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In re S.F.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga

June 21, 2018

IN RE: S.F. A Minor Child Appeal By M.M., Mother

          Civil Appeal from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Juvenile Division Case No. AD 16900870

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Britta M. Barthol

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE For CCDCFS Michael C. O'Malley Cuyahoga County Prosecutor BY: Cheryl Rice Assistant Prosecuting Attorney BY: Anthony R. Beery Assistant Prosecuting Attorney

          For Father Brian W. Sharkin Law Office of Brian W. Sharkin

          Also listed Guardian Ad Litem Michael H. Murphy Michael H. Murphy Attorney At Law

          BEFORE: E.T. Gallagher, J., McCormack, P.J., and Jones, J.

          JOURNAL ENTRY AND OPINION

          EILEEN T GALLAGHER, JUDGE

         {¶1} Appellant, Mother, appeals an order of the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court that awarded permanent custody of her daughter, S.F., to the Cuyahoga County Department of Child and Family Services ("CCDCFS"). She raises two assignments of error:

1. The trial court erred when it held a permanent custody hearing without complying with 25 U.S.C. 1912.
2. The trial court abused its discretion when it determined that permanent custody to CCDCFS was in the best interest of the child.

         {¶2} We find no merit to the appeal and affirm the trial court's judgment.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         {¶3} In January 2016, CCDCFS filed a complaint seeking temporary custody of S.F (d.o.b. May 1, 2015). The agency alleged that S.F. was a neglected child due to her parents' heroin addictions and their failure to meet S.F.'s special medical needs, including a failure to address diagnoses of pneumonia and respiratory syncytial virus. The agency was also concerned about domestic violence in the home. S.F.'s parents did not contest the agency's motion, and the trial court awarded temporary custody of S.F. to CCDCFS.

         {¶4} The agency developed case plans for both parents to address their addictions, domestic violence, mental health, and parenting issues. Neither parent complied with his or her respective case plan, and it is undisputed that neither parent is able to properly care for S.F. Shortly after CCDCFS obtained temporary custody of S.F., Mother requested that her maternal aunt, N.K., be awarded legal custody of S.F. The agency investigated N.K. for possible placement, but ultimately determined that an award of permanent custody to the CCDCFS was in S.F.'s best interest. Accordingly, the agency filed a motion to modify temporary custody to permanent custody in November 2016. Mother subsequently filed a motion for an order awarding legal custody of S.F. to N.K.

         {¶5} The trial court held a hearing on the competing motions for custody of S.F. Keith Grahl, a child protective service worker employed by CCDCFS, testified that neither of S.F.'s parents are able to care for her due to their untreated heroin addictions and history of domestic violence. Grahl investigated N.K. as a possible candidate for legal custody and found that her home was appropriate except for a strong pet odor. (Dec. 11, 2017 tr. 29.) The presence of the dogs also caused Grahl to sneeze "quite a bit." (Dec. 11, 2017 tr. 29.)

         {¶6} N.K. completed foster parenting classes and had no criminal record. Indeed, the agency initially approved her for placement of S.F. but later revoked the approval due to concerns that she did not have the financial means to support S.F. N.K. reported to Grahl that she received $200 per week from her estranged husband even though the couple was not divorced. (Dec. 11, 2017 tr. 48.) Grahl did not think $200 per week was enough to support S.F. and cover N.K.'s other living expenses. Further, N.K. never provided any documentation establishing her income or ability to support N.K. (Dec. 11, 2017 tr. 55.)

         {¶7} Grahl was also troubled by the fact that S.F. did not show a bond with N.K. (Dec. 11, 2017 tr. 52.) Grahl testified that during N.K.'s visits with S.F., N.K. would usually "just sit[ ] there" and talk about her other kids and family. (Dec. 11, 2017 tr. 53.) She would say ...


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