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In re K.M.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eleventh District, Trumbull

October 23, 2017


         Appeal from the Trumbull County Court of Common Pleas, Juvenile Division, Case No. 2015 CH 00060.

          Judith M. Kowalski, (For Appellant).

          Susan Porter Collins, Trumbull County Children Services Board, (For Appellee).

          Sherman Miles, P.O. (Guardian ad litem).


          THOMAS R. WRIGHT, J.

         {¶1} Appellant, Catherine Houston, appeals the juvenile court's judgment terminating her parental rights to her biological son, K.M. She challenges the manifest weight of the evidence; contests the denial of her motion to continue the final hearing; and argues the motion for permanent custody was premature. We affirm.

         {¶2} K.M. was born July 19, 2006. At some point during early childhood, his biological father died in an automobile accident. Until September 2013, K.M. lived with appellant and other relatives in Pennsylvania. Before September 2013, appellant developed a drug habit and was convicted of multiple criminal offenses, including prostitution and burglary. She was ultimately sentenced to prison.

         {¶3} Appellant, therefore, arranged for her friend, Tammie Hobart to take custody of K.M. and raise him at her Trumbull County, Ohio home. This arrangement was approved by a Pennsylvania state court.

         {¶4} K.M. lived with Hobart until November 2015 when she voluntarily relinquished custody to appellee, the Trumbull County Children's Services Board, because she could no longer control him. K.M. was prone to angry outbursts and was physically threatening to others. One month later, the trial court deemed K.M. to be a dependent child and placed him in appellee's temporary custody.

         {¶5} K.M. was diagnosed with disruptive mood dysregulation and placed into a secured care unit where he received daily counseling for over ten months. It was soon discovered that both appellant and Hobart were anger triggers, since he could not understand why neither wanted to care for him. At the beginning of treatment, K.M. could not function in a family setting and was having difficulty in school. However, as his treatment progressed, his outbursts decreased and, ultimately, he began visiting a foster family on weekends.

         {¶6} During this time frame, appellant was moved from state prison to a half-way house near Pittsburgh. The half-way house provided appellee with programs to help reunite her with K.M. once her prison term was concluded. To this end, appellee's caseworker developed a three-point plan requiring appellant to: (1) complete a drug treatment program; (2) take parenting classes; and (3) establish regular communication with K.M.

         {¶7} During the first six months of 2016, appellant made some progress on all three objectives. She interacted with K.M. over the phone and visually via the internet. In July 2016, they met and had a supervised visit on K.M.'s tenth birthday. Although appellant gave K.M. multiple gifts, she did not spend much time with him. Instead, she talked mostly with a friend who attended the party, while K.M. played with another child. K.M.'s counselor concluded, therefore, that appellant's relationship with K.M. remained shallow.

         {¶8} Approximately ten days after the birthday visit, appellant escaped from the half-way house and remained a fugitive from the authorities for over two months. Twice during this period, she telephoned K.M. at the secured care unit, but was precluded from speaking with him until she talked with the caseworker. New charges of prostitution and providing false identification to a police officer were brought against her when she was apprehended in October 2016. Moreover, after returning to the Pennsylvania correctional system, she admitted she had again taken illegal drugs.

         {¶9} When K.M. was informed of appellant's actions, he initially thought his caseworker and counselor were misleading him as to her whereabouts, leading to outbursts. When told that appellant had been apprehended, K.M. informed his counselor that although he still wanted to see his mother periodically, he no longer wished to be reunited as a family because he did not want to be disappointed again. K.M. later repeated these sentiments to a court magistrate during an in-camera interview.

         {¶10} While appellant was a fugitive, appellee moved the trial court for permanent custody of K.M., asserting that ...

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