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In re E.S.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Fourth District, Pickaway

May 10, 2018

IN THE MATTER OF: E.S. and L.S., Adjudicated Dependent Children.

          Jesse A. Atkins, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellant.

          Judy C. Wolford, Pickaway County Prosecuting Attorney, and Robert A. Chamberlain, Pickaway County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, Circleville, Ohio, for Appellee Pickaway County Job and Family Services.

          DECISION AND JUDGMENT ENTRY

          Marie Hoover, Presiding Judge

         {¶ 1} T.Z., the children's biological mother, appeals the trial court's judgment that awarded M.H., the children's paternal grandmother, legal custody of her two children: ten-year-old E.S.; and seven-year-old L.S. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the trial court's judgment.

         I. Facts and Procedural Posture

         {¶ 2} On September 3, 2015, Pickaway County Job and Family Services ("the agency") filed complaints that alleged E.S. and L.S. are dependent children. The complaints alleged that the children's mother recently gave birth to a child who showed signs of chemical withdrawal and that the mother admitted that during her pregnancy, she used hydrocodone and gabapentin without a prescription. The court subsequently placed the children in their stepfather's custody, subject to a protective supervision order.

         {¶ 3} The mother later stipulated to the facts alleged in the complaint; and the trial court adjudicated the children dependent. The court continued the children's placement with their stepfather.

         {¶ 4} A little more than a year later, the trial court granted M.H. ex parte emergency temporary custody of the children. The court noted that both the mother and the stepfather tested positive for methamphetamine and that the mother tested positive for alcohol. The court thus placed the children in M.H.'s temporary custody.

         {¶ 5} On June 30, 2017, M.H. filed a motion for legal custody of the two children. The biological father, T.S., consented.

         {¶ 6} On August 29, 2017, the court held a hearing to consider M.H.'s motion for legal custody. PCJFS caseworker David Groff testified that the agency supports M.H.'s motion for legal custody and that he believes placing the children in M.H.'s legal custody is in their best interest. Groff explained that between the time the agency filed its dependency complaints and the end of July 2017, the mother made little effort to comply with the case plan. He stated that the mother did not demonstrate "a lot of consistency or much participation." Groff indicated that within the last thirty days, the mother intensified her efforts to comply with the case plan and now mostly is in compliance.

         {¶ 7} Groff further testified, however, that both the mother and the stepfather are unemployed. Groff stated that when he last spoke with the mother a few weeks earlier, the mother indicated that she earned income by "giv[ing] plasma." Groff additionally explained that the mother's current lease expires at the end of September 2017, and that she has yet to secure additional housing.

         {¶ 8} Pam Moody, the children's guardian ad litem, testified that she believes placing the children in M.H.'s legal custody is in their best interest. Moody explained that the children get along well with M.H. and indicated that they would like to live with M.H. Moody stated that the children do not want to return home to their mother.

         {¶ 9} Moody does not believe that the mother made an effort to comply with the case plan. She stated that the mother's drug screens returned positive for cocaine and opioids. Moody additionally explained that both the mother and the stepfather take prescription drugs and claim that they have cancer "but they're not sure which kind." Moody related that the mother also professed to have a rare blood disorder; to be bipolar; and to have personality disorders, paranoid schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety.

         {¶ 10} Moody testified that during the mother's visits with the children, the mother promises the children that they will return home and that they can get a dog. Moody indicated that the agency admonished the mother and told her not to make promises; but the mother did not listen. Moody also revealed that during visits with the children, the mother and the stepfather use foul language and denigrate the caseworkers.

         {¶ 11} M.H. testified that she has been involved with the children since they were born. She related that the children are happy in her home and that the children do not want to return to their mother.

         {¶ 12} The mother stated that she would like her children returned to her "[m]ore than anything in the world." The mother believes that she has done "everything [she] could do" over the past two years to "[t]ry to change [her] way of thinking, try to change [her] lifestyle, turn around make [her] life better for [her]self and [her] children." She indicated that when she was in prison, she engaged in mental health counseling and did "everything they had to offer so [she] could understand more about what [she] needed to do with [her]self." The mother also claimed that (1) she attended a parenting program through her church, (2) since May or June she has been attending AA, and (3) she currently engages in counseling at Behavioral Health Group.

         {¶ 13} The mother explained that when her current lease expires, she intends to stay with her sister until she locates a new residence. She stated that she has sufficient means to care for the children. The mother related that she earns income by cleaning houses and that she receives food stamps and medical and housing assistance.

         {¶ 14} The mother testified that she does not believe the court should place the children in M.H.'s legal custody "[b]ecause * * * they're my children." She claimed that she has done "everything" that she can and that she has "completed the case plan but it's still not good enough." The mother does not doubt that M.H. provides the children with proper care; but she believes that as the children's mother, the children should be placed with her.

         {¶ 15} On September 7, 2017, the trial court granted M.H. legal custody of the children. The court noted that the mother recently made some progress towards reunification but ultimately concluded that:

[t]he mother's failure to timely complete the case plan, to effectively engage in meaningful counseling, to participate in drug treatment, to test clean for drug usage on a consistent basis, to have positive visitation experiences with the child, to engage in appropriate adult parent behavior during visits, her self-acknowledged mental health issues and to put into place any parenting skills that she might have learned all demonstrate that mother is not a proper custodian at this time.

         The court found that M.H., on the other hand, "provides an environment for positive, meaningful interrelationships with family, a productive positive educational environment and a safe, healthy home environment." The court thus placed the children in M.H.'s legal custody.

         II. ...


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