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In re L.J.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Fifth District, Licking

December 13, 2019


          Civil appeal from the Licking County Court of Common Pleas, Juvenile Division, Case Nos. F2017-0667, F2017-0668, F2017-0669, & F2017-0670

         JUDGMENT Affirmed

          WILLIAM C. HAYES Licking County Prosecutor By: MANDY R. DELEEUW Assistant Prosecutor Guardian Ad Litem STACY JEWELL

          ROBIN LYN GREEN For - Benecia Goerge CAROLYN E. FITTRO Attorney Advocate SCOTT SIDNER

          JUDGES Hon. W. Scott Gwin, P.J. Hon. William B. Hoffman, J. Hon. John W. Wise, J.


          Gwin, P.J.

         {¶1} Appellant-Father ["Father"] appeals the July 26, 2019 Judgment Entry of the Licking County Court of Common Pleas, Juvenile Court Division, which terminated his parental rights with respect to his minor children and granted permanent custody of the children to appellee, Licking County Jobs and Family Services ["LCJFS"].

         Facts and Procedural History

         {¶2} Mother and Father were married on February 5, 2006. [1T. at 25].[1] The couple has four children: Child 1, b. 09.11.2006; Child 2, b. 01.09.2008; Child 3, b. 12.30.2008 and Child 4, b. 06.18.2014.

         {¶3} On September 21, 2017, LCJFS requested an ex-parte order for Emergency Shelter Care Custody. An order of Protective Supervision expired on June 9, 2017, ending a previous case that had been opened since August 2014. It had been alleged that the family's home was in deplorable conditions and a potential eviction was being filed against the parents. It was also alleged that the parents had issues in their relationship and with drug use. On September 22, 2017, the children were found to be dependent minors and were placed in the temporary custody of LCJFS. The next day, LCJFS filed a Motion for Permanent Custody of all of the children. The matter was set for a contested hearing and was heard by a Magistrate on February 12, 13, and March 1, 2018. The Magistrate denied the LCJFS' Motion by Judgment Entry filed April 2, 2018. [Docket Entry 72]. The magistrate's opinion was adopted by the trial court by Judgment Entry filed April 2, 2018. [Docket Entry 73].

         {¶4} On August 22, 2018, LCJFS filed a second Motion for Permanent Custody, with support from the Guardian ad Litem ("GAL"). The GAL filed her report on January 22, 2019. The matter was then heard on January 29, 2019, February 6, 2019 and April 9, 2019. The court also conducted an in-camera interview with the children.

         Permanent Custody Trial.

         {¶5} LCJFS began working with this family on June 9, 2014. All four children were adjudicated dependent and ordered into the temporary custody of LCJFS on August 6, 2014.

         {¶6} On May 9, 2016, the children were returned to the parents subject to a Protective Supervision Order ["PSO"] for six months. The PSO was extended an additional six months on November 29, 2016.

         {¶7} Mary Ellen Greenwaldt, a social worker that had been involved with the family, testified that during the first case the family's issues were homelessness, financial instability, mental health, employment and finances. LCJFS made referrals to counseling, housing, parenting classes, mental health counselors, and homemaking assistance. Throughout the first case, the parents had difficulty completing a monthly budget and struggled to ensure their monthly bills were paid. In February 2016, the social worker and Alma Lease, the homemaker, had a family team meeting with the family to discuss the lingering concerns, which were the cleanliness of the home, unstable finances and personal hygiene. The family made progress and LCJFS began transitioning the children home.

         {¶8} LCJFS provided the family with new beds for the children, cleaning supplies, closet systems and other items to help set the family up for success once the case closed. LCJFS assisted in showing the family how to clean and physically helped them clean the rooms of the children and build the beds. The PSO ultimately expired on June 9, 2017.

         {¶9} Three months later, in September 2017, a referral came into LCJFS. Social worker Greenwaldt went back to the home. She observed deplorable conditions. She testified the home looked completely different from when LCJFS closed their case in June 2017. Some of the furniture LCJFS had purchased was still unbuilt and some was broken. There was trash throughout the home. A friend of the father's was living the basement. He was asleep with an unknown woman. The social worker observed drug paraphernalia in the basement. Due to the presence of drug paraphernalia, drug screens were requested of both parents. Father tested positive for methamphetamine. Mother admitted to using methamphetamine one time.

         {¶10} After the first permanent custody trial, in an attempt to improve efforts at working with the family, LCJFS assigned social worker Matthew Tracy to work with the parents. Social worker Greenwaldt continued to work with the children. Mr. Tracy was assigned the case on May 21, 2018. He created an updated Case Plan with the goal of reunification, which was filed on June 1, 2018. He created this plan with input from the parents, with four primary areas to work on: 1) housing (both maintaining a home and ensuring the home was clean and appropriate); 2) finances and budget; 3) substance abuse issues; and 4) mental health issues. Mr. Tracy did not believe the substance abuse was a problem for either Mother or Father. He testified he does "believe the parents that it was probably a one or two-time thing" but he has not seen signs of ongoing issues.

         {¶11} Testimony established that the parents had maintained their home for the entirety of the case. However, there were concerns expressed that the parents could not maintain the cleanliness of their home, by Alma Lease, a family aide and the caseworker.

         {¶12} Caseworker Tracy testified that an aspect of the case plan dealt with budgeting. Testimony confirmed that the parents had attempted to do budgeting with LCJFS and Mid-Ohio, a counseling service. However, LCJFS continued to have concerns because the parents had only provided them with a budget listing their major expenses and had not reported to him the miscellaneous expenses and receipts.

         {¶13} Another aspect of the case plan was counseling for the parents. Testimony confirmed that the parents had requested this objective be listed on the case plan and that both parents were engaged in individual counseling and marriage counseling.

         {¶14} Home visits were another area of concern for Mr. Tracy. Unannounced home visits have been a struggle with this family. He made "many attempts." Since he began his involvement with the family, Mr. Tracy has been in their house unannounced on two occasions.

         {¶15} The first unannounced visit took place on February 6, 2019. The house was very dark and the social worker asked them to turn some lights on; however, the family said that they had no working light bulbs. The house was barely furnished. In the kitchen, Mr. Tracy opened the freezer and discovered that the electric had been turned off. Additionally, he observed the freezer covered in bugs. There was no food in the refrigerator or freezer. He testified, "It was pretty disgusting." The Father told Mr. Tracy that they had elected to turn off the gas downstairs to save some money, and the water pipes burst because they froze.

         {¶16} The second home visit took place on Thursday prior to the final day of trial. Mr. Tracy had to knock four or five times "pretty aggressively because [he] could hear somebody inside." When no one answered the door, Mr. Tracy put a business card in the door. He then went to the other door of the home and knocked with no response. As he was leaving, he could see the side door and noticed the card was gone. Mr. Tracy went back and knocked again. The Father answered and allowed him in the home. This time the electric in the home was on. The refrigerator was broken. The smoke detector was beeping, indicating that it needed new batteries.

         {¶17} The last aspect of the case plan addressed visiting the children. Testimony confirmed that the parents attended visits with the children throughout the life of the case.

         {¶18} The children are in foster care and have been in foster care, including in the previous case for a total of 37 months. Since their removal in September 2017, the children have been placed together and remained in one placement the entire time. All four of the children have some behavioral issues. Visits never progressed from supervised at the Agency. Social worker Greenwaldt testified that the children were scared to go home and were very angry with their parents.

         {¶19} The magistrate filed a decision granting LCJFS's motion for permanent custody on June 27, 2019. The Judge then adopted and approved the Magistrate's Decision on the same day. Mother, through trial counsel, filed an Objection to the Magistrate's Decision on July 3, 2019. Father, ...

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