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In re H.H.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Tenth District

December 3, 2019

In re: [H.H. et al.], [S.B., Mother, Appellant].

          APPEAL from the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas No. 18JU-13859, Division of Domestic Relations, Juvenile Branch

         On brief:

          Robert J. McClaren, for Franklin County Children Services.

          Yeura R. Venters, Public Defender, and Ian J. Jones, for appellant.


          Robert J. McClaren.

          Ian J. Jones.


          DORRIAN, J.

         {¶ 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.

         I. 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.[1] 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 sister.

         {¶ 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 was dismissed.

         {¶ 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 months.

         {¶ 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 ongoing redirection.

         {¶ 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 sessions.

         {¶ 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 stable.

         {¶ 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 home.

         {¶ 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 ...

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