In re: [H.H. et al.], [S.B., Mother, Appellant].
from the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas No.
18JU-13859, Division of Domestic Relations, Juvenile Branch
J. McClaren, for Franklin County Children Services.
R. Venters, Public Defender, and Ian J. Jones, for appellant.
1} Appellant, S.B. ("mother"), parent of
H.H., C.H., T.H., and M.H. (collectively "the
children"), appeals from the February 28, 2019 judgment
entry of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, Division
of Domestic Relations, Juvenile Branch, adjudicating the
children to be dependent, terminating parental rights of
mother and C.H., Sr. ("father"), the father of H.H.
and C.H. and alleged father of T.H. and M.H., and granting
permanent custody of the children to appellee, Franklin
County Children Services ("FCCS"). For the
following reasons, we affirm.
Facts and Procedural History
2} On November 30, 2018, FCCS filed a complaint
asserting the children were dependent pursuant to R.C.
2151.04(C) and seeking permanent custody for purposes of
adoption. In the complaint, FCCS alleged H.H., C.H.,
and T.H. had been in the custody of FCCS for 35 months and
M.H. had been in the custody of FCCS for 23 months. On
February 7, 2019, the children's guardian ad litem filed
a report recommending the juvenile court grant FCCS permanent
custody. Beginning February 14, 2019, the juvenile court held
a combined adjudicatory and dispositional hearing.
3} At the hearing, mother testified this case was
originally opened because H.H. disclosed in February 2015
that she had been sexually abused by D.M., the father of
mother's best friend, R.E.B., the children's maternal
grandfather, and father. When H.H. reported the abuse,
mother, father, H.H., C.H., and T.H. were staying at
R.E.B.'s residence. H.H., who was six years old at the
time, was diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection and
father had the same sexually transmitted infection as H.H. At
the time, mother believed R.E.B. sexually abused H.H.
However, at the hearing, mother admitted it was possible
father sexually abused H.H.
4} In April 2015, mother, father, H.H., C.H., and
T.H. left R.E.B.'s residence and moved to a hotel for
approximately three weeks. In May 2015, mother was homeless
and left H.H., C.H., and T.H. at paternal grandmother's
residence for approximately two weeks. Thereafter, mother
moved into a residence with father, H.H., C.H., T.H., and her
5} In June 2015, mother missed an appointment to get
T.H.'s immunization shots. In July 2015, mother was
unable to pay an electric bill in the amount of $1, 800 and
the electricity was terminated at her home. There were
roaches and rodents in mother's home. H.H. had 32
absences from school during that year, half of which occurred
during a period while mother was in jail. Mother missed some
of H.H.'s counseling appointments. Mother agreed she was
"overwhelmed" after her period of homelessness.
(Feb. 14, 2019 Tr. at 19.)
6} On August 31, 2015, FCCS received custody of
H.H., C.H., and T.H. because mother and father had not worked
on their case plans. On the same day, after FCCS removed
H.H., C.H., and T.H., father hit mother while intoxicated and
was charged with domestic violence. In September 2015, mother
obtained a temporary protection order against father, but
failed to appear at court. As a result, the protection order
7} On October 26, 2015, father pled guilty to
domestic violence and, as part of his sentence, was ordered
to stay away from mother. Although father had been ordered to
stay away from mother, they maintained regular contact with
one another. Mother stated she conceived M.H. with father
while father's criminal order to stay away was in effect.
8} On March 24, 2016, police and an FCCS caseworker
visited mother's residence and found father sleeping
there. Mother denied father was living at her residence at
the time. Mother claimed father would break into her
residence, including kicking open her door and breaking her
windows. Mother asserted she called police on father between
20 to 30 times, but police would not assist her.
9} In June 2016, mother was aware the juvenile court
had ordered father not to have any direct or indirect contact
with the children. Mother admitted she would still talk to
the children about father. In August 2016, father was in
mother's home although she again denied he was living
there. On August 16, 2016, father was present at the hospital
for M.H.'s birth while the court's no-contact order
was still in place. M.H. remained in mother's custody for
two to three days after birth until FCCS removed her. M.H.,
who was two years old at the time of the hearing, had been in
FCCS's continuous custody following her removal.
10} Mother denied she was having regular contact
with father in February 2017, although she admitted father
was present when the guardian ad litem visited her residence
at that time. In April 2017, father was arrested for assault
outside mother's residence. Mother eventually moved to a
different part of town to get away from father. Mother stated
she would not allow maternal grandfather or father to have
any contact with H.H.
11} At the time of the hearing, mother was in a
relationship with A.G., who was living with her along with
his daughter. Mother received income from government
benefits. Mother also worked for her landlord, but did not
receive regular income for such work. Mother alleged her
landlord did not provide her with a tax statement for her
earnings, and asserted "I don't draw taxes."
(Feb. 14, 2019 Tr. at 47.) Mother stated she was always able
to pay her own bills and did not rely on A.G. for help.
However, mother testified she relied on the National Youth
Advocate Program ("NYAP"), an organization
contracted by FCCS to complete casework, for help to pay her
$1, 800 electric bill. Mother also testified asking NYAP for
help with a December 2017 gas bill.
12} Mother testified that, in December 2018, she
provided H.H. with a ring which had the letter "E"
engraved on it. Mother told H.H. that it came from H.H.'s
grandfather. At the hearing, mother claimed the ring was from
J.H., her stepfather. Mother denied the ring came from
R.E.B., H.H.'s maternal grandfather.
13} H.H. and C.H. each had an individualized
education plan ("IEP"), but mother was unable to
state the goals of either IEP. Mother was aware H.H. had
challenges with reading and math, and was doing better with
reading. However, mother was not able to specifically state
what progress had been made. Mother had not spoken with
C.H.'s teacher about any progress at school. Mother
acknowledged the children's FCCS counselors had not
agreed to let mother have family counseling with the
children. Mother stated she was ready to resume having
custody of the children and parent them on a regular basis.
14} Sondra Cotton, family case manager and mentor to
teens at NYAP, testified she was assigned to be the
caseworker for this matter beginning December 17, 2017.
According to Cotton, FCCS first opened its case with the
family on August 31, 2015 due to alleged sexual abuse and
concerns regarding domestic violence. FCCS removed H.H.,
C.H., and T.H. on August 31, 2015 and M.H. on August 24,
2016. FCCS received temporary custody of H.H., C.H., and T.H.
on May 27, 2016 and M.H. on November 21, 2016. All children
had been in the continuous custody of FCCS for over 22
15} According to Cotton, the juvenile court approved
and adopted a case plan for the family when FCCS received
temporary custody of the children. Mother's case plan
required her to "[c]omplete parenting classes, follow
recommendations; mental health assessment, follow
recommendations; alcohol and other drug assessment, follow
any recommendations; psychological, psychiatric assessment,
follow any recommendations; protect family from domestic
violence; learn about [domestic violence] cycle; recognize
signs of harmful relationships; stable housing and income to
be provided to [FCCS]; and to complete visitation with the
children at [FCCS]." (Feb. 14, 2019 Tr. at 64-65.)
Although Cotton agreed that mother had completed many case
plan activities, she did not consider mother to have
satisfied the requirements of the case plan.
16} Cotton did not believe mother satisfied the
parenting portion of her case plan. Although mother had
participated in a parenting class, as required by her case
plan, she continued to have issues managing the children and
struggled to multitask during supervised visits with the
children. During the weekly, two-hour-long visits, mother
only periodically engaged with the children. Instead, mother
became frustrated by the children's misbehavior and spent
the visit providing the children with directives and yelling
at the children. Mother also yelled at and was unable to
control A.G.'s daughter, whom she brought to visits with
the children. Unsupervised visits had not been approved as a
result of concerns regarding mother's ability to monitor
the children and ensure the children's safety.
Additionally, staff supervising the visits had to provide
17} Mother requested family counseling in January
2018, but Cotton met with resistance from mother when she
attempted to set up counseling sessions. Family counseling
was ended after two sessions because counselors felt it was
inappropriate to continue due to the children's
escalating behaviors after the sessions. The children also
reported to their counselors they were reluctant to share
their feelings because mother would be mad at them if they
said how they felt. As of the hearing, the children's
counselors had not given consent to resume family counseling
18} Cotton testified regarding two recent concerns
with mother's parenting. At a visit on January 22, 2019,
mother spanked M.H., grabbed H.H. by the face to redirect
her, and ordered excessive time-outs. H.H. appeared to be
upset after mother grabbed her by the face, prompting Cotton
to intervene and speak with mother.
19} Cotton was also concerned about a ring mother
provided to H.H., which had the letter "E" engraved
on it. Mother told Cotton the ring was a birthday gift to
H.H. from "a grandfather." (Feb. 14, 2019 Tr. at
70.) Mother told H.H. to wear the ring. After receiving the
ring, H.H. started acting inappropriately at school and had
issues at counseling and home related to the ring. Cotton
expressed to mother that she was concerned because R.E.B.,
H.H.'s maternal grandfather, had reportedly sexually
abused her and the letter engraved on the ring was the same
as one of the initials in R.E.B.'s name. Cotton discussed
with mother multiple times that she should not prompt
traumatic memories for H.H. in a non-therapeutic manner.
After speaking with mother about the ring and the January 22,
2019 visit, Cotton determined she needed to make additional
referrals for parenting.
20} Cotton did not believe mother successfully
completed her case plan requirement to learn about the
domestic violence cycle and how to recognize the signs of a
harmful relationship. Mother continued to see father,
including becoming pregnant with M.H., after he had been
charged with domestic violence and mother had sought a
protection order. On cross-examination, Cotton stated that,
to her knowledge, mother was not in an abusive relationship
at that time and was not in contact with father.
21} Cotton did not agree that mother met her case
plan requirement of providing a stable home because various
individuals were observed to be staying there, frequently
moving in and out of the residence. Mother admitted to Cotton
that other individuals had stayed at the residence, but
denied they were living there despite evidence they were
sleeping in rooms that would have been occupied by the
children. Mother's explanation of her relationship to the
people moving in and out of the residence shifted over time,
presenting a concern as to whether mother was providing
accurate information to FCCS. Cotton was additionally
concerned because of reported behavioral issues with some of
the individuals staying at the residence. Cotton stated that
"[t]he ongoing concerns of persons in the home, in and
out of the home on a regular basis is very high risk for the
children due to their specialized needs." (Feb. 14, 2019
Tr. at 92.) Therefore, Cotton did not believe the home was
22} Cotton testified that, throughout the history of
the case, mother had not been able to establish stable income
as required by her case plan. Although mother claimed she was
employed, she also stated her employment was inconsistent and
"under the table." (Feb. 14, 2019 Tr. at 81.)
Mother did not provide any documentation to FCCS to support
her claimed employment or income from government benefits.
Mother struggled to pay for utilities and food, although she
was able to do so with assistance.
23} Father's case plan required him to take
parenting classes, following all recommendations; complete a
mental health and abuse of drugs assessment, following all
recommendations; complete a psychological and psychiatric
assessment, following all recommendations; protect the family
from domestic violence; and, finally, to establish paternity
for the children. Father had not participated in any portion
of his case plan at the time of the hearing.
24} H.H., C.H., and T.H. were together in a single
foster to adopt home and M.H. was at a different foster home.
All of the children were bonded to their respective foster
parents. Cotton stated the children were also bonded with
mother, but the contact between them "seem[ed] forced a
lot of times with the children at the  visits." (Feb.
14, 2019 Tr. at 90.) Cotton recommended permanent custody be
granted to FCCS.
25} Vicky Rush testified she was formerly a case
manager for court appointed special advocates
("CASA") and served as acting lay guardian ad litem
for the children from August 2015 until 2017. In August 2015,
Rush visited mother's residence before H.H., C.H., and
T.H. were removed by FCCS. At that time, there was no
electricity at the residence; mother stated electricity would
be back on in two weeks. There were exposed boards in the
ceiling where it had collapsed. The house was messy and
dirty. There was broken glass in the yard. Rush recommended
that H.H., C.H., and T.H. be removed from the residence at
the hearing in August 2015. At the time, Rush's main
concerns were the safety issues in the home; the sexual abuse
of H.H., including that the identity of the perpetrator was
unclear; and H.H. had not been attending school.
26} After the children were removed, Rush continued
to have concerns with mother and father because of the lack
of clarity on the perpetrator of the sexual abuse of H.H. and
because of mother and father's ongoing relationship after
father committed domestic violence. Rush found father at the
residence in both February 2016 and February 2017 when she
made unannounced visits to the residence. Mother told Rush
she was not going to keep the children away from father.
Father was at the residence after mother had finished
domestic violence classes. Rush believed mother was unwilling
to put the safety of the children ahead of her relationship
with father. Additionally, Rush was concerned because mother
had difficulty maintaining a safe, clean home environment.
There were cockroaches at the residence and a broken window
that was a safety concern.
27} Mother had been instructed by her caseworker to
not have other individuals living at her home, but Rush found
several individuals staying there, including in the
children's bedrooms. Rush was concerned because she did
not know with certainty the identity of the individuals who
were staying at mother's home and because the sexual
assault of H.H. made the children vulnerable. Rush worried
about the protection and safety of the children if these
individuals were sleeping in the same room as them. Rush
found it especially concerning that mother had disregarded
her caseworker's instructions. Rush did not notice a
difference in mother's parenting skills as a result of
her working with a parenting mentor.
28} Nan Hoff, the CASA guardian ad litem for the
children at the time of the hearing, testified she was
assigned to the case in February 2017. After completing her
initial assessment of the case, Hoff s concerns about mother
and father included domestic violence, substance abuse, and
H.H. not attending school. On a visit to mother's home,
Hoff observed J.H. at the residence. Mother stated J.H. was
showering at her home because the water was shut off at his
apartment on a different street. Mother had not previously
told Hoff that J.H. lived next door to her. Hoff did not
believe mother was truthful about individuals living at the
29} Over the approximately two years Hoff had been
involved with the case, she had not observed a change in
mother's overall parenting ability, despite repeated
advice and coaching. Mother often yelled at the children in
visits and berated them at family counseling. She failed to
watch the children or maintain awareness of the
children's actions. However, she had shown slight
improvement in her engagement with the children, sometimes
engaging with them in an activity. Hoff did not recommend
additional family counseling because the children's
behaviors escalated after the sessions. Mother had been told
not to hit the children, but still spanked M.H.
30} Hoff had not spoken with mother regarding
domestic violence. Hoff was not concerned about whether
mother had successfully completed the portion of her case
plan concerning domestic violence.
31} Hoff detailed the children's specialized
needs and behavioral issues. H.H. had an IEP at school due to
her attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Hoff was
concerned that mother was unable to articulate H.H.'s
goals or progress with regard to the IEP, although mother had
participated by phone in H.H.'s IEP meetings.
32} According to Hoff, H.H. had serious boundary
issues resulting from the sexual abuse. She asked to kiss and
hug other children at school, looked under bathroom stalls,
and showed her private parts to her sibling. Hoff agreed it
would be concerning to have people coming in and out of the
residence where H.H. was staying due to her boundary issues
and sexualized behavior. When H.H. was with mother, H.H.
openly defied her or gave excuses for misbehaving. When at
the foster home, H.H. seemed very relaxed, completed homework
and chores, and played with siblings.
33} Hoff testified C.H. had various behavioral
issues including stealing from others, lying, and attempting
to touch a sibling in a sexualized fashion. C.H. did not want
to listen to mother and openly defied her. Hoff was concerned
that mother was unable to articulate C.H.'s goals or
progress with regard to the IEP, although she had
participated by phone in C.H.'s IEP meetings. At the
foster home, C.H. was focused, affectionate, and polite.
34} Hoff testified that, when at the foster home,
T.H. played with siblings, rarely complained, and spoke about
activities and school. At visits with mother, T.H. was
frequently getting in trouble. M.H., who was two at the time
of the hearing, was generally happy with both mother and
foster parents. However, mother often did not know where M.H.
was or what she was doing, which especially concerned Hoff
considering M.H.'s young age.
35} According to Hoff, the children thrived in
structured, loving environments which encouraged learning and
activities. Mother's home did not appear to be
structured. Hoff would not recommend unsupervised visits with
mother because she was not aware of what the children were
doing and it was not safe for the children.
36} Hoff had discussed the proceedings with the
children. H.H. wanted to be placed with mother. C.H. refused
to make a decision on placement. T.H. wanted to be placed in
the foster home. M.H. was too young to understand the
proceedings. Hoff ...