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In re S.V.K.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga

August 15, 2019

IN RE S.V.K., ET AL. Minor Children Appeal by S.R., Mother

          Civil Appeal from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Juvenile Division Case Nos. AD15918095 and AD16900271

          Judith M. Kowalski, for appellant.

          Michael C. O'Malley, Cuyahoga County Prosecuting Attorney, and Rachel V. Eisenberg, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for appellee, CCDCFS.



         {¶ 1} Appellant-Mother, S.R., appeals from the decision of the Juvenile Division of the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas (the "juvenile court") terminating her parental rights and granting permanent custody of her children, S.V.K. and S.K., to the appellee Cuyahoga County Division of Children and Family Services ("CCDCFS" or "the agency"). Mother raises the following assignments of error for review:

1. The trial court erred to the prejudice of the appellant and against the best interests of the children when it denied a continuance for the appellant-mother, depriving her of her right to due process and abusing its discretion, as the Mother's attorney informed the court her absence was due to medical reasons.
2. The trial court erred in finding that permanent custody was in the best interests of the children.

         {¶ 2} After careful review of the record and relevant case law, we affirm the juvenile court's judgment.

         I. Procedural and Factual History

         {¶ 3} S.R. is the mother of the minor children S.V.K. and S.K. On December 30, 2015, CCDCFS filed a complaint[1] alleging that S.V.K., born August 15, 2014, was an abused child based upon an incident of domestic violence between Mother and Father that was committed in the presence of S.V.K. on December 16, 2015. In the motion, the agency noted that the child was previously committed to the temporary custody of the agency due to a domestic violence incident in January 2015 that involved Mother stabbing the child's father in the shoulder. The child was subsequently returned to Mother with protective supervision on December 3, 2015, just two weeks before the child was returned to the emergency custody of CCDCFS on December 17, 2015. The agency further asserted that Mother "has a history of abusing alcohol," "has criminal convictions related to her substance abuse problem," and "has five other children that were adjudicated and removed from her care."

         {¶ 4} Just weeks after the December 2015 incident of domestic violence, Mother gave birth to S.K. on January 1, 2016. On January 8, 2016, the agency filed a complaint seeking the temporary custody of S.K. The complaint alleged S.K. to be a dependent child and reiterated the agency's concerns with Mother's history of domestic violence and substance abuse.

         {¶ 5} In March 2016, S.V.K was adjudicated abused and was committed to the temporary custody of CCDCFS. In April 2016, S.K was adjudicated dependent and was committed to the temporary custody of CCDCFS. CCDCFS then filed a case plan for Mother, requiring Mother to complete a substance-abuse assessment and follow recommendations, cooperate with random drug screening, complete parenting classes, complete domestic violence classes, and obtain safe and appropriate housing. The permanency plan for each child was reunification with Mother.

         {¶ 6} On December 6, 2016, the agency sought an extension of temporary custody for the children, which the trial court granted. On June 8, 2017, the agency sought a second extension of temporary custody for the children, which the trial court also granted.

         {¶ 7} However, on September 28, 2017, the agency filed a consolidated motion to modify temporary custody of the children to permanent custody. In the motion, CCDCFS worker of record, Shamatee White ("White"), averred that Mother failed to comply with certain aspects of her respective case plans that were filed and approved by the court. Specifically, White opined that Mother (1) has failed to maintain sobriety, (2) does not consistently comply with requests for drug screens, (3) has continued to engage in domestic violence, and (4) continues to exhibit poor decision-making skills that put the children at risk of harm.

         {¶ 8} Following several continuances, the permanent custody hearing was held on November 19, 2018. Present in court was counsel for Mother, counsel for Father, CCDCFS child protection specialist White, and the children's guardian ad litem, Vickie Jones. Both Mother and Father failed to appear.

         {¶ 9} At the onset of the hearing, counsel for Mother requested a continuance "to give [Mother] the opportunity to appear." Counsel noted that Mother "had health issues" and that the court had previously granted Mother a continuance in September 2018 "for that specific reason." Counsel expressed that while she had spoken with Mother "on two occasions" since the last continuance was granted, Mother did not appear for a scheduled appointment and did not respond to counsel's attempt to communicate via an email correspondence. Following a discussion on the record, the trial court denied counsel's request for a continuance, stating "I think I've given mom ample opportunity to show up."

         {¶ 10} CCDCFS child protection specialist, Shamatee White, testified on behalf of the agency. White testified that she first became involved in this case in December 2016. In an effort to become familiar with the agency's case, White reviewed Mother's case history, her case plan, and the case-plan services provided by the agency. White testified that she learned Mother has a total of seven children and has been involved with CCDCFS since 2013. Regarding the children that are not the subject of this case, White stated that Mother's other children are not currently under her care and are "in the legal custody of a relative." Mother has a "history of substance abuse," "ongoing mental health services," and "a history of domestic violence with her paramour." White stated that Mother has been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, psychosis, schizophrenia, and other psychotic disorders. She was also diagnosed with a poly-substance and other substance-related disorders.

         {¶ 11} White reiterated that Mother's case plan included objectives for domestic violence, substance abuse, basic needs, and mental health. White testified that Mother has completed domestic-violence services but has "continuously had domestic incidents with one of her paramours." In addition to the separate incidents of domestic violence involving Father, White stated that the agency also became aware of alleged incidents of violence committed against Mother's other children. On one occasion, Mother was alleged to have physically abused one of her children with a "wooden board." The child was required to go to the hospital for her injuries. Thus, White opined that Mother has not benefited from the domestic-violence services.

         {¶ 12} With respect to her case-plan objective for parenting, White testified that Mother completed supportive parenting classes in 2017 and was receiving support services during visits in her home. However, despite her participation in the parenting classes, the agency received a substantiated referral for physical abuse in August 2017. White testified that the referral stemmed from an incident where Mother became intoxicated during a visit and fell on top of S.V.K. Mother's fall broke a table and caused another child, who was in the custody of a family member, to sustain a "busted lip."

         {¶ 13} Regarding the case-plan component for substance abuse, White testified that since the August 2017 incident, Mother has "refused to take drug screens for the agency." In addition, the agency obtained certified journal entries from FrontLine Services indicating that Mother tested positive for PCP, cocaine, and amphetamines in April 2018. White testified that she did not have a "sobriety date" for Mother due to her failure to submit to drug screens and her refusal to sign a release of information form with Recovery Resources. Thus, White testified that there is "a concern that [Mother] hasn't benefitted from her substance abuse services."

         {¶ 14} White conducted a home visit with Mother in April 2018. During the visit, however, Mother refused to allow White into the kitchen to see if there was sufficient food in the home. White testified that she learned that Mother no longer resides at her old address, and as of the date of the permanent custody hearing, White had no information regarding where Mother was living.

         {¶ 15} Regarding Mother's interaction with the children, White testified that Mother would often cancel visits after the agency filed the motion for permanent custody. White estimated that Mother did not visit the children for approximately four months in the beginning of 2018. However, in the "three or four months" before the permanent custody hearing, Mother did not miss a visit. White stated that Mother is appropriate with the children during her supervised visits.

         {¶ 16} Under the totality of the foregoing circumstances, White opined that permanent custody in favor of the agency was in the children's best interests. White explained that S.V.K. and S.K. were ...

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