderance of the evidence.
November 30, 2015, a Second Review Hearing was held with only
Gibson present. Mr. R was still incarcerated. Gibson had
returned to the maternal grandparent's home. She was
living in the upstairs of their main house. Gibson was to
notify DSCYF when the children's beds were moved to the
main home. DSCYF presented evidence that Gibson had cancelled
a case planning meeting scheduled on October 5, 2015, but she
had attended an Individualized Education Program meeting for
the Twins. The Family Court found the children remained
dependent by a preponderance of the evidence.
December 21, 2015, Mr. R pled guilty to second degree assault
of Sandy and received a term of incarceration. A no-contact
order was issued for Sandy.
February 11, 2016, the DSCYF Permanency Planning Committee
met and recommended a goal change to Termination of Parental
Rights ("TPR") and adoption for the Twins. As to
Sandy, the Committee recommended a Permanent Guardianship
with the paternal grandparents.
Third Review Hearing was held on February 22, 2016. Gibson
and Mr. R were present along with the Barnes. Gibson's
DSCYF treatment worker testified that she spoke with Gibson
about the importance of the counseling and treatment programs
in her case plan. Gibson advised she planned to attend
domestic violence and anger management classes. The Family
Court found the children continued to be dependent by a
preponderance of the evidence.
Gibson's DSCYF treatment worker conducted a home
assessment of the maternal grandparent's main house in
February 2016. DSCYF determined the housing to be
appropriate, but Gibson's case plan still had not been
completed. DSCYF filed Motions to Change the Goal on May 3,
2016, to reflect the changes agreed upon by the Planning
Committee at its February 11, 2016, meeting. The maternal
grandmother subsequently filed a Petition for Guardianship of
the Twins and the paternal grandparents filed a Petition for
Permanent Guardianship of Sandy.
Permanency Hearing was held May 16, 2016, at which Gibson and
Mr. R were present. The Court granted DSCYF's Motions to
Change as to the Twins based on Gibson's failure to
complete her case plan and concerns about her ability to
protect the children from domestic violence. The Family Court
took notice of Gibson's appropriate housing, her
attendance at mental health appointments, and her efforts to
gain employment, and kept a concurrent goal of reunification
for all the children.
The maternal grandmother's Petition for Guardianship of
the Twins was denied on September 16, 2016. The Family Court
heard argument on DSCYF's Petitions for TPR for the Twins
and the paternal grandparents Permanent Guardianship of Sandy
on October 26, 2016 and November 2, 2016. The Family Court
found the paternal grandparents were eligible to serve as
Sandy's permanent guardians and they established grounds
for permanent guardianship by clear and convincing
evidence. Further, the Family Court found by clear
and convincing evidence that Gibson failed to plan for the
children's needs and that DSCYF made reasonable efforts
to reunite the family. The Family Court terminated
Gibson's parental rights in the Twins based on her
failure to plan and the children's best
First, we agree on the record before us that the Family Court
did not err when granting the paternal grandparents'
Petition for Permanent Guardianship of Sandy. In granting a
permanent guardianship request, a trial judge must find by
clear and convincing evidence that one of the statutory
grounds for termination of parental rights set forth in 13
Del. C. § 1103(a) has been met. The court then
decides whether permanent guardianship is in the best
interest of the child. The court must also find that adoption is
not possible or appropriate and the proposed guardian is
suitable to serve as a guardian. When reviewing whether
evidence justifying a termination of parental rights has been
established, this Court conducts a "review of the facts
and law, as well as the inferences and deductions made by the
trial court." "We will not disturb a trial
judge's factual findings unless they are clearly
erroneous and justice requires that they be
overturned." "Moreover, this Court will not
substitute its own opinion for the inferences and deductions
made by the Trial Judge where those inferences are supported
by the record and are the product of an orderly and logical
deductive process." Our review is limited to an abuse of
discretion when the trial judge has correctly applied the
appropriate law."To the extent that the issues on
appeal implicate rulings of law, we conduct a de
Here, the trial court granted the paternal grandparents'
Petition for Permanent Guardianship of Sandy after conducting
a thorough review and providing an explanation of every
statutory factor required under 13 Del. C.
§2353. The trial court found by clear and convincing
evidence that Gibson had failed to meet the 13 Del.
C. §1103(a) statutory ground requiring her to
adequately plan for her children. The trial court found the
paternal grandparents' preference ...