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In re E.C.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Fourth District, Pickaway

July 8, 2019

IN THE MATTER OF: E.C.

          Evan N. Wagner, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellant.

          Krystin N. Martin, Assistant Pickaway County Prosecuting Attorney, Circleville, Ohio, for Appellee.

          DECISION AND JUDGMENT ENTRY

          JASON P. SMITH, PRESIDING JUDGE.

         {¶1} M.P., the child's biological father, appeals the trial court's judgment that granted Pickaway County Department of Job and Family Services (hereinafter DJFS) permanent custody of one-and-a-half-year-old E.C. The father raises the following assignment of error:

The trial court committed reversible error by finding that E.C. had been in the temporary custody of DJFS for twelve or more months of a consecutive twenty-two-month period.

         {¶2} The child was born in June 2017, and exhibited withdrawal symptoms. Testing revealed that the child had illegal substances in his system. The child remained hospitalized through July 7, 2017. Upon his release from the hospital, the agency obtained temporary custody of the child and also filed a complaint that alleged the child is abused and neglected.

         {¶3} Over the next several months the agency worked to identify the child's biological father. In December 2017, DNA testing revealed appellant to be the child's father. Once the agency learned the name of the child's biological father, it filed an amended abuse and dependency complaint. Throughout this time, the child remained in the agency's temporary custody. In March 2018, the trial court adjudicated the child an abused and dependent child.

         {¶4} The agency developed a case plan for the mother and the father to follow. Neither successfully completed the case plan. Thus, on September 21, 2018, the agency filed a permanent custody motion. The agency alleged that the child has been in its temporary custody for twelve or more months of a consecutive twenty-two-month period and that placing the child in its permanent custody is in the child's best interest.

         {¶5} On January 19, 2019, the trial court held a hearing to consider the agency's permanent custody motion. At the start, the court noted that the father had not appeared for the hearing but that his counsel was present. The father's counsel asked the court to continue the matter, and the court denied the motion to continue.

         {¶6} The mother's counsel stated that the mother has determined that awarding the agency permanent custody is in the child's best interest.

         {¶7} DJFS caseworker Dave Groff testified that the agency became involved with the family after the hospital where the child was born reported that the child tested positive for illegal substances and exhibited withdrawal symptoms. Groff explained that the child remained hospitalized to treat his withdrawal symptoms and that upon the child's release, the agency obtained temporary custody of the child.

         {¶8} Groff indicated that the mother initially identified an individual she believed to be the child's father, but that subsequent DNA testing excluded him as the child's father. Groff stated that later DNA testing proved appellant to be the child's father.

         {¶9} Groff related that the agency developed a case plan for both parents. He stated that the case plan required the father to (1) maintain sobriety, (2) submit to random drug screens, (3) complete a drug and alcohol assessment and follow any treatment recommendations, (4) obtain and maintain safe and stable housing, and (5) obtain and maintain steady employment.

         {¶10} Groff testified that the father did not comply with the case plan requirements to maintain sobriety and to submit to random drug screens. He explained that on December 8, 2017, the father refused a drug screen, and the father admitted that he had been taking Percocet without a prescription. On February 20, 2018, the father tested positive for opiates, oxycodone and marijuana. Between April 10, 2018, and June 12, 2018, the father refused four drug screens.

         {¶11} Groff explained that he attempted to assist the father with obtaining a drug and alcohol assessment by helping the father complete a health insurance application. Groff reported that in January 2018, the father informed him that he lacked insurance. Groff helped the father obtain an application and offered to help him complete the application. Groff stated that the father indicated that the he would take it home, complete it, and then return it. However, Groff testified that the father did not return the application until mid-March, 2018.

         {¶12} Groff related that in April 2018, the father completed a drug and alcohol assessment at Prism Behavioral Health. Groff further stated, however, that the father did not complete a treatment program and was discharged from the program due to noncompliance.

         {¶13} Groff explained that he attempted to visit the father's current residence, but he was denied access to the home. Groff stated that he went to the residence "dozens of times," but he was never allowed inside. The father informed Groff that "it wasn't his home and the people living there basically did not want" to allow Groff inside.

         {¶14} Groff additionally indicated that he attempted to help the father obtain independent housing. Groff stated that in February 2018, he gave the father a housing voucher, but the father did not use it.

         {¶15} Groff testified that although the father appeared to interact appropriately with the child during visits, the father did not consistently visit ...


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