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In re J.D.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Twelfth District, Fayette

June 12, 2017

IN THE MATTER OF: J.D., et al.


          Susan Wollscheid, guardian ad litem.

          Melissa S. Upthegrove, for appellant, C.D.

          Jess C. Weade, Fayette County Prosecuting Attorney, Sean M. Abbott, for appellee, Fayette County Children Services.


          RINGLAND, J.

         {¶ 1} Appellant, the biological mother of J.D., E.P., B.D., and CD. ("Mother"), appeals a decision of the Fayette County Court of Common Pleas, Juvenile Division, granting permanent custody of Mother's children to appellee, the children services division of the Fayette County Department of Job and Family Services ("the agency"). For the reasons detailed below, we affirm.

         {¶ 2} In May 2015, the agency filed complaints alleging that J.D., E.P., B.D., and C.D. ("the children") were neglected and dependent and sought temporary custody. The complaints alleged that Mother was unable to provide for the children's basic needs and that she was abusing drugs. The juvenile court granted temporary custody of the children to the agency. The agency then placed the children with a foster family.

         {¶ 3} The court held an evidentiary hearing on the allegations in July 2015. The state dismissed the counts related to neglect but presented evidence on dependency. The evidence showed that Mother had visible track marks on her arm when contacted by agency workers. Mother refused to let the workers inside her home. Mother checked herself into a drug treatment facility and left the children with neighbors. However, the neighbors could not manage the children. The children, who were between five and twelve years old, exhibited behavior indicating that they had been raising themselves. The court noted the fathers of J.D. and E.P failed to appear at the hearing, B.D.'s father was deceased, and that C.D.'s father appeared and admitted to his child's dependency. Following the hearing, the court found that the children were dependent and continued temporary custody with the agency. Mother did not appeal the findings of dependency.

         {¶ 4} In July 2015, the agency filed Mother's case plan, which sought to reunify Mother with the children. The plan required Mother to secure counseling for mental health concerns, address her heroin addiction through an inpatient drug treatment program, obtain and maintain stable housing, and attend parenting classes. Mother did not sign the case plan.

         {¶ 5} The court held a status hearing in February 2016. The evidence submitted at the hearing indicated that Mother had minimal telephone contact with the agency since the initial removal hearing. Mother had not offered the agency proof of housing. Nor had Mother shown proof of attending drug counseling or parenting classes. The court noted that Mother had been visiting her children regularly beginning in November 2015 and that the visits went well. The court continued temporary custody with the agency.

         {¶ 6} Mother's last visit with the children occurred in February 2016. Mother failed to appear for a status hearing in August 2016. Later that month, the agency moved for permanent custody.

         {¶ 7} In November 2016, Mother moved to reinstate visitation.[1] The court granted that request. Nonetheless, Mother did not visit with the children. The children's guardian ad litem filed a report recommending that the court grant permanent custody to the agency.

         {¶ 8} At the permanent custody hearing in January 2017, Mother's counsel moved to withdraw from representing Mother, or alternatively, to continue the hearing date. Counsel explained that she had very limited contact with Mother, that Mother had failed to appear for an appointment before the hearing, and that counsel had not been provided with documents and the identity of witnesses until the day of the hearing. Mother explained to the court that she had been in a women's shelter and was not able to meet with her attorney. The state objected to any continuance, noting that Mother had previously failed to attend numerous court hearings on the case. The court denied these requests and commenced the hearing.

         {¶ 9} Mother's agency caseworker testified that she had only seen Mother in person at court appearances and had minimal other contact with Mother. Mother gave the caseworker two pieces of paper on the day of the permanent custody hearing that appeared to indicate that Mother attended classes at a behavioral center. Mother also presented the caseworker with a letter from the Social Security Administration indicating that she received around $700 in monthly benefits. The caseworker was never able to visit Mother's residence as Mother twice cancelled scheduled visits.

         {¶ 10} Mother testified that her lack of communication with the agency was because the caseworker always wanted to discuss adoption. She explained that she was at a behavioral center for four months while the case was ongoing and that she was currently taking parenting classes and receiving counseling. She did not exercise visitation with the children because she did not want to cause them to suffer emotionally. However, Mother admitted that she had "no good reason" not to have visited her children following her release from a hospital in or around February 2016.

         {¶ 11} Mother stated that when her visits were reinstated by the court in November 2016, she was undergoing inpatient care. Later, visitation center employees told her that she would have to wait one month before they could schedule a visit. She confirmed that she was ...

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