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In re S.H.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga

September 5, 2019

IN RE S.H. Minor Child [Appeal by V. H., Mother]

          Civil Appeal from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Juvenile Court Division Case No. AD17902987


          Dean Valore, for appellant

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



         {¶ 1} Appellant V.H. ("mother") appeals from a judgment of the juvenile court granting permanent custody of her child S.H. to the Cuyahoga County Division of Children and Family Services ("CCDCFS" or "agency"). After a careful review of the record and applicable law, we affirm the judgment of the juvenile court.

         Substantive Facts and Procedural History

         {¶ 2} In February 2017, S.H., 14 at the time, was removed from mother's home by law enforcement. Three days after the removal, CCDCFS filed a complaint alleging S.H. to be abused due to domestic violence in the home. On June 1, 2017, S.H. was adjudicated abused and neglected. On June 6, 2017, temporary custody was granted to the agency. In its decision granting temporary custody, the trial court noted that mother was refusing to visit the child and disagreed with visits outside the home, and that S.H. did not feel safe in mother's home and did not want to return to the home at the time.

         {¶3} On January 22, 2018, the agency filed a motion for permanent custody. On June 26, 2018, the trial court held a hearing on the motion, but denied the motion and continued the agency's temporary custody of S.H.

         {¶ 4} On August 9, 2018, the agency filed a second motion for permanent custody. On February 27, 2019, the court held a hearing on the motion. At the hearing, the court heard testimony from the assigned social worker in this case, mother, and S.H.'s guardian ad litem ("GAL"). S.H.'s counsel also spoke on her behalf.

         a. Social Worker's Testimony

         {¶5} Alia Neal, the social worker in this case, testified regarding S.H.'s custodial history and the agency's efforts in providing services to mother for purposes of reunification. The agency was first involved in February 2017. S.H., 14 at the time, was removed by the police from the home due to a physical altercation between her and an adult sister who lived in the home. S.H. had marks on her face and her arm from the altercation, and her sister was subsequently charged with domestic violence. Mother was present during the altercation but did not intervene.

         {¶ 6} When the social worker was assigned to the case in April 2017, S.H. revealed to her that her half-brothers raped her when she was 13. S.H. also told her therapist later about the rape during an individual therapy session. S.H. did not want to return to the home because of her brothers. Both of them were currently charged with delinquency due to the sexual-assault allegations. One of them still lived in the home at the time of the permanent custody hearing.

         {¶ 7} The agency's case plan included a parenting class for mother, family counseling for mother and S.H., and individual counseling for S.H. Mother completed the parenting class, which addressed parent-teen communication skills, and S.H. regularly attended her counseling sessions.

         {¶ 8} The agency's efforts to provide family counseling, however, were not successful. Initially, the family therapist was to meet with mother and S.H. in S.H.'s foster home, but the social worker had difficulties scheduling the sessions because of mother's work schedule. When S.H. was placed in another foster home, family therapy in the foster home was not an option, and mother indicated she could not go to the therapist's office due to her work schedule and her lack of transportation.

         {¶ 9} The social worker then tried to arrange family therapy in mother's home where all family members would attend. However, while that arrangement was being made, S.H. and mother had a verbal altercation in May 2018, and the two stopped communicating with each other. S.H. did not wish to speak to her mother any longer, making in-home therapy impossible to arrange.

         {¶ 10} In August 2018, mother and S.H. started speaking with each other again. The social worker tried to refer them to a new family counseling service. However, because of inadequate paperwork prepared by the social worker, the social worker's request was not properly submitted until November 2018. The service provider declined to provide the in-home therapy, explaining mother had not visited the child sufficiently for the in-home therapy to be effective. As a final resort, the social worker contacted S.H.'s therapist to explore the possibility of family therapy with her, but the therapist considered it a conflict due to S.H.'s ongoing individual therapy with the therapist. Consequently, the family counseling prescribed in the case plan never took place over the course of this custody matter.

         {¶ 11} Regarding visits between S.H. and her mother, after S.H.'s removal from the home in February 2017, there was one or two visits in March 2017. From April to August 2017, there were only two or three visits because mother had difficulties identifying dates when she could be available. These visits had taken place in the foster home. From November 2017 to January 2018, the foster family arranged for S.H. to have visits in the mother's home. However, after a January 2018 visit in mother's home, S.H. reported to the social worker that her half-brothers were in the home during the visit and she no longer wanted to have visits in mother's home.

         {¶ 12} Consequently, the social worker tried to arrange out-of-home visitation but without success, because mother could not provide dates when she could be available. Then, the incident of verbal altercation in May 2018 between S.H. and mother rendered any further visitations impossible because S.H. no longer wished to speak to her mother. Mother initially did not want to communicate with S.H. either after the altercation, but later indicated she was willing to visit with S.H. in her home provided S.H. was "respectful." S.H., however, was unwilling to have visits either in the home or in the community.

         {¶ 13} The social worker testified that S.H. suffers from anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. She had stayed in a Rainbow Babies and Children Hospital's psychiatric unit for having suicidal thoughts and was known to cut herself. S.H. changed foster homes multiple times due to her negative behaviors in these homes, such as stealing from the foster home.

         {¶ 14} The social worker had discussed the custody issue with S.H. Because S.H. and her mother had difficulties positively communicating with each other, S.H. did not want her mother involved in her life in any way. The social worker discussed PPLA (Planned Permanent Living Arrangement), an alternative to permanent custody, with S.H. S.H. vacillated between the two options but eventually rejected PPLA, because under that arrangement, mother would still be making decisions about her life. The social worker talked to S.H. to ensure that she understood the consequences of permanent custody. Ultimately, S.H. was steadfast about her choice for permanent custody. In the social worker's assessment, S.H., 16 at ...

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