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In re M.T.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Twelfth District, Warren

April 10, 2017

IN THE MATTER OF: M.T.

         APPEAL FROM WARREN COUNTY COURT OF COMMON PLEAS JUVENILE DIVISION Case No. 14-D000048

          D. Joseph Auciello, guardian ad litem.

          Gray and Duning, John C. Kaspar, for appellant, W.T.

          David P. Fornshell, Warren County Prosecuting Attorney, Kirsten A. Brandt, for appellee, Warren County Children Services.

          OPINION

          HENDRICKSON, P.J.

         {¶ 1} Appellant, the biological father of M.T., appeals from a decision of the Warren County Court of Common Pleas, Juvenile Division, granting permanent custody of M.T. to appellee, Warren County Children Services ("WCCS" or "the agency"). For the reasons set forth below, we affirm the juvenile court's decision.

         {¶ 2} On October 3, 2014, WCCS filed a complaint alleging that M.T., born January 8, 2012, was a dependent child. The complaint indicated that M.T. resided with Mother and Father, who were unable to provide M.T. with stable housing. The court held a shelter care hearing on the same day and placed M.T. in the temporary custody of WCCS. WCCS then placed M.T. with a foster family.

         {¶ 3} On December 26, 2014, Mother, Father, and WCCS agreed to certain factual stipulations resulting in the court finding M.T. a dependent child. The same month, the court adopted a case plan prepared by the agency. The goal of the case plan was reunification; it required Mother and Father to (1) obtain employment and stable housing, (2) stay drug and alcohol free, (3) comply with case management services including various parenting classes, and (4) maintain communication with WCCS and respond within 24 hours.

         {¶ 4} Mother completed a parenting class but did not complete any other case plan requirements. She did not maintain contact with WCCS or the child's guardian ad litem ("GAL"). She did not provide the agency with any means of contacting or locating her. Mother visited with M.T. in December 2014 and then never visited her again.

         {¶ 5} Unlike Mother, Father made some progress towards completing his case plan objectives. He completed a drug and alcohol assessment in March 2015, a parenting class in February 2016, and a bonding class. Father also visited M.T. during weekly two-hour supervised visits. On average, he missed about one visit per month but almost always called to cancel.

         {¶ 6} During these visits, Father and M.T. exhibited a bond and would engage in playing, which was mostly directed by M.T. They would also watch videos on Father's phone. While the visits were mostly positive, social workers and M.T.'s GAL were concerned by the lack of verbal interaction between Father and M.T.

         {¶ 7} Father made no progress on other aspects of his case plan. He failed to maintain contact with WCCS and the GAL. His case workers often had no means of locating or communicating with him. And in the two years that this dependency case was pending, Father never resolved his issues with homelessness.[1]

         {¶ 8} On August 8, 2016, WCCS moved for permanent custody of M.T. In its motion, WCCS alleged that M.T. had been in WCCS's temporary custody for more than 12 months of a consecutive 22-month period, that both parents had abandoned M.T., and that a grant of permanent custody to WCCS was in M.T.'s best interest.

         {¶ 9} The court set the permanent custody motion for trial on November 7, 2016. On November 3, 2016, the GAL filed a written report recommending that the court grant permanent custody to WCCS. Father objected to the report because it was filed less than seven days before the trial. The court overruled Father's objection.

         {¶ 10} At the permanent custody hearing, the juvenile court heard testimony from WCCS employees, the GAL, M.T.'s foster parent, and Father. A WCCS caseworker testified that she was assigned to the parents' case from May 2015 through August 2015. During that time, she attempted to contact or locate Mother, but was unsuccessful. She also repeatedly attempted to contact or locate Father. However, she was only successful in making contact if she went to Father's scheduled visitations with M.T. There, she would ask Father to contact her later to arrange a home study. Father never followed up with the caseworker. The next time the caseworker saw Father she asked why he did not contact her and he responded that he was too busy because he was "working a lot."

         {¶ 11} The caseworker reported that Father tested positive for oxycodone following a random drug screen administered by WCCS. Father told the caseworker that he received oxycodone from a hospital visit because of a toothache. He showed the caseworker paperwork to that effect but the paperwork did not indicate he received oxycodone. Even so, the caseworker testified that drug abuse was not the agency's primary concern with Father. Instead, the agency was most concerned about Father's inability to resolve his homelessness.

         {¶ 12} The caseworker also testified that the agency was concerned that Father was continuing to have contact with Mother who by that time had clearly abandoned her daughter. Father told the caseworker he did not know Mother's location. However, the agency was aware that Father and Mother were observed together in pictures posted on Facebook.

         {¶ 13} The caseworker testified that in the two years that Father visited with M.T., visitations never increased in time or quantity and were always supervised. Father attended most of his visits but would usually call and cancel one visit a month. The only time Father failed to appear at a visit without calling to cancel was in the month preceding the permanent custody hearing.

         {¶ 14} Finally, the caseworker testified that prior to the filing of the permanent custody motion, no relatives ever came forward to attempt to take custody of M.T. However, after the agency filed the motion, Mother's sister contacted them to inquire about taking custody. WCCS performed a home study but determined the sister was ...


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