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In re T.L.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Twelfth District, Clermont

January 16, 2018



          Scott A. Hoberg, for appellant A.L.

          Suellen M. Brafford, for appellant, M.L.

          D. Vincent Faris, Clermont County Prosecuting Attorney, Nicholas Horton, for Clermont County Department of Job & Family Services


          M. POWELL, J.

         {¶ 1} A.L. and M.L. ("Mother" and "Father" respectively or "parents" collectively) appeal the decision of the Clermont County Juvenile Court, which granted permanent custody of their son, T.L., to the Clermont County Department of Job and Family Services. For the reasons discussed below, this court affirms the decision of the juvenile court.

         {¶ 2} In October 2014, the Clermont County Department of Job and Family Services ("JFS" or "the agency") established an unofficial case concerning T.L. The unofficial case was intended to address risks to T.L.'s health, safety and welfare, based upon the parents' substance abuse and incidents of domestic violence between the parents. In December 2014, the agency closed this unofficial case after Mother and Father agreed to transfer custody of T.L. to a family friend. However, one month later the friend informed JFS that she could no longer care for T.L. because Mother and Father were threatening her. As a result, in January 2015, JFS filed a complaint alleging that T.L., then almost five years old, was a dependent child. The court held an emergency hearing and placed T.L. in the temporary custody of JFS. The agency thereafter placed T.L. in a foster home.

         {¶ 3} The agency initiated a case plan with the goal of reunifying Mother and Father with T. L. The plan required Mother and Father to receive substance abuse counseling and treatment. The case plan further required Mother and Father to attend parenting classes and complete anger management and counseling with respect to their issues with domestic violence. In addition, Mother and Father were required to obtain stable income and safe and stable housing for T.L. The case plan provided Mother and Father with weekly supervised visits with T.L.

         {¶ 4} In April 2015, the court adjudicated T.L. a dependent child. Following a June 2015 dispositional hearing, the court continued temporary custody with the agency. The court twice extended temporary custody with the agency.

         {¶ 5} In August 2016, JFS moved for permanent custody, alleging that T.L. had been in its custody for 12 or more months of a consecutive 22-month period, that T.L. could not or should not be placed with either of his parents within a reasonable time, and that it was in T.L.'s best interest that the court grant the agency permanent custody. T.L.'s guardian ad litem ("GAL") filed a written report recommending that the court grant permanent custody to JFS.

         {¶ 6} In January 2017, the court held the permanent custody hearing. A JFS caseworker testified that beginning in October 2014 and through December 2014, Mother and Father had several incidents of domestic violence, which their children witnessed.[1] Father was drunk during these incidents. Following these incidents, Mother and Father voluntarily transferred custody of T.L. to a family friend in December 2014.[2]

         {¶ 7} With respect to Mother's progress in her case plan, the caseworker testified that Mother completed those aspects of her case plan related to substance abuse. Mother sporadically attended specified therapy/counselling sessions related to mental health and domestic violence concerns, missing seven appointments. The service provider rated mother's progress as a 6 or 7 on a scale of 10.

         {¶ 8} Mother never satisfied the stable income component of the case plan. She briefly obtained employment in November 2016, which ended the same month. Otherwise, Mother was unemployed throughout the case.

         {¶ 9} The case plan specified that Father engage in a substance abuse assessment and comply with any resulting recommendations. In furtherance of this requirement, the agency referred Father to a substance abuse recovery center in January 2015. However, father did not begin the program and the recovery center closed his case.

         {¶ 10} Approximately 14 months later, in March 2016, Father completed an alcohol assessment at a behavioral health center. However, contrary to the recommendation for treatment arising from the assessment, Father failed to return to the health center for another four months and reported ongoing alcohol use during this time. In August 2016, over a year and a half after the case began, father began an inpatient alcohol abuse program. Father completed the two-week program and reported to the caseworker that he had remained sober since. Father's recommendations upon leaving the inpatient program were to engage an Alcoholics Anonymous ("AA") sponsor within two weeks and attend 90 AA sessions in 3 months and to follow up with the behavioral health center. Notwithstanding these recommendations, Father failed to obtain a sponsor and attended only five AA sessions. The behavioral health center closed Father's case for non-compliance the next month. In November 2016, Father re-engaged with the behavioral health center and began counseling services on both substance abuse and mental health/domestic violence issues.

         {¶ 11} With respect to his income, Father worked in 2016 for a power company and earned around $3, 000. He was unemployed at the time of the permanent custody hearing, but had submitted two job applications. He told the caseworker that he did not have enough gas money to drive around and look for employment.

         {¶ 12} Despite the case plan requirement that Mother and Father obtain and maintain stable housing, they were unable or unwilling to do so. When the case began, Mother and Father were living in various friends' homes. In the summer of 2015, they moved to the home of Father's mother and aunt. The home is a small trailer located in Cynthiana, Kentucky. The trailer has two bedrooms and a small ...

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