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In re W.J.T.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Twelfth District, Butler

July 29, 2019



          Michael T. Gmoser, Butler County Prosecuting Attorney, Willa Concannon, Government Services Center, for appellee.

          Amy R. Ashcraft, P.O., for appellant.

          Carol Garner, guardian ad litem.


          M. POWELL, J.

         {¶ 1} Appellant, the mother of W.T. ("Mother"), appeals the decision of the Butler County Court of Common Pleas, Juvenile Division, granting permanent custody of her son to appellee, Butler County Department of Job and Family Services ("BCDJFS" or "the agency"). For the reasons outlined below, we affirm the juvenile court's permanent custody determination.

         {¶ 2} Mother is the biological mother of the child at issue, W.T., a boy, born December 8, 2003. W.T.'s biological father is not a party to this appeal.

         Complaint, Adjudication, and Disposition

         {¶ 3} In August 2016, BCDJFS filed a complaint alleging that W.T., who was twelve years old at the time, was a dependent child as defined by R.C. 2151.04(C). Pursuant to that statute, a "dependent child" is any child "whose condition or environment is such as to warrant the state, in the interest of the child, in assuming the child's guardianship."

         {¶ 4} The record reflects that Mother has not had custody of W.T. since 2005. Since then, W.T. has lived with various relatives and nonrelatives. At the time the complaint was filed, W.T. was in the legal custody of his maternal aunt, A.E., but was living with M.M., a family friend. The complaint indicated that in November 2015, A.E. reported she was no longer willing to care for W.T. and that W.T. then went to live with M.M. While living with M.M., W.T.'s psychologist reported that W.T. was homicidal and suicidal, and should not reside with M.M. Specifically, the psychologist was concerned that M.M.'s children, including a newborn and small child, could not defend themselves from W.T. As such, the psychologist suggested W.T. be removed from M.M.'s home and live in a home with either no children or older children.

         {¶ 5} BCDJFS then moved the juvenile court for an emergency ex parte order based upon its allegation that W.T. was a dependent child. At that time, W.T. was incarcerated at a juvenile detention center, and the agency could not locate any family members to take care of the child upon his release. According to the record, neither A.E. nor any other relative expressed interest in receiving custody of W.T. After a hearing, the juvenile court granted temporary custody of W.T. to BCDJFS and granted Mother supervised visitation. A shelter care hearing was held the following day, and the juvenile court found that removing the child from M.M.'s home and granting temporary custody to the agency was in W.T.'s best interest. As a result, BCDJFS placed W.T. in a group home where he was regularly receiving his medication and participating in counseling.

         {¶ 6} In August 2016, a case plan was established that indicated Mother wanted to reunify with W.T. and that reunification was the permanency goal. The case plan required Mother to demonstrate her ability to safely care for W.T. and meet his basic needs, in addition to completing a domestic violence assessment, an in-home parenting program, a SAMI assessment, and any recommendations that followed. The case plan further required Mother to submit to random drug screens.

         {¶ 7} In February 2017, following an adjudication hearing, the juvenile court issued an entry adjudicating W.T. a dependent child. Thereafter, the juvenile court held a dispositional hearing and issued an entry terminating the temporary custody held by BCDJFS, and placed W.T. back in the temporary custody of M.M., the family friend who had "physical custody" of W.T. at the time the complaint was filed. The juvenile court also adopted the August 2016 case plan, subject to a modification reflecting W.T.'s placement with M.M.

         {¶ 8} In the months following, the record indicates Mother did not actively participate in the case plan services. Mother continued to abuse illegal drugs throughout the pendency of the case and failed to return a negative drug screen. The record also indicates Mother failed to consistently attend counseling, as required by the case plan, and that she was incarcerated on various occasions, for several months at a time, throughout the duration of the case. In addition, Mother failed to maintain a stable housing environment in order to complete the required in-home parenting program. While the record reflects that Mother maintained an apartment for six or eight months, she was ultimately forced to leave due to instances of domestic violence with her live-in boyfriend.

         {¶ 9} The record further indicates that while W.T. was placed with M.M., Mother began engaging in unsupervised contact with W.T., which was not permitted per the juvenile court's prior orders. The juvenile court indicated such contact could disrupt W.T.'s placement with M.M. and as a result, suspended Mother's visitation and contact with W.T. until Mother re-engaged in case plan services. The record reflects that Mother was unable to make adequate progress in the case plan services and was therefore prohibited from contacting W.T. for the remainder of the case.

         {¶ 10} In November 2017, after a "violent incident" between M.M. and W.T., the juvenile court issued an order terminating M.M.'s temporary custody of W.T. and placed W.T. back in the temporary custody of the agency. According to the juvenile court, the change in custody was in W.T.'s best interest as he was back in juvenile detention for a charge of domestic violence related to M.M., had recently been suspended from school on multiple occasions, was admitted to the hospital due to drug use, refused to regularly take his medications, and would not follow M.M.'s rules.

         {¶ 11} On August 15, 2018, BCDJFS moved for permanent custody of W.T. In support of its motion, the agency alleged that the child could not be placed with Mother within a reasonable time nor should he be placed with Mother. BCDJFS also alleged that no further treatment plan can be formulated for Mother and that it does not appear she could ever provide adequate parental care for W.T. Thereafter, on November 2, 2018, Mother filed a motion to grant M.M. sole legal custody of W.T.; however, Mother's motion was ultimately withdrawn because Mother failed to secure service on W.T.'s father.

         Permanent ...

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