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In re J.W.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Tenth District

November 21, 2019

In the Matter of: J.W., Jr., A Minor, [J.W., Jr., Appellant]. In the Matter of: J.W., Jr., A Minor, [J.W., Sr., Appellant].

          APPEALS from the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas No. 15JU-13663, Division of Domestic Relations, Juvenile Branch

         On brief:

          William T. Cramer, for appellant J.W., Jr.

          Yeura Venters, Public Defender, and Robert D. Essex, for appellant J.W., Sr.

          Robert J. McClaren, for appellee Franklin County Children Services.

          DECISION

          BEATTY BLUNT, J.

         {¶ 1} In these consolidated appeals, appellant J.W., Jr. and appellant J.W., Sr. ("Father") appeal the February 14, 2019 decision and judgment entry from the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, Division of Domestic Relations, Juvenile Branch, terminating the parental rights of Mother[1] and appellant J.W., Sr. and granting permanent custody of J.W., Jr. to Franklin County Children Services ("FCCS").

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         {¶ 2} J.W., Jr. was born on February 20, 2008. J.W., Jr. has been in the continuous custody of FCCS since August 27, 2015 when a temporary order of custody was obtained. FCCS initially became involved when Mother arrived with the children[2] at the Young Men's Christian Association ("YMCA") shelter and advised they had been living in the woods. At that time, Mother agreed to place the children in respite care but failed to provide the medication J.W., Jr. required for his mental and physical health.

         {¶ 3} On November 6, 2015, FCCS filed a complaint alleging that J.W., Jr. was a neglected child, pursuant to R.C. 2151.03(A)(2), and a dependent child, pursuant to R.C. 2151.04(D). The complaint alleged that the whereabouts of both Mother and Father were unknown, and that Father had a criminal history.

         {¶ 4} On January 26, 2016, J.W., Jr. was adjudicated dependent and in an entry filed February 1, 2016, the trial court issued a temporary court commitment ("TCC") to FCCS. In the same entry, the trial court also adopted a case plan. The case plan required Mother to maintain contact with FCCS and the children, have a legal source of income and ensure the child's basic needs were met, complete an alcohol and other drugs ("AOD") assessment, follow any recommendations from the AOD assessment, submit to drug screens, have stable housing, and sign all information releases requested by the agency. The case plan required Father to maintain contact with the children and FCCS, complete an AOD assessment, have proof of a legal source of income, and stable housing.

         {¶ 5} On August 25, 2016, the court held an annual review hearing. At the hearing, the court extended the TCC for six months. In addition, the case plan was updated to require both Mother and Father to complete AOD assessments and follow through with any treatment recommendations, and to complete walk-in drug screens free of substance abuse. Further, Father was specifically required to refrain from engaging in illegal activity.

         {¶ 6} On December 30, 2016, FCCS filed its motion seeking permanent custody of J.W., Jr.

         {¶ 7} On June 13, 2017, counsel for Father filed a motion to appoint counsel for J.W., Jr. or, in the alternative, for the court to conduct an in-camera interview. On October 24, 2017, the court conducted an in-camera interview of J.W., Jr., during which he indicated he wanted to go home to his Mother, but did not know why. He also stated he would like to see his sister, his Mother, and his Father. After the in-camera interview, the court appointed a new guardian ad litem ("GAL") and the former GAL was appointed counsel for J.W., Jr.

         {¶ 8} Subsequently, during a January 23, 2018 hearing, the GAL requested a continuance of the trial on the motion for permanent custody to give both Mother and Father an opportunity to commence inpatient drug rehabilitation programs to treat heroin addiction. The GAL noted that both children had a "strong, strong bond with the parents, especially the little boy." Mother and Father joined the motion, FCCS opposed it, and the court granted the motion. The record does not indicate whether inpatient drug rehabilitation was ever completed by either Mother or Father.

         {¶ 9} On February 12, 2019, the matter finally proceeded to trial. Father appeared via teleconference because he was incarcerated. Despite the fact that Mother had joined in the January 23, 2018 motion for a continuance of the trial on the motion for permanent custody, she failed to appear, and her attorney had already been granted leave to withdraw from the case based on lack of contact with or instructions from Mother. Further, Mother had missed all court dates since February 2018.

         {¶ 10} At the trial, FCCS presented the testimony of Rochelle Gallagher, the FCCS caseworker. Jonathan Klein, the GAL, also provided testimony. No other testimony or evidence was presented.

         {¶ 11} Ms. Gallagher gave testimony on the background of the case and explained the initial case plan that was developed as discussed above. She first testified as to the status of the case plan as it pertained to Mother and her essential lack of compliance with the case plan. She further testified that the last visit Mother had with ...


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