Civil appeal from Common Pleas Court, Juvenile Division T.C. NO. 2009-9919
MATTHEW T. CRAWFORD, Atty. Reg. No. 0089205, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, Attorney for Plaintiff-Appellee
SARAH MICHEL, Atty. Reg. No. 0087773, Attorney for Defendant-Appellant
(¶ 1} Father appeals from a judgment of the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas, Juvenile Division, which overruled his objections to a magistrate's decision and awarded permanent custody of his son, S.J., Jr., to Montgomery County Children Services (MCCS).
(¶ 2} Father contends that the juvenile court abused its discretion in awarding permanent custody of his son to MCCS, because the record does not support a finding that permanent custody is in the best interest of the child. Father emphasizes that he made substantial efforts toward completing his case plan. Father further contends that MCCS failed to make reasonable efforts at reunification. Finally, he asserts that the trial court erred in relying on outdated medical expert testimony in reaching its decision. For the following reasons, we will affirm the trial court's judgment.
I. Factual and Procedural History
(¶ 3} S.J. was born on October 31, 2009. Four days later, prior to his release from the hospital, S.J. was taken into the temporary custody of MCCS due to concerns regarding the parents' hygiene, their care of S.J. while at the hospital, the mother's mental health issues, the parents' lack of income, MCCS's inability to assess the home environment, and MCCS's prior involvement with a half-sibling. The child was adjudicated dependent in January 2010. In September 2010, MCCS requested permanent custody of S.J. However, the parties reached an agreement to extend temporary custody to MCCS, and the trial court ordered temporary custody to be extended in November 2010 and July 2011. Temporary custody was scheduled to end on November 2, 2011.
(¶ 4} On November 2, 2011, MCCS moved for permanent custody. A magistrate held hearings on the motion in March and May of 2012. MCCS presented the testimony of Sherree Spence, ongoing caseworker for MCCS, and Dr. Julia King, the psychologist who assessed the parents in 2010. Their testimony established the following facts.
(¶ 5} At the time of S.J.'s removal in 2009, a case plan was developed for S.J.'s parents. MCCS carefully reviewed the case plan with the parents at that time, and both parents agreed to the case plan. Father's objectives under the plan were to complete a parenting/psychological assessment and follow through with recommendations, complete a visitation assessment, complete a parenting class, complete his GED and improve his reading, obtain stable income and housing, and improve his hygiene such that it would not pose a health risk to his child. Unlike Mother's case plan, Father's case plan did not include a mental health component.
(¶ 6} Dr. King evaluated both parents in February and March of 2010. The parents were seen separately, together, and with S.J. Father had an eighth grade education and received special education classes as a child. When Father was growing up, there had been concerns about the condition of his home environment. Father reported having a seizure disorder, but had not had a seizure within six months of his assessment by Dr. King. Father has another son, who is older than S.J., with another woman. Father's involvement with the older child was initially consistent, but in the last several years, he has visited only once per month; the older child's mother reported that hygiene has been an issue with Father.
(¶ 7} During his evaluation with Dr. King, Father gave appropriate responses about disciplining. Father did not think there was a basis for S.J. to be removed and, instead, thought that S.J. should have come home from the hospital with his parents. Dr. King concluded that Father lacked insight regarding the parents' circumstances. Dr. King's testing revealed a large discrepancy between Father's verbal score, which was extremely low, and his nonverbal score, which was average. Dr. King indicated her concern that Father's poor verbal skills would hinder his ability to benefit from many intervention services. Father did not have any mental health issues. Dr. King did not observe anything problematic during the parents' interaction with S.J. in March 2010, however she expressed concern about Father's ability to parent independently. Dr. King stated that she had not done any assessments of Father since March 2010. She acknowledged that she "can't say what's needed now."
(¶ 8} At the time of the hearing, Father and his wife, S.J.'s mother, resided with Father's mother and grandmother in a two-story single family home that had formerly been a duplex, the same home in which the parents lived when S.J. was born. Until March 2012, MCCS was denied access to the home. When access was granted prior to the March 2012 hearing, Spence observed roaches crawling on the floor, an entertainment center, curtains, cat food bowls, and cat litter containers; Father told Spence that he knew there were roaches and he was trying to work on resolving that issue. There were eight dogs and nine cats living in the house. Several areas of the house needed repair; S.J.'s prospective bedroom had missing plaster in a closet and a hole in the door where a door handle would be. Several rooms were locked during the home visit, and Spence was denied access to them. Other areas had plywood blocking access; some plywood had nails sticking out of it. Spence observed exposed electrical cords and outlets. An area on the floor in the corner of the living room or dining room had newspaper for dogs to use to defecate and urinate; there was nothing to keep S.J. away from that area. The grandmother's room was extremely cluttered, and several areas "were just simply unclean." The house had a strong odor of animal urine. The house did contain food. Spence testified that Father's home was "not appropriate" and was "unacceptable" for S.J.
(¶ 9} Spence testified that S.J.'s parents had lived with S.J.'s maternal grandmother in December of 2009. From June to August of 2010, they had their own apartment, but they were evicted for nonpayment. The parents have been residing ...