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State ex rel. E. M.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

June 2, 2017


         Appealed from the Caddo Parish Juvenile Court Juvenile Division - First Judicial District Court for the Parish of Caddo, Louisiana Lower Court Case No. 153, 417 Honorable David Matlock, Judge.

          SAMUEL D. GOODWIN Counsel for Appellant, Mother.

          KIM SMITH Counsel for Appellee, State of Louisiana, Department of Children and Family Services.

          JEREMY BABERS Counsel for Appellee, Father.

          CHILD ADVOCACY PROGRAM By: Nancy Googe Cooper Counsel for Appellee, Child.

          Before MOORE, GARRETT, and STONE, JJ.

          GARRETT, J.

         In this child in need of care ("CINC") case, the mother, KM, appeals from a juvenile court judgment accepting a case plan of adoption only, and not reunification, for the child, EM.[1] For the following reasons, we affirm.


         KM was 14 years old when she gave birth to EM on June 24, 2015. Due to KM's young age during pregnancy, the baby suffers from various health problems, including optic nerve hypoplasia. Simply put, the optic nerve did not develop and EM is permanently blind. EM had three possible fathers. Paternity testing eventually revealed the father to be DG, who was an 18-year-old junior in high school at the time EM was conceived. DG stated that he thought KM was 16. Although it is not entirely clear from the record, DG was convicted of either carnal knowledge of a juvenile or indecent behavior with a juvenile. He is serving a prison sentence as a consequence of his actions with KM.

         The record indicates that KM was raised in an unstable environment. She has several younger siblings and lived with her mother, JC, and her father, LM. JC was somewhat disabled after having West Nile virus. It appears from the record that JC may have also abused drugs. JC was not able to control KM, who frequently ran away from home. The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services ("DCFS") had records indicating that KM had been the victim of neglect in July 2002, July 2007, and August 2010. JC had an open file with the DCFS from May 2015, largely dealing with her inability to control KM. The lack of supervision of KM contributed to her pregnancy and the birth of EM.

         On September 17, 2015, concerns were reported to the DCFS regarding EM. KM did not appear to be able to care for the baby and frequently left the child with others, skipped school, ran away from home, and sometimes ran away with the baby. She missed doctor appointments for the baby and appointments to obtain food assistance. JC stated that she was not able to care for the baby and could not control KM. According to JC, there were no other family members who could care for EM. KM had planned to allow EM to be adopted by a couple in Texas, but changed her mind.

         At the time the DCFS became involved in this case, an employee with a maternity home where KM stayed during part of her pregnancy had EM in her possession and took the child to various doctor appointments. This individual considered adopting EM, but decided against it.

         On October 8, 2015, the juvenile court issued a verbal instanter order of removal and signed the order the next day. The court determined that EM was the victim of abuse and/or neglect and emergency circumstances existed requiring that the child be taken into the custody of the DCFS.

         A hearing was held on October 15, 2015, and the court issued a continued custody and protective order placing the child in the legal custody of the DCFS due to neglect. The DCFS was ordered to conduct a home study of the paternal grandparents, HG and WG. KM's visitation with the child was to be supervised. EM was placed in foster care with a nonrelative.

         On November 13, 2015, the state filed a petition to have EM declared a CINC. A dispositional hearing was held on February 8, 2016. The January 2016 DCFS report to the court, which contained a case plan with a goal of reunification, was filed into evidence. Among KM's case plan goals were attending and completing a parenting program, providing a safe and stable home for EM, attending routine medical appointments for the baby, and remaining in school. At the hearing it was determined that KM was not attending school, but was supposed to return to school the next week. The court ordered a mental health evaluation and ordered KM to attend counseling. The attorney representing EM advised the court that the baby's paternal grandparents were an excellent resource. The court adjudicated EM a CINC and ordered that the paternal grandparents could have overnight visitation with the baby. The court maintained custody with the DCFS, but placed EM with KM and her mother, JC, instead of continuing the child in foster care.

         The case was reviewed by the court on March 10, 2016. KM was 15 at that point. JC said KM was doing what she should to care for EM. The paternal grandmother, HG, did not share that opinion and stated that she thought KM had issues. She noted that KM often left the baby with her when KM had other things she wanted to do. The case plan goal remained reunification. The case review judgment of March 18, 2016, specified that the child continued to be a CINC and custody was maintained with the DCFS. EM's placement remained with KM and JC.

         Another case review hearing was held on May 12, 2016. An amended case plan for reunification, or adoption in the alternative, was approved. At that point, EM was living with the paternal grandparents. EM was attending a daycare for children with special needs. A report from the daycare that was filed into evidence stated that EM was in much better condition since she had been staying with the paternal grandparents. The child was clean and was sent to daycare with ...

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