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In re L.S.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Twelfth District, Warren

May 21, 2018

IN THE MATTER OF: L.S., et al.


          Kim Bui, Joshua G. Burns, attorney for children David C. Wagner, for appellant, R.S.

          Gray & Duning, John C. Kaspar, for appellee, R.S.

          David P. Fornshell, Warren County Prosecuting Attorney, Kathryn M. Horvath, for appellee, Warren County Children Services


          RINGLAND, P.J.

         {¶ 1} Appellant, the biological mother ("Mother") of L.S. and D.S. (referred to collectively as the "children"), appeals the decisions of the Warren County Court of Common Pleas, Juvenile Division, adjudicating the children abused and dependent, temporarily suspending Mother's visitation, and granting legal custody of the children to their biological father ("Father").

         {¶ 2} On April 24, 2017, Warren County Children Services ("WCCS") filed complaints alleging the children were abused and dependent. Specifically, WCCS alleged it received an anonymous referral concerning Mother's mental health and illegal drug use, including an attempted suicide in the presence of the children and the presence of a methamphetamine lab at Mother's residence. Based on the referral, WCCS and police responded to Mother's residence on April 8, 2017. Mother denied the allegations, refused to submit to a drug screen, and refused to agree to a safety plan.

         {¶ 3} WCCS returned to Mother's residence on April 10, 2018, but Mother and her paramour would not let the caseworker exit her vehicle. On April 17, 2018, Father contacted WCCS and reported that he received a photograph of a text message depicting Mother informing her paramour she almost overdosed in front of D.S. On April 19, 2018, WCCS returned to Mother's residence and Mother submitted a drug screen positive for amphetamines and methamphetamines. Mother admitted to using methamphetamine the day before the test. The complaint further provided that Mother and her paramour had been evicted from their residence.

         {¶ 4} The juvenile court held a shelter care hearing on the date of the filing of the complaints. At the conclusion of the hearing, the juvenile court placed the children in the temporary custody of Father and granted protective supervision to WCCS. The juvenile court ordered that Mother complete a drug and alcohol evaluation, submit to random drug screens, and complete a psychological evaluation. The juvenile court ordered Father to submit to random drug screens and complete a mental health evaluation.

         {¶ 5} On July 11 and 17, 2017, the juvenile court held adjudicatory hearings. Vanessa Henson, an investigative caseworker for WCCS, testified regarding the April 8, 2017 referral and the facts asserted in the complaints. Henson explained that on April 8, 2017 she did not observe a methamphetamine lab in the residence. Mother informed Henson that Tommy Steele resided with her and helped care for the children. Mother stated she was aware of Steele's history of illegal drug use and his recent arrest for drug-related charges. Mother reported she was diagnosed with severe anxiety, severe depression, post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), and schizoaffective disorder. Mother was not currently taking any medications for her mental health diagnoses. Mother also informed Henson of an ongoing private custody case with Father.

         {¶ 6} Henson met with Father on April 10, 2017. Father reported that his relationship with Mother ended in November 2016. Father expressed concern regarding Mother's illegal drug use and failure to stay current with bill payments. Father reported an incident that occurred before their relationship ended where Mother threatened to commit suicide in front of the children if Father did not leave work and come home. Father submitted a drug screen that was negative for illegal substances.

         {¶ 7} Deputy Christopher Brombaugh of the Warren County Sheriff's Office testified that on April 11, 2017, he responded to a gas station in Franklin, Ohio for a reported drug overdose. Upon arrival, Brombaugh discovered Mother unconscious and emergency medical personnel treating Mother with Narcan. Following the incident, Mother's paramour received a text message from Mother's phone number claiming she almost overdosed in front of D.S. Mother's paramour photographed the text message and sent it to Father. Father sent the photograph to Henson approximately one week after the incident.

         {¶ 8} Henson testified she returned to Mother's residence on April 19, 2017 during Mother's eviction. Henson testified Mother submitted a positive drug screen. Mother admitted to using methamphetamine the day before and agreed to let the children stay with Father. However, on April 24, 2017, Mother and her paramour visited the WCCS office and demanded another drug screen. Mother informed Henson she was no longer in agreement with the voluntary safety plan. Henson described Mother's demeanor as high energy and distracted. Henson perceived her demeanor as a sign of potential mental health concerns or illegal drug use.

         {¶ 9} Mother testified and denied using methamphetamines, amphetamines, and opiates. Mother disputed the validity of the results of her positive drug screens. She explained that she would voluntarily submit to another drug screen conducted by any entity besides WCCS. Mother also disputed the testimony regarding her threats of suicide and the drug overdose and stated, "[s]eems that everybody's fabricating a lot * * *." With respect to mental health, Mother explained she has prior diagnoses for anxiety and PTSD. At the time of adjudication, Mother admitted she was homeless and had been staying "with a few friends here and there, kind of, bounc[ing] around."

         {¶ 10} Mother's paramour testified he had never seen Mother use methamphetamine. While he admitted sending the text message to Father regarding Mother's overdose, he questioned the accuracy of the text message and that Mother was in fact the person who sent it. Mother's paramour submitted a drug screen to WCCS that was positive for methamphetamines and amphetamines. He likewise denied using illegal drugs and asserted WCCS fabricated the drug screen results.

         {¶ 11} At the conclusion of the hearings, the juvenile court adjudicated the children abused and dependent, pursuant to R.C. 2151.031(B) and R.C. 2151.04(C), respectively. On July 21, 2017, the juvenile court held a dispositional hearing. Pursuant to its complaints, WCCS sought temporary custody of the children to Father and protective supervision to WCCS.

         {¶ 12} WCCS supervisor, Ashley Stutzman, testified that following removal of the children, the agency developed a case plan with services for Mother and Father. Mother refused to sign the case plan. Stutzman testified that Mother continued to deny illegal drug use and mental health issues. WCCS made referrals for Mother in April 2017, but Mother failed to complete the assessments for such referrals. Mother returned drug screens in April, May, twice in June, and July, that were all positive for amphetamines and methamphetamines. Mother attended supervised visits with the children, but Stutzman expressed concerns with her inability to focus, arriving late, and leaving early. Based on Mother's behavior, WCCS had concerns she may have been under the influence of illegal drugs during visitation. Stutzman testified WCCS was seeking to suspend Mother's visitation until Mother could alleviate the concerns based on her engagement in case plan services.

         {¶ 13} At the time of disposition, Father had completed all his case plan services. Father had no recommendations from his drug and alcohol assessment and was recommended for individual counseling from his mental health assessment. Father was currently engaged with this recommendation and had provided no positive drug screens throughout the pendency of this case. Stutzman testified that she would be comfortable with the juvenile court granting legal custody to Father. Father testified he was seeking legal custody of the children and his attorney made an oral motion for legal custody during the dispositional hearing.

         {¶ 14} Mother testified the children should be returned to her custody. Mother denied having any mental health or substance abuse issues. Mother again disputed the results of her prior drug screens and expressed her distrust for WCCS. Mother explained that she would provide the juvenile court a negative drug screen that day, but refused to submit a drug screen to WCCS based on her distrust for the agency. However, when the juvenile ...

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