||Termination of Parental Rights
The court held that the trial court did not clearly err in finding that §§ 19b(3)(c)(i), (g), and (j) supported terminating the respondent-mother's parental rights, and that terminating her parental rights was in the children's best interests. However, the trial court clearly erred by failing to explicitly consider the children's placement with maternal relatives in making its best interests determination. Thus, the court vacated the termination order and remanded for further consideration of the best interest factors. "The principal conditions that led to adjudication were respondent's alcoholism and mental instability. These conditions were not rectified at the time of the termination proceeding, which was more than 182 days after the initial dispositional order." Respondent did not dispute that the conditions that led to adjudication continued to exist. Rather, she argued that she could rectify these issues within a reasonable period of time. The court disagreed, noting that even before the petitioner-DHS filed a protective proceedings petition, "respondent had a history of becoming intoxicated and threatening suicide, sometimes in the presence of her children." She was offered services for over a year, but she made inconsistent progress. She went through periods where she maintained sobriety and participated in services. But she would become stressed and return to abusing alcohol. "For respondent, the children were a significant source of stress." She testified that she would likely relapse if they were returned to her care because of the stress involved in caring for them. The court concluded that while respondent showed a desire to maintain sobriety, she did not show an ability to do so. Thus, the trial court's findings as to § 19b(3)(c)(i) were not clearly erroneous. Further, "a respondent's persistent struggles with alcohol abuse also are grounds for termination under § 19b(3)(g)." The court also concluded that respondent's inability to maintain sobriety, especially when caring for the children, established a reasonable likelihood that they would be harmed if returned to her care. Thus, the trial court also did not clearly err in finding that § 19b(3)(j) was established. Further, evidence supported the trial court's finding that terminating respondent's parental rights was in the children's best interests. However, pursuant to Mason, "children's placement with relatives is an 'explicit factor to consider in determining whether termination was in the children's best interests' when considering a termination" under §§ 19b(3)(c)(i) and (g). "A trial court's failure to consider the children's placement with relatives in making its termination decision renders the factual record 'inadequate' for appellate review." Under Olive/Metts, a trial court must also consider the children's placement with relatives in making a best interest determination after § 19b(3)(j) is established. Affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded.