Juvenile courts in Tennessee have exclusive original jurisdiction to hear matters concerning the dependency and neglect of children. These can be brought by private parties, or by the State filing a petition. These are typically the result of an investigation by the Department of Children's Services ("DCS") upon a referall by private actors, medical institutions, or law enforcement. The recent case of In Re Antoine J., et al., highlights the issues involved when abuse or neglect is committed by the romantic partner of the parent.
In that case, DCS received a referral from a Memphis hospital after determining a child had suffered a fractured femur along with other injuries inconsistent with normal childhood play. Following an investigation DCS determined the injuries were due to abuse by the mother's boyfriend. The State then filed a petition against the mother and her boyfriend for severe child abuse. Specifically, the trial court found the mother committed severe child abuse by failing to protect the child from her boyfriend's abuse and failing to seek timely medication attention. The ruling was upheld on appeal.
If a court finds severe child abuse has been committed, the State then has the ability to file to terminate the rights of the abusive parent. It is unclear whether this will be pursued in this case.
Therefore, despite the fact that the mother's boyfriend was the assailant, the mother's parental rights may be terminated in the future due to her failure to protect her children.