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In re S.S.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Fourth District, Jackson

May 17, 2017

IN THE MATTER OF: S.S., M.S., Adjudicated Abused and Dependent Children.

          Stacy M. Brooks, Waverly, Ohio, for appellant-mother.

          Darren L. Meade, Parks and Meade, LLC, Columbus, Ohio, for appellant-father.

          Justin Lovett, Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney, and Timothy E. Forshey, Jackson County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, Jackson, Ohio, for appellee.

          Dana E. Gilliland, Gilliland and Gilliland Law Offices, Wellston, Ohio, Guardian Ad Litem/counsel for S.S. and M.S.

          DECISION AND JUDGMENT ENTRY

          Marie Hoover, Judge

         {¶ 1} The children's biological parents appeal the trial court's judgment that awarded the Jackson County Department of Jobs and Family Services ("the agency") permanent custody of eleven-year-old S.S. and nine-year-old M.S. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the trial court's judgment.

         I. Facts and Procedural Posture

         A. Background

         {¶ 2} The mother and the father are the biological parents of seven children; and the mother has two other children from a previous relationship. All of the children except S.S. and M.S. are emancipated. Children services has been involved in all of the children's lives, including the two from the mother's previous relationship. Those two children were removed from the mother's custody. The other emancipated five children are C.S., F.S., T.S., Tia. S. and N.S. When C.S. was a young child, the parents agreed to place her in the father's sister's custody. F.S. is twenty-three years of age and is currently in prison for drug-related offenses. Before F.S.'s imprisonment, he had been in and out of jail; and he lived in the family's home when he was not in jail. T.S. is twenty-two years of age, and when the permanent custody hearing began, he was living with a friend. However, T.S. is now in prison. Tia.S is twenty years of age and lives in the household. N.S. is eighteen years of age and lives in a different household.

         {¶ 3} The family household has been chaotic over the years: the father drank; F.S. and T.S. engaged in criminal activities; F.S. and T.S. showed no respect for the mother as F.S. would scream at her; and T.S. even threatened to kill the mother; N.S. was frustrated; and the mother did not have any time for the younger children, S.S. and M.S. S.S. was "addicted to video games" and would not sleep. The parents believed S.S. had a sleep disorder. The mother locked herself away in her bedroom in order to avoid the drinking and chaos.

         B. Agency Involvement

         {¶ 4} On June 17, 2013, the agency filed an abuse, neglect, and dependency complaint regarding Tia.S., N.S., S.S., and M.S. During the proceedings, Tia.S. and N.S. became emancipated; and thus, they are not involved in this appeal. We also note that although statements appear throughout the record of prior children services involvement, the record does not contain any documents to illustrate what happened in those prior proceedings.

         {¶ 5} The agency's complaint alleged that the father habitually drank, the mother abused drugs, and the parents were constantly fighting in front of the children. The agency requested temporary custody of the children and also filed a motion for a pre-dispositional emergency temporary custody order. Although the record does not contain an entry concerning the agency's request for emergency temporary custody, a notation is included in the docket listing which states that the "judge and prosecutor * * * determined that no emergency exists at the present time."

         {¶ 6} After the complaint was filed, further events occurred. For instance, on July 7, 2013, at approximately 4:30 a.m., police responded to the parents' home. When the police arrived, the father ran into the home and shut the door. The mother was outside and pantless. The mother tried to push the door open and accidentally hit the youngest child in the face. The father smelled of alcohol. Both the father and the mother were arrested-father for "disorderly by intoxication" and mother for public indecency.

         {¶ 7} Another event occurred on July 26, 2013. With the mother still in jail, the father left M.S. and S.S. in the care of a sixteen-year-old male. The father returned home after 1:00 a.m. to discover that M.S. was missing. Approximately one hour later, the father contacted the police to report M.S. as a missing person. M.S. was found later in the day, naked and obviously traumatized. M.S. displayed many physical injuries as well as physical indications of sexual assault. Additional facts pertaining to the criminal acts perpetrated upon M.S. may be found in State v. Dunn, 4th Dist. Jackson No. 15CA1, 2017-Ohio-518. The agency immediately filed a motion for emergency custody of the children, which the court granted.

         {¶ 8} On July 29, 2013, the agency filed an amended complaint that included the July 7 incident, as well as M.S.'s July 26 abduction and sexual assault.

         C. Adjudication and Initial Disposition

         {¶ 9} On November 25, 2013, the court adjudicated M.S. an abused and dependent child and adjudicated S.S. a dependent child. On that same date, the court placed the children in the agency's temporary custody. The court additionally directed each parent to undergo mental health and drug/alcohol assessments and to complete any recommended treatment. The court permitted the parents to have supervised visits with the children. The court further found that the agency had made reasonable efforts to prevent the children's removal from the home.

         D. Case Plan

         {¶ 10} The agency developed a case plan for the family. The case plan indicated that the mother and father would both need "to reduce risk and address safety issues of the child(ren)." The case plan required the mother to: (1) attend and participate in a substance abuse assessment and follow any treatment recommendations; (2) participate in random drug screens; (3) avoid placing the children in the middle of arguments; (4) "attend and participate in counseling at Woodland Centers for evaluation of her mental health status and treatment and follow recommendations"; (5) "receive parenting education through ISS services and utilize skills learned with her children"; (6) use caution on who she allows into her home and around the children; and (7) provide a safe, stable home environment to meet the children's needs.

         {¶11} Additionally, the case plan required the father to: (1) engage in "ISS counseling * * * and receive parenting information through ISS and utilize skills learned"; (2) attend and participate in a substance abuse assessment and follow any treatment recommendations, including any mental health recommendations; (3) participate in random drug screens; (4) refrain from alcohol abuse; (5) ensure that the children have proper adult supervision and use caution when permitting outsiders into the home; (6) discontinue fighting with the mother in the children's presence and placing the children in the middle of arguments and fights; (7) avoid conflict with the mother when the children are present; and (8) avoid domestic violence.

         {¶ 12} Furthermore, the case plan required that S.S. (1) have a suitable bedtime and sleep schedule; (2) attend school daily; (3) take medication as recommended by a physician; and (4) participate in services with ISS. As for M.S., the case plan required that M.S. (1) receive counseling at the Child Protection Center; (2) participate in services through ISS; (3) have consistent rules, structure, and expectations; and (4) have a stable and safe environment.

         E. Case Plan Progress

         {¶ 13} The January 9, 2014 Semiannual Administrative Review ("SAR") indicated that S.S. had made significant progress while in foster care. S.S. had not displayed any signs of a sleeping disorder, regularly attended school, and was even named "student of the month in December." The SAR related that M.S. had made some progress while in the foster care. Although M.S. had continued counseling to help her cope with the sexual assault and the adjustment to foster care; she engaged in a sexual act with another child. As a result, both S.S. and M.S. were removed from their first foster home.

         {¶ 14} The SAR's summarization of the progress was that agency custody was still needed as legal issues were still ongoing with M.S.; and the parents still needed to continue to try to establish a calm and stable home environment and to address emotional and drug/alcohol concerns. In other words, sufficient progress had not been made for reunification.

         {¶ 15} In addition, a case review document identified the safety threat to the children as "active" due to the fact that the criminal investigation and court case were still pending regarding M.S.'s abduction and sexual assault. Moreover, the parent's home situation was still unstable at times with recent domestic incidents, disruptions, and police calls. The case review document outlined that the parents still had unresolved problems in their own relationship and with their housing situation. The parents had also changed some service providers on their own. The trial court had ordered psychological evaluations; but they could not take place until a later date due to lack of available providers and full schedules. A chaotic home situation continued to be a concern as the parents reported difficulty in keeping their disruptive adult sons away from the home. Ultimately, the case review identified the risk reassessment score as "high."

         {¶ 16} A January 21, 2014 case plan amendment incorporated the court-ordered psychological evaluations as requirements for both parents.

         {¶ 17} A May 12, 2014 SAR demonstrated that the mother had been compliant with counseling through ISS and received services at Woodland Centers. The mother had completed her psychological evaluation and had requested marriage counseling and additional counseling to help her and M.S. The mother had made efforts to keep T.S. away from the home; but she had a few friends stay at the home temporarily to help with expenses. The SAR further indicated that the father had addressed alcohol concerns by participating in rehabilitation programs at the Marsh House. The father was complying with his treatment program and only had one month left in the program. Prior to participating in the rehabilitation program, the father was reported to be at least minimally compliant with services at HRS. Lastly, the father completed his psychological evaluation.

         {¶ 18} The May 12, 2014 case review "strengths and needs update" expressed that M.S. needed continued support and counseling to help her deal with past trauma. In addition, the case review indicated that the children needed a structured environment free from conflict in order to reduce emotional difficulties and to have success at school. Domestic incidents in the home remained a concern. The parents still needed to be able to provide adequate supervision for the children in an environment free from conflict and chaos. The mother continued to need counseling to deal with personality dynamics and ways of coping with difficulties. The father continued to need substance abuse services to deal with a history of alcohol abuse. The risk assessment continued to be rated as "high."

         F. Trial Court's Extension of the Temporary Custody Order

         {¶ 19} On July 17, 2014, the trial court extended the temporary custody order and amended the case plan to include services recommended in the parents' March 2014 psychological evaluations. The court again found that the agency had made reasonable efforts to prevent the children's continued removal from the home.

         {¶ 20} On August 13, 2014, the agency filed a motion "for a finding of Annual Reasonable Efforts." The mother opposed the motion. She argued that the agency had not used reasonable and diligent efforts and claimed that the agency should be doing more to promote reunification. The mother claimed that she and the father went beyond what was expected in the case plan; and they had made significant improvements to their residence in order to provide an appropriate and stable home for their children. The mother asserted that she and the father have not received extended visits with the children and that these visits were necessary to facilitate reunification.

         G. Increased Visitation

         {¶ 21} On October 17, 2014, the agency filed a motion to permit limited unsupervised visits with the parents. The agency asserted that the parents "appear to be compliant with the case plan services" and that the unsupervised visits are "a necessary step toward reunification." On that same date, the agency filed a motion to withdraw its request for a reasonable efforts finding. The agency asserted that it had overlooked the court's reasonable efforts finding contained in its July 17, 2014 judgment.

         {¶ 22} On November 3, 2014, the trial court addressed the request for increased visitation and the agency's efforts to reunify. The trial court ordered that (1) updated reports be provided from all service providers; (2) that the family counseling must be provided by a licensed counselor; (3) that the Child Protection Center provide an opinion on the projected impact on the two youngest children of increased visits with the parents; and (4) that an opinion be provided to the trial court regarding whether or not the parents' counseling effectively addresses the concerns raised in the psychological assessments of each parent.

         H. November 2014 Amended Case Plan

         {¶ 23} On November 5, 2014, the agency filed an amended case plan to document the following changes: (1) S.S.'s participation in counseling at the Child Protection Center due to behavioral difficulties exhibited in foster care; (2) Abby McGee of ISS will conduct "family sessions"; (3) the father will receive mental health counseling as recommended in his psychological evaluation; and (4) unsupervised visits will occur in the home and will increase as the family continues to make progress.

         {¶ 24} The amended case plan noted the following strengths: (1) the father "has made progress with substance abuse counseling and has not experienced recent problems related to alcohol"; (2) the father "shows bonding" with the children; (3) the parents "currently have a good relationship and are willing to utilize services to work toward reunification"; (4) "[M.S.] has benefited from counseling"; and (5) both children enjoy visiting with their parents and siblings.

         {¶ 25} The amended case plan required the mother to (1) continue counseling and to follow any recommendations; (2) engage in family counseling with ISS and use the skills learned with her children; (3) provide a safe, stable home environment to meet the children's needs; and (4) participate in random drug screens. Much like the original case plan, the amended case plan required the father to (1) continue following his substance abuse treatment recommendations; (2) receive counseling "to address maladaptive personality traits, " to manage his anger, and to "identify ways in which his interpersonal relationships impact sobriety, mental health and behavioral adaptations"; (3) to participate in random drug screens; (4) to refrain from alcohol abuse; (5) to engage in ISS counseling and family sessions; (6) to use caution as to who he permits in the home; (7) to avoid conflict with the mother when the children are present; and (8) to avoid domestic violence.

         I. Family's Continued Progress

         {¶ 26} A November 17, 2014 case review documents that the parents had made progress and that their relationship had been more stable: The parents had fewer disturbances and conflict in the home, had made improvements with furniture and remodeling in order to prepare for expanded visitation and reunification, and had engaged in family counseling sessions. The case review states that M.S. and S.S. need to continue therapeutic services to address their emotional needs, anger, and defiance and that they need consistent information regarding reunification plans. The document related that the children's defiance "can increase likelihood of a placement disruption which would not be beneficial at this time."

         {¶ 27} This case review placed the risk assessment at "moderate, " and indicated that the agency plans to extend the visits to overnight visitations. The agency indicated that it would continue the children in temporary custody "until it is determined that the home is a safe and stable environment for the children" and further stated that the family continues "to show progress with services and toward goal of reunification."

         J. Case Progresses to Unsupervised Visitations

         {¶ 28} On December 3, 2014, the trial court allowed the parents to have unsupervised visits with the children for up to two hours twice each week. Around the beginning of January 2015, the parents began unsupervised weekend visits with the children.

         {¶ 29} On February 23, 2015, the court entered an order that prohibited the parents from having "roommates/renters in the household and no non-related overnight guests."

         K. Agency Terminates Unsupervised Visitations

         {¶ 30} Unfortunately, the parents were unable to continue the unsupervised weekend visits with the children. The agency had determined that the unsupervised visitation was no longer appropriate. The agency filed an amended case plan on March 31, 2015, noting that the children have been moved to another foster home and that visitation will be at the agency's discretion and will occur at the agency.

         {¶ 31} On April 2, 2015, the agency filed a "memorandum regarding reduction of visitation." On February 27, 2015, the agency reduced the visits to supervised visits at the agency due to the following concerns. The agency alleged that on February 13, 2015, the mother called the common pleas court to discuss the criminal proceeding involving M.S.'s abductor. During the call, the mother told a court employee that "every time she saw [the abductor] * * * she wanted to climb over the table and start stabbing him." The court employee described the mother's conversation as a "rant." The agency further claimed that the mother advised a law enforcement officer that the abductor allegedly wrote a letter in which he implicated the parents in a scheme to abduct M.S.

         {¶ 32} The agency additionally stated that it learned of a Craigslist, Inc. advertisement seeking "renters" for the parents' residence. The Craigslist, Inc. advertisement stated the following:

where [sic] lookin [sic] for a female room mate with benefits were [sic] a married couple looking to share a room with a bi female we own our home so we just split the utilities and food and of course the bedroom its [sic] a three bedroom house and you have your own room we own our own car where [sic] not fancy but looking for some one who likes play cars movies etc and sex wife prefer heavy set girls because she is as well if you think this sounds good maybe even consider a couple we can meet coffee lunch if you don't drive not a problem we come to you so if seven 4 zero four one eight nine nine five two we have pics share and we can be decreat [sic] about living situration [sic] as well can make each other fantacy [sic] come true and ladies he carryin [sic] 8 inches posted pic think it blurry [sic].

         The advertisement was troubling to the agency as it asserted that having strangers living in the home can cause additional trauma to M.S.

         {¶ 33} The agency also learned that the mother bathed or showered with M.S. during visits. The agency asserted that this behavior exhibited the mother's continued lack of understanding and disregard for appropriate boundaries, especially since M.S. had experienced such a traumatic abduction and sexual assault. The agency could not support allowing the children to visit the parents unsupervised due to the parents' inability to maintain a structured and safe environment for the children.

         L. Agency Seeks Permanent Custody

         {¶ 34} On May 1, 2015, the agency filed a motion to modify the temporary custody order to permanent custody. The agency alleged that the children cannot be placed with either parent within a reasonable time or should not be placed with either parent and that the children have been in its temporary custody for more than twelve months of a consecutive twenty-two month period. The agency asserted that despite counseling, the parents continue "to engage in a pattern of behaviors which are not consistent with providing a safe and stable household for the children to return."

         M. Permanent Custody Hearing

         1. Agency's Witnesses

         a. Mother

         {¶ 35} The mother stated that she has been in counseling for three years. She explained that she initially engaged in counseling due to a court order that she complete anger management counseling as a result of a domestic violence incident with her husband. She testified that she continued the counseling because she found it helped her handle the alcohol use and violence that occurred in the household, as well as the troubles surrounding F.S.'s and T.S.'s behaviors. The mother stated that the counseling has helped her learn how to control her anger and emotions and to avoid inserting herself into other individuals' problems.

         {¶ 36} The mother explained that she rented a room in her home in order to generate household income and that she sometimes allowed others who needed a place to stay to use the room. In October 2013, she permitted a couple and their three children to stay in the home. In February 2014, she took in a male renter who she later learned was a registered sex offender. The mother next permitted a cousin to stay with her. In May 2014, T.S. overdosed while in the house, but the mother claimed he was no longer living there. In August 2014, the mother had another set of renters in the house, who stayed for approximately one week. Next, a seventeen-year-old runaway female from West Virginia stayed at her house. When law enforcement officers arrived at the parents' residence to confirm the minor's presence, the minor was located in the bedroom. The mother stated that she and the father were unaware that the female was a minor or a runaway at the time they allowed her into the home. In November 2014, a twenty-year-old girl rented the room, and her boyfriend later moved in with her. In January 2015, the mother's cousin's two children stayed at her house for a couple of days.

         {¶ 37} The state presented the mother with a Craigslist, Inc. advertisement, generated around January 2015, that sought renters and that contained their phone number. The mother would neither admit nor deny that she posted the advertisement.

         {¶ 38} The state additionally presented the mother with a February 28, 2015 letter that she wrote. In the letter, the mother explained that Levi Workman, her ex-husband's child, contacted her to discuss a conversation he had with M.S.'s abductor, Zachary Dunn. Workman alleged that while imprisoned with Dunn, Dunn claimed that M.S.'s parents had set him up and framed him. Workman further alleged that M.S.'s parents had paid Dunn $1, 000 to kidnap M.S. and that they promised him an additional $4, 000 when Dunn finished the job. The mother also stated that according to what Workman claimed Dunn informed him, the father told Dunn that Dunn "could take [M.S.]" and that the father is the one who actually took and raped M.S.

         {¶ 39} The mother admitted that T.S. contributed to the chaos and conflict in the home but explained that she tried to prohibit T.S. from entering the household. The mother agreed that her efforts to prevent T.S. from entering the household had not been entirely successful but claimed that the police did not sufficiently help when she requested assistance with T.S. She admitted that T.S. continued to pose a problem and indicated that on the date of her testimony, she called the police because T.S. had pried the lock to the basement and entered the house. Additionally, in May 2015, T.S. and Tia.S. had an altercation; and T.S. threatened to assault the mother.

         b. Abigail McGee

         {¶ 40} Integrated Services behavioral health consultant Abigail McGee testified that she started working with the family in October 2014 to improve their interactions and communications and to help stabilize the household. She stated that the parents were receptive to counseling and that the family made progress. McGee related that the mother had improved her awareness and appeared to be aware of M.S.'s triggers and the sensitivity regarding her trauma. She further explained that the mother encouraged S.S. to engage in counseling, instead of playing video games. McGee stated that the father had made more of an effort to spend time with S.S. and that she had not noticed any alcohol in the home. The parents had physically improved the home by providing appropriate bedding for the children and rearranging the home to be more child-friendly. McGee testified that the children appeared bonded to their parents.

         {¶ 41} McGee stated that the parents recognized that their behaviors contributed to S.S.'s previous sleeping problems and difficulty attending school and have since established routines and schedules, as well as behavioral and chore charts. The parents also developed a plan to keep the children safe, entitled "Important Steps to Keep Our Kids Safe." McGee explained that in developing this safety plan, the parents talked to other professionals involved in the case and then compiled a list of ways to keep the children safe such as obtaining baby monitors, turning off cell phones when spending time with the children, and maintaining a bedtime routine.

         {¶ 42} McGee related that the mother had discussed her frustration trying to keep T.S. away from the home and the lack of law enforcement response when she requests help. McGee additionally stated that the parents now understand why they should not have renters in the home if the children are there. McGee indicated, however, that the mother continued to engage herself in other individuals' problems and to discuss inappropriate topics around the children.

         {¶ 43} McGee stated that counseling helped the family strengthen the family dynamics by reducing conflict and chaos in the home so that they could provide a safe and stable environment. She further testified that she did not believe that the family was ready to terminate counseling.

         c. George Sellers

         {¶ 44} George Sellers was the family's caseworker from July 2013 to June 2015. He testified that the parents "pretty much" complied with the case plan. He explained that the family dynamic improved. Sellers's case notes indicate that the parents' "home appears calmer" and that they "often had positive interactions with the children during the visits." Sellers also stated that the parents made "significant repairs to the home, " including remodeling and installing a new furnace and new carpeting.

         {¶ 45} Sellers related that the parents requested extra services that were not part of the case plan, such as marriage counseling, and that they consistently requested more in-home visits with the children. He stated that the mother asked for a specialist to help her and M.S. when M.S. returns home. Sellers additionally testified that the mother started parenting sessions on her own, but she indicated that she was not certain whether she wished to continue.

         {¶ 46} Sellers explained that T.S. was an on-going issue. He stated that the parents recognized that T.S. caused problems; they tried to keep T.S. away from the home; and the mother reported that she needed help from the police to keep T.S. away from the home. Sellers related that the parents did not believe law enforcement officers provided adequate assistance when they requested help concerning T.S.

         {¶ 47} Sellers stated that the children enjoyed visits with the parents; and he believed they shared a bond with the parents. Sellers explained that the children were doing well in their current foster home. He related that the current foster home is "a calm home" and that the foster parents "are able to deal well with [the children]." Additionally, S.S.'s school performance improved while in foster care. However, the children continued to display some behavioral difficulties. For instance, S.S. would wet the bed; and M.S. had started urinating in containers in her bedroom.

         {¶ 48} Sellers explained that the children's current foster home is their third placement since their removal from the parents' home. Sellers stated that the children continued exhibiting behavioral issues while in foster care. When the children were in the second foster home, their behavioral problems increased. The second foster parents became frustrated and requested the agency to remove the children. Sellers related that the children were removed from the first foster home because M.S. "sexually perpetrated the foster parents' four year old daughter." Sellers indicated that the children's behavioral problems coincided with increased visits with the parents and with the Dunn criminal trial; but he was unable to state that there specifically was a correlation.

         {¶ 49} Sellers explained that the agency had "safety concerns" regarding the people who stayed at the family's home. He testified that "[t]here seemed to be a pattern there of [the parents] wanting to get renters in or people that stayed hadn't been providing any assistance. [sic]" Sellers stated that after the agency informed the parents that renters would be inappropriate if the children were returned home, Sellers did not learn of any subsequent renters.

         {¶ 50} Sellers explained that the agency stopped unsupervised visits after learning that the mother showered and bathed with M.S. and after learning of the Craigslist, Inc. advertisement. Sellers stated that the agency did not believe that the mother should have bathed with M.S. as that behavior is not appropriate with a child that has been sexually abused.

          {¶ 51} The trial judge asked Sellers whether the parents improved their situation. Sellers responded that they had; and, thus, the agency increased the visits and permitted overnight visits. The judge asked Sellers whether he agreed with the permanent custody motion; in response, Sellers answered that at the end of the two-year period, the parents had not made enough progress to reunify, and "[t]he agency was running out of options." He further stated that the agency had concerns about "strangers coming into the home" and the mother's "chronic mental health issues." The judge asked Sellers whether he believed that placing the children in the agency's permanent custody is in their best interests, and Sellers responded, "I don't think I can say one way or another on that." He explained that while he believes that the agency had valid reasons for requesting permanent custody, he does not "know the parents' situation now and whether they've made enough improvements since then * * *."

         d. Dr. Robin Rippeth

         {¶ 52} Dr. Robin Rippeth testified that in March 2014, she performed psychological evaluations of both parents. She gathered complete psychosocial histories and administered projective and achievement testing, as well as parenting questionnaires. Dr. Rippeth also administered a sobriety maintenance skills assessment and a Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory to the father.

         i. Father's Psychological Evaluation

         {¶ 53} Dr. Rippeth's report notes that the father had a lengthy criminal history that dates back to 1999. Her report stated that the father "shows a disregard for the safety of others and himself as evidenced by receiving numerous Disorderly Conduct, Persistent Disorderly, and Domestic Violence charges." Dr. Rippeth's report additionally indicated that the father had displayed "difficulty providing for the safety of his children overtime [sic]." She explained:

For example, he left his two youngest children in the case of a 16 year-old without much concern. He and his family have had various investigations by [children services] related to the children's needs not being met as well as the safety of the children. [The father]'s alcohol dependence and personality characteristics appear to be intertwined and when [he] uses alcohol, this serves to disinhibit his behavior. Both of these concerns are pervasive issues that have become ingrained patterns of behavior.

         {¶ 54} Dr. Rippeth diagnosed the father with alcohol dependence and anti-social personality disorder. She explained that anti-social personality disorder is "characterized by disregard for societal rules and limits; irresponsibility such as failure to sustain work activities, impulsivity, aggression, failure to think and plan ahead." She stated that "[a] parent who has been diagnosed with anti-social personality disorder would exhibit behaviors like failure to model appropriate coping skills to their child; failure to express emotions and use appropriate coping responses, but responding with aggression and not modeling prosocial behaviors to the children." Dr. Rippeth indicated that "personality disorders are long standing patterns of behavior that individuals have displayed beginning in later teenage, early adulthood" and that "there's no medication that can be prescribed to effectively change that." She related that "[t]he patterns repeat themselves through history and are pretty, even with treatment, it's very hard to change those patterns and behaviors." Her report stated that "Personality Disorders by nature are ingrained patterns of behavior and fairly resistant to change."

         {¶ 55} Dr. Rippeth noted in her report that she did not detect any significant cognitive limitations which would impede [the father's] ability to engage in effective parenting. [He] does not present with an affective disorder that precludes him from serving in an appropriate parental role; however, he evidences difficulty with affect management, specifically with regard to managing his anger through appropriate means. His personality characteristics further impact his ability to serve as an appropriate parental role model to his children. Given his disregard for authority, [the father] is likely to model aggression as opposed to healthier coping responses to his children. Furthermore, there have been repeated investigations by [children services] and [the father] has historically chosen inappropriate caregivers to provide supervision of his children. This suggests that his decision-making skills regarding parenting may still be limited, which would place the children at risk for ongoing neglect. It will be important for [the father] to think through potential concerns and issues that may impact his children's safety.

         {¶ 56} Dr. Rippeth recommended the following treatment for the father: "gaining insight into his personality dynamics and implementing more healthy and appropriate coping responses for anger, engaging in more appropriate final decision making skills. Definitely focusing on the alcohol abuse, establishing sobriety, establishing a relaxed prevention plan and appropriate coping skills to replace the use of illicit substances." The father's "treatment would need to [be] on-going and long term, probably over years of treatment to gain and maintain progress." Dr. Rippeth noted that "[a]lthough mental health treatment should address some of [the father]'s personality characteristics, the ingrained patterns of behavior are unlikely to change significantly even with treatment."

         ii. Mother's Psychological Evaluation

          {¶ 57} Dr. Rippeth's report regarding the mother indicates that the mother recognized her household was "very chaotic" when F.S., T.S., and Tia.S. lived in the household. The mother reported a period of four years during which she "was unable to engage in assertive parenting with her children and she isolated herself to her bedroom."

         {¶ 58} The report also related that the mother had a criminal history that dates to 1999. Dr. Rippeth concluded that the mother's "history reflects extensive legal system involvement and repeated failure to comply with societal rules and expectations."

         {¶ 59} Dr. Rippeth diagnosed the mother as suffering from "Personality Disorder Not Otherwise Specified with Borderline and Antisocial Traits and Neglect of Child." Dr. Rippeth's report explained that the diagnosis means that the mother

evidences a pattern of personality characteristics that reflect emotional reactivity that is excessive for the situation and lack of regard for rules and regulations. Personality disorders are not an organic condition, but rather a pervasive learned pattern of inner experiences and behavior. [The mother] will likely continue to engage in behavior that violates major societal rules and norms. Her personality structure indicates that she is likely to demonstrate impulsivity, manipulative and deceitful behavior, and failure to consider the needs of others.

         {¶ 60} Dr. Rippeth testified that the mother's traits "would model to the children, the emotional over-re-activities [sic], so the children would have a hard time learning how to express their emotions appropriately from what they are seeing in the home and it would model lack of prosocial behaviors. Kind of a disregard for complying with established rules and limits and lack of boundaries, things of that nature." Dr. Rippeth testified that a household with the parents' types of traits "is going to be characterized by lack of structure and lack of rules, lack of supervision, lack of support."

         {¶ 61} Dr. Rippeth related that the mother has "basic parenting skills and knowledge and has no cognitive limitations which would impede her ability to effectively serve in a parental role." However, Dr. Rippeth also believed that the mother had historically prioritized her own needs over her children's needs. Dr. Rippeth's report indicated that the mother repeatedly failed to fully meet the needs of her children; and that the mother had various charges of child endangering dating back to 2002 with her older children. Dr. Rippeth explained: [The mother's] two oldest children were removed from her care and adopted. Her third oldest child has predominantly been raised by [the mother]'s sister-in-law. [The mother] reports that she is unable to control her next two oldest boys and has been unsuccessful in attempts to manage their behaviors. * * * * Despite this extensive history, [the mother] reports that she has made progress since [the agency] became involved and desires to reunify with her three youngest children.

         {¶ 62} Dr. Rippeth stated that the mother has "an ingrained pattern of behavior" and she is "resistant to change." Dr. Rippeth testified that the mother would need "on-going and long term treatment likely expanding across years." Dr. Rippeth explained that "[i]ndividuals with borderline personality disorder, borderline personality traits, have a hard time establishing boundaries in therapy" and that it is "difficult for them to establish boundaries in any relationship and/or social situation, " "especially if they are feeling threatened or dealing with people in positions of authority."

         e. Brian Bethel

         {¶ 63} Brian Bethel, the children's therapist, testified that both children experienced "episodic progression, " i.e., periods of improvement followed by regression. Bethel stated that around the time of the criminal trial, he noted behavioral changes in both children. He indicated that M.S. regressed significantly and withdrew. Further, Bethel testified that S.S. sought more attention during that time, was not following rules, and had difficulty following his foster parents' directives. S.S. was also arguing with his sister.

         {¶ 64} When the children started home visits with the parents, Bethel noticed the children were more defiant, and conflicted more with one another. S.S. was wetting the bed; and M.S. was urinating in containers. Nonetheless, Bethel could not state "with a 100% degree certainty" that the parents' conduct or visits with the children caused the children's regressive behaviors. In a written update Bethel prepared for the children's caseworker, Bethel stated: "While it would be impossible to determine the cause of this recent deterioration, the behavioral issues would be consistent with the expansion of visitation with the child's biological parents." He further indicated: "Although it is not uncommon for children to experience a decline in functioning with changes in visitation, anticipation of reunification, etc., it would appear that [the children]'s behavioral regression is severe."

         {¶ 65} Bethel found the mother's bathing with M.S. to be concerning, especially given M.S.'s sexual trauma. Bethel explained: "Sexual trauma survivors are far more attuned to sexuality, genitalia; it certainly creates some concerns for re-traumatization, potential increase in anxiety, not to mention the lack of appropriate boundaries."

         {¶ 66} Bethel indicated that he also had concerns about the renters or overnight guests at the parents' home. He stated that in addition to concerns regarding who the parents allowed into the home, the renters and guests led to a lack of consistency and a lack of appropriate boundary- setting. Bethel related that the renters and overnight guests were not conducive to the type of environment the children need. He stated that S.S. "needs a very structured environment; one in which there are appropriate healthy boundaries; one in which the child's needs are foundational and one in which the child feels free that he can express himself in a safe and a loving environment." Bethel explained that M.S. needs a "very consistent, nurturing environment" with "very healthy boundaries; very healthy communication between all family members; as well as an environment in which the child feels safe."

         {¶ 67} Bethel testified that he reviewed the parents' psychological evaluations. He stated that the parents' prior child welfare and legal involvement "raised concerns about the consistency of that environment" and "the parents' ability to place the children's needs before their own." Bethel related that the mother's diagnosis "seems to be a long standing, sometimes life-long course of very rigid personality characteristics that could certainly influence additional inappropriate behavior" and that the mental health profession does "not have a high rate of success in" treating individuals with personality disorder.

         {¶ 68} Bethel testified that the children discussed their visits with the parents and "[a]t times they seem very happy about their parents." However, he believed that there was "unhealthy bonding." Bethel related that sometimes the parents' own needs superseded those of the children. Bethel was concerned about the parents' lengthy history of both child welfare involvement, as well as legal involvement. Bethel worried that the environment would not be stable enough for the children.

         {¶ 69} Bethel additionally believed the parents inappropriately discussed the Dunn criminal trial with the children. Bethel explained that both children possessed specific knowledge of the criminal proceedings involving M.S.'s abduction and rape-knowledge "that children of their developmental stage would not" possess independently.

         {¶ 70} Bethel further related his concern that the parents discussed the foster care placement with the children. He stated that "both children at different points had stated that their parents disliked the [second] foster placement. On one occasion, [S.S.] had said that his parents felt as though the previous foster parents were, quote, 'assholes.' That obviously created conflict and tension between the children and the foster parents." Bethel explained that discussing the foster care placement with the children was not appropriate because "foster care is a difficult process in and of itself. When children are aware of conflicts between biological parents and foster parents, sometimes children can use that to manipulate. Sometimes children have lots of fears regarding what happens if I don't get to stay here. It just certainly aggravates the existing circumstances." It essentially "interferes with setting the children up * * * to return home."

         {¶ 71} Bethel further testified that he believed the parents also discussed the custody proceedings with the children, as recently as the week prior to his testimony. A week earlier, S.S. "had stated that his parents told him that the court was going well" and that "they would be coming home." M.S. stated that the parents informed her "the Court was going great and they would be coming home soon." Bethel stated that the parents' discussion of all of these adult topics with the children demonstrated that the parents' own needs superseded those of the children.

         {¶ 72} Ultimately, Bethel testified that he has not observed sufficient progress to enable the children to return home. He stated that their progression has been "erratic" and that if they were returned home, they would need counseling for several months, "if not [for] a year or longer."

         f. ...


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