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In re R.M.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga

June 13, 2019

IN RE R.M., ET AL. Minor Children Appeal by T.C., Mother

          Civil Appeal from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Juvenile Division Case Nos. AD18903384 and AD18903385

          Anita Staley, for appellant.

          Michael C. O'Malley, Cuyahoga County Prosecuting Attorney, Rachel Eisenberg and Cheryl Rice, Assistant Prosecuting Attorneys, for appellee.

          JOURNAL ENTRY AND OPINION

          ANITA LASTER MAYS, J.

         {¶ 1} The appellant T.C., mother of two minor children, appeals the juvenile court's decision that it is in the best interest of her children, R.M. and B.D., to be placed in the permanent custody of the Cuyahoga County Department of Children and Family Services ("CCDCFS"). The mother asks this court to reverse the juvenile court's decision and remand for further proceedings. As required by App.R. 11.1(D), this court has expedited the hearing and disposition of this appeal. We affirm.

         {¶ 2} This case involves two children, R.M. and B.D. On March 13, 2018, CCDCFS received an ex parte telephonic order of removal of the children. On March 14, 2018, CCDCFS was granted temporary emergency custody of the children after the juvenile court found B.D. to be abused and R.M. a dependent. On May 29, 2018, T.C. stipulated to an amended complaint, and B.D. was adjudicated abused and R.M. was adjudicated dependent. The maternal grandmother, or alternatively, the maternal great-grandmother of the children, filed for legal custody on June 6, 2018. However, they failed to appear at the September 27, 2018 hearing for permanent custody, and permanent custody of the children was granted to CCDCFS.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         {¶ 3} On March 13, 2018, CCDCFS removed the children from T.C.'s care after B.D. was found with bruises and scratches throughout his body. B.D. had previously been in CCDCFS' care and was returned to the care of T.C. a few months before the discovery of the bruises. T.C. had been previously offered domestic violence counseling, mental health services, and parenting education. T.C. has three other children that were removed from her custody due to her mental health issues.

         {¶ 4} At the September 27, 2018 hearing, Marilyn Perkins ("Perkins"), an employee at University Settlement, testified regarding her observations of T.C. with her children. Perkins explained that University Settlement "is a community agency which we have one of the programs called Family-to-Family through the Department of Children and Family Services where we have visitations at our location." (Tr. 15.) The goal of the Family-to-Family program is "to provide resources for the families and to try and stabilize families." Id. In 2013, Perkins began observing T.C. with B.D., who was an infant at the time. Perkins testified that when T.C. brought B.D. to University Settlement, T.C. would continuously talk on her phone. (Tr. 17.) Perkins also testified that these observed visits continued for eight months to a year, and they stopped because Perkins thought that B.D. was removed from T.C.'s custody. However, in 2018 the case was reopened, and University Settlement resumed observed visits with T.C. This time T.C. brought B.D. and R.M. At the time the supervised visits resumed, R.M. was six months old and B.D. was five years old.

         {¶ 5} Perkins testified that T.C. was not nurturing. T.C. would not hold R.M. to feed her, and when Perkins suggested that T.C. hold R.M. to bottle feed her, T.C. stated that R.M. needed to learn how to hold her own bottle. Perkins also stated that T.C. was not consistent with her visitations, and would not call in advance to let Perkins know she would be absent. Due to T.C.'s missed visitations, University Settlement, in accordance with their policy, cancelled the visitations.

         {¶ 6} After Perkins, Karla Trammell ("Trammell"), an assistant care manager and supervisor of the Family-to-Family program at University Settlement, testified that she was concerned about one of the visitations with T.C. and the children. She stated,

Yes, there were some concerns. [T.C.], when she would come into the visits, she oftentimes would talk to the person supervising the visit a lot and would have to be redirected to focus on her children during her visitations. So I did have a concern about that. There was a particular time where [B.D.] came into the visitation and he was wearing shorts. This is probably about the beginning of the summer, and she kind of fussed at [B.D.] about having on shorts and told him he shouldn't wear shorts because it was too cold. So I had concerns about that, because he's not at the age where he was dressing himself or picking out his own clothes, I'm sure.

(Tr. 39-40.)

         {¶ 7} Trammell also testified that T.C.'s behavior towards the children was inappropriate. Trammell observed that T.C. would get easily agitated with the children for doing age-appropriate behaviors. Trammell stated,

For example, we have a rug in our room that has the ABCs. It's a round rug. It has the ABCs and [B.D.] was going around the rug and [T.C], you know, kind of disciplined him and told him to sit down and fussed at him for going around the rug. And at that point he was made to sit down and watch a movie. He wanted to kind of play with games or toys, but she wouldn't let him. Also, she wanted to take pictures of [B.D.] and [R.M.]. [R.M.] was in a stroller and [B.D.] had to bend down in order for her to get, you know, the picture. At one point [B.D.] said his legs were hurting him and tried to stand up. She physically tried to put him back down into the position and he complained again that he didn't want to stand in that position because it was starting to hurt. [T.C] told him that he was being lazy and told him, you know, she wanted to take the picture. At that point I suggested that they stop taking the pictures and do something else. So that was concerning to me. And at the end of that visit I did speak with [T.C] about, you know, the concerns I had. * * * Also at one point she let [R.M.] out of the stroller and [R.M.] was crawling. She told [R.M.] to stop crawling and tried to pull [R.M.] kind of closer to her. [R.M.] tried to crawl again, and she told [R.M.], since you're not listening, you'll go back in the stroller, and put her back in the stroller, which, you know, at that age [R.M.] was just doing what I thought was age-appropriate behavior.

(Tr. 40-42.)

         {¶ 8} As a result of Trammell's observations, she wrote a letter detailing her concerns about T.C.'s parenting. In addition to inappropriate behaviors towards B.D. and R.M., Trammell observed T.C. not paying attention to the children during visitations, but instead talking on her phone. (Tr. 46.)

         {¶ 9} After Trammell's testimony, Gina Branco ("Branco"), an extended services case worker for CCDCFS, testified that she took over T.C.'s case management in April 2018. Branco testified that T.C.'s involvement with CCDCFS began in 2013 with her three older children and B.D. At the time Branco was assigned to T.C.'s case, B.D. had been returned to T.C.'s custody for four months before he was discovered with bruises covering his entire body. Prior to the removal of B.D. and R.M., T.C.'s three older children were removed from her custody and placed with her mother in West Virginia, who was granted permanent custody of the children.

         {¶ 10} Branco testified that T.C. was placed on a case plan that included "parenting, mental health and emotional stability, and domestic violence. The case plan was also for [B.D.] for emotional stability for him to attend therapy, and for [R.M.], for her to have Help Me Grow referrals and any necessary medical care regarding mom." (Tr. 53.)

         {¶ 11} Branco testified that prior to 2018, T.C. had completed a parenting course. However, Branco, observed that T.C. never applied what she learned in the course to her actual parenting. (Tr. 56.) Branco observed T.C. with her children at T.C.'s graduation from parenting class, and testified that T.C.'s interaction with B.D. involved T.C. yelling at B.D. for socializing with the other children and ignoring B.D. while socializing with everyone else around her. Branco also stated that CCDCFS attempted to provide T.C. additional services to help with her parenting skills. Branco testified, "[w]e tried another service through Ohio Guidestone, it's called Nurturing Parenting. Nurturing Parenting is a program that comes into the home and, you know, helps more of a home-based parenting." (Tr. 60.) However, T.C. refused the service.

         {¶ 12} Branco testified that it was difficult communicating with T.C. about the children or the agency's involvement with the children. Branco stated,

[d]iscussions with mom are difficult to have. She becomes extremely irate really quickly and, you know, when I try to have a discussion with her, it normally ends up with her screaming at me and then hanging up. It's very difficult to get any basic information across to [T.C] because she becomes very upset very quickly, and then just, like I said, hangs up the phone, doesn't want to hear what you have to say and things like that. So I can't get - it's very difficult to get basic information across to her, like when I had to change the visits.

(Tr. 61-62.)

         {¶ 13} Branco testified that she changed T.C.'s visits because T.C. failed to show up to scheduled visitations with the children and would not call in advance to notify them of her absence. On one occasion, Branco tried contacting T.C, and she did not answer her phone. T.C. later called Branco and told her that she overslept. Branco explained to T.C. that she needed to attend next week's visitation. T.C. failed to show for the next visitation with the children. University Settlement cancelled the visitation program. Blanco called T.C, and T.C. became angry and hung up on Blanco. Blanco's supervisor then called T.C. to inform her that the visits were rescheduled at another location, where T.C. was receiving other services. Because of this, Blanco thought that the new location would be more convenient for T.C. However, T.C. failed to show for the visitation again.

         {¶ 14} Branco testified that T.C. does not have a working vehicle or reliable transportation. T.C. does not have a job or income, and does not give clear answers about whether she is looking for a job. Branco also testified that T.C. continues to have inappropriate interactions with her children at visitations. Branco stated that B.D. completely shuts down when he is around T.C, and as a result, Branco requested that B.D.'s visits with T.C. stop because she feels that they were harmful for him. Branco also testified that B.D. told her that he hates visits, and she had observed that B.D. has completely bonded with his foster family.

         {¶ 15} In addition to parenting courses, CCDCFS referred T.C. to domestic violence classes, which she completed. However, T.C. still maintains a relationship with S.D., the alleged father of B.D., who is known to be physically abusive towards T.C. in front of the children. (Tr. 76.) T.C. and S.D. live in the same home, and S.D., although given opportunities to do so, has refused to comply with CCDCFS and the parenting plan. S.D. has not established paternity of R.M.

         {¶ 16} Another component of T.C.'s case plan is mental health services. Branco stated, "[t]here had been some behaviors that we believe are questionable and would like to have assessed through a mental health professional. She's also disclosed in the past to other workers that she has bipolar disorder, so we needed to see an assessment to see what type of services were necessary." (Tr. 78-79.) Branco testified that T.C. had not completed her mental health services. (Tr. 80.)

         {¶ 17} Branco also expressed concern with T.C.'s emotional stability. She stated,

I go back to the phone calls. She calls and she'll yell and scream into my voicemail or on my phone, or I'll come into, you know, 50 missed calls from T.C. in a short period of a few hours if I'm not at my desk. I've also been on the phone before and will watch her phone calls keep coming through and through and through. And I've called her back and said, T.C, just please leave me a message. Call me one time. I will return your call. You know, there's no need to call me 50 times in a row. I will return your call every time. She will become like belligerent on the phone and yell, scream, hang up. I've seen her interactions with her kids. They're not appropriate for a parent to have with their children.

(Tr. 80-81.)

         {¶ 18} When asked why CCDCFS asked for permanent custody instead of continued temporary custody, Branco stated,

Because these children keep coming back into custody for abuse and neglect, so asking for temporary custody when services have been completed not once, but twice, and in some cases more services have come into play, and there hasn't been anything gained from these services, and we're, you know, taking custody four months after reunification for countless bruises that can't be identified for putting them back in that home is not safe for them. * * * We can't just keep giving chance after chance after chance. I mean, at some point the safety factor is just not there. We've given her time. We've given her time since 2013. She had [B.D.] out of her custody. She regained custody of [B.D.]. [B.D.] came back into custody. I, as the ...

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