STATE OF LOUISIANA IN THE INTEREST OF C. F.
APPEAL FROM THE FORTIETH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF
ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST, STATE OF LOUISIANA NO. 16, 999,
DIVISION "A" HONORABLE MADELINE JASMINE, JUDGE
COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT, STATE OF LOUISIANA,
DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES Jessica Coalter.
COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE, FATHER, C. F., JR. Kevin L.
COUNSEL FOR MINOR/APPELLEE, MINOR CHILD, C. F. Laura A.
composed of Fredericka Homberg Wicker, Marc E. Johnson, and
Stephen J. Windhorst
FREDERICKA HOMBERG WICKER JUDGE.
State of Louisiana, Department of Children and Family
Services ("DCFS"), appeals the denial of its
petition to terminate C.F., Jr.'s parental rights to his
minor child, C.F. For the following reasons, we affirm.
9, 2014, DCFS received a report expressing concern for the
minor child, C.F. Upon investigation, DCFS learned that
C.F.'s mother was deceasedand that C.F.'s father, C.F.,
Jr., had a lengthy history of substance abuse and was
reported to be passed out after smoking crack cocaine in the
home while the minor child was in his care. On June 20, 2014,
DCFS interviewed C.F., Jr., and reported that his behavior
was disoriented and his speech slurred. DCFS reported that,
during the interview, C.F., Jr. admitted to smoking crack
cocaine ten days earlier while the minor child was asleep in
the home. C.F., Jr. thereafter made arrangements for C.F. to
stay with his sister. For the following six days, DCFS made
several attempts to contact C.F., Jr. to transport him for
random urine drug screenings and to refer him for substance
abuse treatment. In light of C.F., Jr.'s alleged lengthy
history of substance abuse and failure to cooperate with
DCFS, the trial court granted an oral instanter order
directing DCFS to take C.F. into its immediate
August 12, 2014, the trial court adjudicated C.F. as a child
in need of care. The initial case plan goal for permanent
placement for C.F. was reunification with a concurrent goal
of adoption. C.F., Jr.'s case plan required him to find
and maintain stable housing for a period of six months;
contribute $25.00 per month for C.F.'s care and support;
participate in and complete agency-approved substance abuse
classes; participate in mental health evaluations and therapy
appointments; complete random drug screenings; participate in
all court hearings and scheduled Family Team Conferences
("FTCs"); visit with C.F. as scheduled and bring
her nutritious snacks and age-appropriate toys; and complete
agency-approved parenting classes.
September 10, 2015, DCFS filed a petition to terminate C.F.,
Jr.'s parental rights to C.F. In its petition, DCFS
sought to terminate C.F., Jr.'s parental rights on the
ground of abandonment pursuant to La. Ch.C. art. 1015(4) and
(5).DCFS argued that termination was proper
because C.F., Jr. failed to make any significant
contributions to C.F.'s care and support for a period of
six months and, further, because he failed to substantially
comply with his case plan.
September 29, 2016, the matter proceeded to trial on
DCFS's petition to terminate parental
rights. At trial, Kyra Johnson, a child welfare
specialist with DCFS, testified that she is the case worker
assigned to C.F.'s case. She testified that C.F. came
into state custody on June 26, 2014, and had been placed in a
certified foster home. She testified that C.F. was previously
placed into state custody in 2007, when her father C.F., Jr.
admitted to using crack cocaine in C.F.'s presence and
her mother, E.M., was discovered passed out in the home.
Within the initial six-month period in the 2007 case, C.F.
was returned to her parents' custody.
C.F., Jr.'s contributions to the care and support of
C.F., Ms. Johnson testified that, at the time of trial, C.F.,
Jr. had made no payments in accordance with his case plan for
C.F.'s support. She testified, however, that C.F., Jr.
did provide snacks during his visits with the child and
further provided her with a cell phone.
his compliance with his case plan, Ms. Johnson testified that
C.F., Jr. received a certificate of completion for the
ordered parenting classes and weekly mental health sessions,
which included comprehensive evaluations and one-on-one
therapy sessions. Ms. Johnson testified that C.F., Jr.
"made every appointment" with the evaluating
physician. She testified that C.F., Jr. also completed the
required substance abuse program and that, prior to December
2015, although he missed a few drug screens he was,
generally, "very good with completing his drug
screens." Ms. Johnson testified that C.F., Jr. has
tested positive for opiates but that C.F., Jr. provided proof
to show that he had been prescribed pain medication. Ms.
Johnson testified that C.F., Jr. never tested positive for
Johnson testified that, after the filing of the September
2015 petition to terminate, C.F., Jr. did not appear for his
December 15, 2015 review hearing. At that hearing, the case
plan goal was amended to adoption. C.F., Jr. further did not
participate in his January and February 2016 drug screens,
which resulted in automatic positive results for those
screenings pursuant to DCFS procedures. Ms. Johnson testified
that she observed a noticeable difference in C.F., Jr.'s
behavior in December 2015, and the beginning of 2016,
surmising that C.F., Jr. following the holidays was still
grieving the loss of his wife. After the filing of the
petition to terminate, C.F., Jr. indicated to Ms. Johnson
that he would surrender his rights to C.F. He told Ms.
Johnson he felt that everyone was "turning back on
him" and that no one was actually trying to help him get
his daughter back. C.F., Jr. appeared for the remainder of
the drug screens in 2016, up to the date of trial in
September 2016. C.F., Jr.'s drug screen in September of
2016 was negative.
visitation with C.F., Ms. Johnson testified that prior to
December of 2015, C.F., Jr. visited with C.F. twice a month
and regularly made those visits with her, missing few visits.
She testified that C.F., Jr. brought snacks for C.F. to each
visit. Ms. Johnson testified that C.F., Jr. was in an
accident in March of 2016, which required him to have
multiple surgeries. She testified that C.F., Jr. missed his
monthly visitations with C.F. from March 2016 through July
2016, and that C.F., Jr. was immobile after the accident but
was likely mobile by June 2016. C.F., Jr. visited with C.F.
as scheduled in August and September 2016.
his income and housing, Ms. Johnson testified that C.F., Jr.
receives $1, 067.00 per month in social security benefits.
She testified that C.F., Jr. has always had housing since
C.F. entered state custody, but that his housing has been
inconsistent. She testified that C.F., Jr. recently, in June
2016, leased a 4-bedroom home in Westwego, which provided
space for C.F. and appeared operable with working utilities
upon inspection. Although C.F., Jr. had stable housing at the
time of trial, Ms. Johnson testified that C.F, Jr.'s
housing was still a concern because he shared his home with
his two adult sons and his daughter-in-law, who each have had
open foster care cases.
Johnson testified that C.F. is very happy with her foster
care family, who is willing to adopt her. She testified that
C.F. does not want to be removed from her foster family and
would like to be adopted. She testified that C.F. has been
diagnosed with depression since June of 2016 at which time
she began medication. C.F. is attending trauma therapy as she
has suffered extreme distress from the loss of her mother. On
cross-examination, Ms. Johnson admitted that she has not
spoken to the doctor treating C.F. for depression to
determine if a part of the trauma and resulting depression is
also the result of losing her father's daily presence in
her life as well. Ms. Johnson testified that, since June of
2016, C.F. has begun exhibiting extreme behavior, and has
been caught stealing a package off of someone's porch,
and lying. C.F. is enrolled in therapy and is receiving
support and professional care to address her recent
Jr. testified at trial that he loves his daughter and that he
wants to regain custody. He specifically denied that he uses
any illicit drugs and testified that he has been sober for
approximately a year and a half. He admitted that he had
smoked crack cocaine and that, following the death of his
wife, he was in a bad place and went down the wrong path. He
further testified that he is a recovering alcoholic and does
not drink alcohol. He testified that he is willing to
continue substance abuse programs to show that he is
committed to remaining sober to regain custody of C.F.
Jr, testified that he has been taking prescribed medications
for "a long time." He testified that he broke his
back years ago, when he was approximately twenty years old,
while working on the river. He testified that he has never
informed his doctors that he has had a substance abuse
problem with crack cocaine, indicating essentially that it is
irrelevant because he has never had a substance abuse issue
with prescribed pain medication. He stated that any pain
medication he has taken has always been prescribed to him by
visitation, C.F., Jr. testified that his daughter is
suffering from the loss of her mother and has put up an
"ice barrier" and that "one visit an hour a
day is not even nearly enough to even start breaking through
the ice barrier" to communicate with C.F. He
acknowledged that he did not visit with C.F. from April to
July 2016. He testified that he broke his hip and his leg and
was immobile for a period of time and that he did not want
C.F. to see him like that and to worry about him. He
acknowledged that C.F.'s foster parents are very good
people and that he has the "utmost respect" for
them and what they have done for C.F. However, he testified
that he wants to be in ...