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State ex rel. B.W.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

February 22, 2017



          Diane E. Cote Attorney at Law COUNSEL FOR OTHER APPELLEE: State of La., Department of Children & Fam. Services

          Chantel Conrad Acadiana Legal Services COUNSEL FOR OTHER APPELLEES: B.W. C.D. C.D.

          Lucy Melancon COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT: T.W.

          Court composed of Ulysses Gene Thibodeaux, Chief Judge, Shannon J. Gremillion, and D. Kent Savoie, Judges.


         T.W.[1] appeals the decision of the trial court terminating her parental rights to her minor children, B.W., C.D., and C.D. For the following reasons, we affirm.


         On March 20, 2014, the State of Louisiana, Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) received a report indicating that T.W., the biological mother of B.W., born September 22, 2005, C.D., born November 11, 2007, and C.D., born July 25, 2012, was incarcerated on the charge of Armed Robbery. Her bond was set at $100, 000. It was further reported that the children's father, R.D., was also incarcerated for Simple Battery of the Infirm. The children were residing with their maternal grandmother, T.R., and maternal aunt, B.W.

         Because T.W. lived with T.R. and her sister, the children primarily resided with them as well. However, immediately prior to DCFS's involvement, C.D. and C.D. began residing with their paternal grandparents, B.P. and W.P. T.R. and the aunt admitted to using a methamphetamine more commonly known as crystal meth. The aunt also admitted to illegal use of the drug suboxine. Due to suffering from a previous stroke, T.R. was on multiple prescription medications. T.R. and the aunt both agreed to submit to a urinalysis screening. The aunt tested positive for Amphetamines and Methamphetamines. T.R.'s urine was unable to be tested after she admitted to pouring water in the specimen cup to dilute the results. There were allegations that B.P. and W.P. were also using the illegal drugs cocaine and marijuana.

         The DCFS case worker observed that the home of T.R. and the aunt had minimal food, no refrigerator and no stove. The minor child, B.W., could not recall the last time that she had eaten. At the time of the report, both C.D. and C.D. had lice, scabies and ringworms. The two school aged children, B.W. and C.D., had not attended school in over a year. B.W. reported that she taught herself math by looking at books and counting on her fingers.

         On March 24, 2014, an instanter order, along with the supporting affidavit of Bridget LeDoux, investigator with DCFS, was filed and signed by the trial court, placing the children in the temporary custody of DCFS. On May 12, 2014, this case came for hearing wherein the trial court took evidence and, thereafter, DCFS requested that the case be adjudicated as a Child In Need of Care (CINC) case. DCFS further requested that it have continued custody with the placement to remain the same. DCFS's requests were ordered by the court.

         This matter came for review on August 25, 2014, February 11, 2015, May 20, 2015, and August 5, 2015. A case plan was developed for B.W., C.D. and C.D. B.W. and the elder C.D. were placed in the home of E.G., a certified foster home, in New Iberia, LA. The younger C.D. was placed in the certified foster home of B.B., also in New Iberia, LA. Visitation was scheduled for T.W. with the children every other Wednesday from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Acadia Parish DCFS office in Crowley, LA. In an August 12, 2014 report to the trial court, T.W. was reported to have visited her children according to the visitation schedule since her release from incarceration. R.D. had not visited the children since he was released from his incarceration. T.W. informed DCFS that she did not want her children placed with any of her or R.D.'s relatives. The goal for B.W., C.D., and C.D. was reunification with a concurrent goal of adoption.

         At the February 11, 2015 review hearing, the goal was changed from reunification to adoption. The court found that there was a lack of parental progress in the case plan which prevented the children from being reunited with their parents. Judgment was signed February 15, 2015.

         On June 12, 2015, a Petition for Termination of Parental Rights and Certification for Adoption was filed by DCFS. It alleged that the minor children B.W., C.D., and C.D., had been in the custody of DCFS since March 20, 2014 because of neglect due to dependency on drugs in their home, physical abuse of the children, and lack of adequate shelter and food. The petition requested that the parental rights of T.W. and R.D. be terminated based on their failure to comply with the case plan and based on the same behavior that led to the children's removal being present. A termination of parental rights hearing was set for September 16, 2015.

         A case review hearing was held August 5, 2015. At that hearing, both T.W. and R.D. entered general denials in response to the allegations in the Petition for Termination of Parental Rights. On September 16, 2015, the trial was continued to October 28, 2015, and a transport order was signed by the trial court, ordering the Acadia Parish Correctional Center to transport R.D. to the Crowley District Courthouse on October 28, 2015 for the termination of parental rights hearing.

         T.W. was not present at the termination of parental rights hearing on October 28, 2015. Her attorney stated that, while T.W. was present earlier in the day, at some point she left, even though her attorney advised her that the trial would go forward that day. R.D. did attend the hearing.

         Keashia Benoit, a child welfare specialist, was called as the first witness. She worked on the case from March 2014 until December 2014. Part of T.W.'s case plan was to secure stable housing, however, Ms. Benoit testified that she failed in this regard. From March 2014 until May 2014, T.W. was incarcerated. After she was released, she would not let Ms. Benoit know where she was living with the exception of two occasions. Ms. Benoit was able to observe a home on the outskirts of Crowley, LA. Ms. Benoit testified that the home did not have room for the children because she had a roommate, someone who had also had their parental rights terminated. The second place Ms. Benoit was able to visit was within the city limits of Crowley, LA, however, T.W. never allowed Ms. Benoit into that home for observation. The rest of the time that Ms. Benoit worked on the case, T.W. did not seem to have a permanent residence and moved around a lot. T.W. did not want to give Ms. Benoit information about with whom she was staying.

         T.W. also had a mental health component to her case plan. She was referred to Crowley Mental Health Center, but she never made an appointment. Crowley Mental Health Center was also the place that T.W. would have sought help for her substance abuse problem - another component of her case plan. She did not follow-up on this referral.

         According to the case plan, T.W.'s parental contribution was seventy-five dollars (twenty-five dollars per child) per month. During the time that Keashia Benoit worked on the case, T.W. never contributed monetarily to the children's welfare. She never provided Ms. Benoit with proof of legal income.

         T.W. submitted to a drug screen once during this period, and the result was negative. She was also referred for parenting classes as part of her case plan. They were to be in-home classes, however, because Ms. Benoit never knew where T.W. was living, she was unable to set up the parenting classes. Ms. Benoit mailed T.W. a letter regarding January parenting classes. ...

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