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In re B. D.

November 26, 2008

IN THE MATTER OF: B. D. ADJUDICATED DEPENDENT CHILD.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: McFarland, J.

DECISION AND JUDGMENT ENTRY

{¶1} Appellant- mother, Brittany Davis, appeals from the Juvenile Division of the Ross County Common Pleas Court's decision and judgment entry terminating her parental rights and responsibilities and placing her child, B.D., in the permanent custody of the Ross County Job and Family Services Children's Division. Appellant raises five assignments of error, contending that: (1) her admission of dependency was not knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily made; (2) she was denied due process by the failure of RCCS to make reasonable reunification efforts; (3) the trial court erred in finding that RCCS made reasonable reunification efforts, to include investigating potentially suitable relative placements; (4) the trial court erred in granting permanent custody in the absence of evidence of record either of the child's wishes concerning placement, or evidence that the child was incapable of expressing a preference; and (5) the judgment was against the manifest weight of the evidence. Because we fail to find merit in any of Appellant's assigned errors, and because we find that the trial court's determination that a grant of permanent custody was in the best interests of the child is supported by competent credible evidence, we affirm the decision of the trial court.

FACTS

{¶2} The record reveals the following facts pertinent to this appeal. Brittany Davis gave birth to her son, B.D., on April 28, 2004, when she was just sixteen years old and was living in foster care herself. B.D. lived with her, in foster care, until Brittany entered into a voluntary care agreement with Ross County Job and Family Services ("RCJFS") on December 15, 2005, at which point Brittany left foster care upon turning eighteen years old, leaving B.D. in foster care. While Brittany had the option of remaining in foster care with her son until she graduated from high school, she chose not to and instead left foster care with a plan to, among other things, obtain suitable housing, which would allow her to have her child with her.

{¶3} On January 5, 2006, a dependency action was filed in the Ross County Court of Common Pleas, Juvenile Division. Appellant was represented by counsel at her arraignment hearing held on January 9, 2006, wherein she entered a plea of admission to the allegations of dependency. Thereafter, the matter came on for disposition on April 25, 2006*fn2 , at which time the child was adjudicated a dependent child and was ordered to remain in the temporary custody of RCJFS, pending a review hearing. At a review hearing held on October 24, 2006, temporary custody was extended.

{¶4} Caseworker Teresa Babb testified that during the time that the child was in the temporary custody of RCJFS, Appellant visited only sporadically from January 2006 until October 2006. Beginning in October of 2006, Appellant's visits with the child stopped for a period exceeding ninety days and did not resume until January 30, 2007, four days after a motion for permanent custody was filed with the court. Babb also testified that Appellant's sister regularly visited with the child for a short period of time; however, when Appellant stopped having contact with the child, RCJFS informed the sister that a motion for permanent custody was likely to be filed. As a result, Appellant's sister stopped visiting.

{¶5} On January 26, 2007, the State filed a motion for permanent custody. This motion was based on (1) Appellant's failure to visit with the child since August 17, 2006 and failure to have any contact with the agency since October 2006; (2) Appellant's failure to complete any part of her case plan*fn3 ; and (3) Danny Long's failure to have any contact whatsoever with the child. On January 30, 2007, just four days after the motion for permanent custody was filed, a review hearing was held. Appellant attended the hearing and then visited with the child on that day. Soon after, Appellant provided the agency with a new address, where she claimed to have been residing for two months prior to the filing of the motion.

{¶6} The motion for permanent custody came on for hearing over a two day period, on April 30, 2007 and May 18, 2007. The guardian ad litem submitted a report at the April 30, 2007 hearing, but requested permission to hear the presentation of the evidence before making his final recommendation as to placement. After hearing two days of testimony, the court ordered that the parties submit written briefs in support of their respective positions.

{¶7} Appellant filed her written argument to the court on June 8, 2007, contending that she had made progress towards the case plan and reunification. Specifically, Appellant asserted that she had obtained suitable housing with friends, had a job caring for her friend's children in exchange for payment, room and board, had completed parenting classes, and had an appointment scheduled with a new psychiatrist. Appellant also asserted that she had maintained regular contact with the child since the filing of the motion for permanent custody and claimed that lack of transportation was the reason for her failure to visit with the child from October 2006 to January 2007.

{¶8} The State filed its written argument to the court on June 14, 2007, asserting that it had proven by clear and convincing evidence that a grant of permanent custody was in the best interests of the child and that the child had been in the custody of the agency for more than twelve of the last twenty-two consecutive months. The State argued that Appellant had failed to complete any part of her case plan at the time of the filing of the motion for permanent custody and that even at the time of the hearings, had failed to follow-up with her psychiatrist as required. Specifically, the State argued that Appellant had had ten different residences since the time the child had been placed in the care of the agency, that Appellant had stopped treating with her psychiatrist, had gone off of her medication, had gone for a period exceeding ninety days without contacting the child and that the child's father had abandoned him. The State further argued that the child could not be and should not be placed with either parent within a reasonable amount of time despite the reasonable efforts of the agency, that the parents had demonstrated a lack of commitment to the child, had abandoned the child, that the child had been in the custody of the agency for over twelve of the last twenty-two consecutive months and that a grant of permanent custody was in the best interest of the child.

{¶9} On July 24, 2007, the magistrate's order was filed, granting the State's motion for permanent custody and terminating all parental rights and responsibilities of Appellant, as well as Danny Long. Appellant subsequently filed a motion for findings of fact and conclusions of law as well as objections to the magistrate's order. Upon the filing of the findings of fact and conclusions of law on October 29, 2007, Appellant re-filed her objections to the magistrate's decision on November 5, 2007; however, the trial court issued its entry adopting the magistrate's decision on November 15, 2007. A notice of appeal was filed on November 29, 2007; however, this Court determined, by entry dated January 18, 2008, that because the trial court's entry did not separately state the judgment and relief granted to the parties, that it was not a final, appealable order and that the appeal must be dismissed.

{¶10} The trial court issued a corrected entry on January 29, 2008, and a second notice of appeal was filed on February 26, 2008, assigning the following errors for our review.

ASSIGNMENTS OF ERROR

{¶11} "I. MOTHER-APPELLANT'S ADMISSION OF DEPENDENCY WAS NOT KNOWINGLY, INTELLIGENTLY AND VOLUNTARILY MADE.

{¶12} II. MOTHER-APPELLANT WAS DENIED DUE PROCESS BY THE FAILURE OF RCCS TO MAKE REASONABLE REUNIFICATION EFFORTS.

{¶13} III. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN FINDING THAT RCCS MADE REASONABLE REUNIFICATION EFFORTS, TO INCLUDE INVESTIGATING POTENTIALLY SUITABLE RELATIVE PLACEMENTS.

{ΒΆ14} IV. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN GRANTING PERMANENT CUSTODY IN THE ABSENCE OF EVIDENCE OF RECORD EITHER OF THE CHILD'S WISHES CONCERNING PLACEMENT, OR EVIDENCE THAT THE ...


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