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In re Jacob M.E.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Twelfth District, Warren

January 8, 2018



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

          John C. Kaspar, for appellant.


          HENDRICKSON, P.J.

         {¶ 1} Appellant, the biological mother of Jacob M.E., appeals from a decision of the Warren County Court of Common Pleas, Juvenile Division, granting permanent custody of her son 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 February 17, 2015, WCCS filed a complaint alleging that Jacob (born June 3, 2010) was a dependent child. The complaint indicated that the agency had received a report that Jacob's custodian, his biological father, had passed away earlier that month. Jacob was left in the care of his half-sister, who did not feel she could properly care for him long term and no other relatives were willing or able to care for him.

         {¶ 3} Although Jacob's biological mother, D.H. ("Mother") had supervised visitation with Jacob, WCCS did not feel Mother was a suitable placement for the child. WCCS had an open case involving Mother and Jacob's older half-brother, R.M., who had been removed from Mother's care due to concerns of domestic violence. Given Mother's past physical abuse of R.M. and her failure to complete case plan objectives in R.M.'s case, WCCS felt it was necessary to monitor the situation before permitting Mother to take custody of Jacob.

         {¶ 4} Following an emergency shelter care hearing held on February 17, 2015, Jacob was placed in WCCS's care. Thereafter, on April 29, 2015, the juvenile court held an adjudicatory hearing and found Jacob to be a dependent child. On May 15, 2015, following a dispositional hearing, Jacob was placed in the temporary custody of WCCS. A Court-Appointed Special Advocate ("CASA") was assigned to the case.

         {¶ 5} WCCS added Jacob to Mother's already-existing case plan in R.M.'s case. The case plan objectives were for Mother to complete case management, medication management, parenting classes, a mental health assessment and a drug and alcohol assessment, to comply with any services recommended from said assessments, including mental health counseling, to submit to random drug screens, and to demonstrate stable housing and income. The case plan also set forth certain behavior changes Mother needed to make before reunification with Jacob could occur. Mother needed to refrain from behaviors of physical and verbal abuse, improve her communication abilities, and learn to resolve conflicts before they escalated to the point that police involvement was necessary.

         {¶ 6} Temporary custody was extended to WCCS in February 2016, and then again in July 2016. During this time, Mother completed parenting classes and demonstrated stable employment and housing. However, Mother made limited progress in meeting the remaining goals of her case plan.

         {¶ 7} Mother completed her first drug and alcohol assessment in July 2014, as part of R.M.'s case plan, and there were no recommendations for treatment at this time as Mother had self-reported she was not using any drugs or alcohol. However, after Mother tested positive for marijuana, she was reassessed in August 2015, and a standard outpatient treatment program ("SOP") was recommended. The SOP program entailed 15 individual classes, a family meeting, and an exit interview. Mother failed to complete the program.

         {¶ 8} In October 2015, a third assessment was completed and a SOP program was again recommended. Mother failed to regularly attend the classes and was discharged unsuccessfully from treatment. Finally, in April 2016, Mother had a fourth assessment and the same SOP program was recommended. Mother completed the program in September 2016.

         {¶ 9} However, although Mother completed the SOP program, she continued to test positive for marijuana when randomly screened by the agency. Mother tested positive for marijuana a number of times, including on May 25, 2016, July 1, 2016, November 28, 2016, and December 2, 2016. Mother challenged the accuracy of the drug screens, suggesting that the results were false positives stemming from her use of the prescribed medication Protonix, from taking daily doses of Motrin, or from eating energy bars sold at Walmart that allegedly contained hemp. Mother also accused the agency of falsifying or tampering with the drug-test results. She began to excessively call the agency, sometimes more than 20 times a day, and became verbally abusive and threatening towards the agency's workers. At one point, she accused a WCCS supervisor of lying about the drug-test results and told the supervisor, "You set me up bitch…I'm coming for you."

         {¶ 10} Mother also made limited progress with her mental health counseling. Mother engaged in a mental health assessment in January 2014, and attended some counseling sessions at Solutions Community Counseling and Recovery Center ("Solutions") before her initial treatment was terminated for non-attendance. Mother was reassessed in April 2016, and was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and having active trauma symptoms.[1] One of Mother's treatment goals was to work on communicating effectively and managing stressors that caused her to become verbally aggressive. Mother began attending bi-weekly individual mental health counseling sessions at Solutions. However, she continued to have attendance issues, which made it more difficult to reach her treatment goals.

         {¶ 11} Part of Mother's treatment at Solutions entailed helping Mother cope with the fact that she felt like she was being "revictimized by the system" and that WCCS was the perpetrator of the abuse.[2] Mother acknowledged to her counselor that she was often verbally aggressive in her interactions with WCCS workers and had limited success in implementing what she was learning in therapy to adjust her behavior. Mother's aggressive behavior towards the agency continued to worsen as time went on, and at one point Mother made the statement that "this is why people shoot people" in reference to dealing with WCCS at a court proceeding.

         {¶ 12} As a result of Mother's behavior, Mother's case plan was amended in July 2016 to require a full psychological assessment. The juvenile court ordered the assessment, and Mother was evaluated by a psychologist at Solutions in September 2016. Mother was diagnosed with a generalized anxiety disorder, major depression, a substance abuse disorder regarding her use of marijuana, and a personality disorder that led to attendant social complications and difficulty dealing with interpersonal interactions. The psychologist recommended Mother continue her individual mental health treatment and join group treatment for survivors of trauma.

         {¶ 13} In addition to receiving treatment at Solutions, Mother also briefly participated in therapy sessions through the Bair Foundation, a foster care organization that does in-home counseling. Counseling was recommended for Jacob, his foster parents, and Mother as a result of Jacob's ADHD diagnosis. Mother attended two sessions in November 2016, one at WCCS's visitation center and the other at the agency's office. Jacob was present for both of these sessions.

         {¶ 14} After Mother's visitation with Jacob was suspended in December 2016, Mother expressed a desire to continue sessions with the therapist from the Bair Foundation in order to obtain additional parenting education. The therapist agreed and three additional sessions with Mother were scheduled. Mother proceeded to cancel and reschedule the appointments several times, which ultimately led the Bair Foundation to terminate its services with Mother.

         {¶ 15} Until her visitation was suspended in December 2016, Mother maintained frequent contact with Jacob. Initially, Mother had supervised visitation with Jacob once a week for two hours at WCCS's visitation center. Then in June 2015, visitation was expanded and became unsupervised. However, in May 2016, after Mother failed a random drug screen and began showing threatening and disconcerting behavior towards the agency's workers, Mother's visitation was restricted to supervised visitation. The agency indicated it would consider granting unsupervised visitation again if Mother had three consecutive negative drug screens.

          {¶ 16} During the supervised visits, WCCS workers noticed a lack of bond between Mother and Jacob. Over Mother's objections, the case plan was amended to require Mother to complete a bonding assessment. The bonding assessment was scheduled to occur in November 2016, but Mother canceled the assessment and rescheduled it for January 2017. However, in December 2016, the agency moved to suspend Mother's visitation after Mother continued to test positive to marijuana, had inappropriate conversations with Jacob involving him "coming home" with her, made threats to take Jacob from the agency if she did not receive unsupervised visitation, and continued to verbally abuse and threaten agency workers. The juvenile court granted the motion, and Mother's ability to visit or have telephone contact with Jacob was suspended in December 2016.

         {¶ 17} WCCS moved for permanent custody of Jacob on January 11, 2017, as a result of Mother's continued aggressive and erratic behavior and her lim ited progress in meeting the goals of the case plan. In its motion, WCCS stated that Jacob had been in its temporary custody for more than 12 months of a consecutive 22-month period, that Jacob should not or could not be placed in Mother's custody within a reasonable time period, and that permanent custody was in Jacob's best interest. A hearing on the motion was held on April 14, 2017. At this time, the juvenile court heard testimony from a WCCS supervisor who was involved in Jacob's case from February 2015 to July 2016, a WCCS ongoing caseworker who became involved in Jacob's case in July 2016, the in-home therapist from the Bair Foundation, the mental health counselor from Solutions, the psychologist from Solutions, Jacob's half-sister, Jacob's maternal grandmother, Mother, and Mother's former boss.

         {¶ 18} The supervisor testified that prior to the agency opening a case on Jacob in February 2015, the agency was familiar with Mother through an open and on-going case involving Jacob's half-brother, R.M. The agency had been given custody of R.M. after abuse allegations were substantiated. Mother had struck R.M. with a boom, which left marks and bruises on R.M. In August 2016, R.M. was placed in a Planned Permanent Living Arrangement.

         {¶ 19} The supervisor explained that since Jacob was added to Mother's open case plan with the agency, Mother has met some of the case plan requirements. Mother has maintained stable housing and employment and completed two parenting class programs, one in March 2015 and one in June 2015. However, Mother's progress in meeting other case plan objectives has been limited. Particularly concerning to the supervisor was Mother's continued use of marijuana, her repeated refusal to acknowledge or admit she used the drug, and her behavior when confronted with the results of the random drug screens. Mother first claimed that the results were "false positives" caused by various medications she had taken or by consuming an energy bar. Mother then began to blame the agency for her positive test ...

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