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State ex rel. M.L.H.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

January 10, 2018


         Appealed from the Caddo Parish Juvenile Court Parish of Caddo, Louisiana Trial Court No. 156, 851 Honorable David N. Matlock, Judge

          W. ALLEN HAYNES Counsel for Appellant, T.J.H.

          DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES By: Pamela Harper Jacob Counsel for Appellee, State of Louisiana

          CHILD ADVOCACY PROGRAM By: RENEÈ P. COTÈ Counsel for Appellee, M.L.H.

          Before WILLIAMS, PITMAN, and COX, JJ.

          WILLIAMS, J.

         T.J.H., the mother of M.L.H., appeals a judgment of the Caddo Parish juvenile court that irrevocably dissolved and terminated her parental rights and certified the child for adoption. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.


         M.L.H. was born on August 28, 2015. Her mother, T.J.H, has a moderate intellectual disability (formerly known as mental retardation) with an IQ of 52, and she is HIV-positive.[1] M.L.H.'s biological father is unknown.[2] Additionally, the mother has reported that she is bipolar, schizophrenic and that she has ADHD. M.L.H. has been in and out of the custody of the Department of Children and Family Services ("DCFS") since she was approximately four months old.

         In December 2015, M.L.H. was removed from her mother's custody after DCFS received a report that she was not gaining weight and she was often observed to be "dirty, " wearing soiled diapers. However, the child was returned to her mother following a continued custody hearing held on December 17, 2015. At that time, the trial court ordered DCFS to provide services aimed to assist the mother in applying for food stamps and to assist her in learning how to clean and maintain her home. The mother was also referred to Life Changing Solutions and Homebuilders. The services provided included case workers coming into the mother's home to teach her certain life skills aimed at assisting her in maintaining a clean home and properly caring for M.L.H.

         Once the services provided by DCFS ended, T.J.H. continued to struggle with caring for M.L.H. Dr. Sheila Farrell, a pediatrician at University Health in Shreveport, examined M.L.H. and expressed concern that the mother was feeding the young baby a mixture of baby food and water instead of formula. Dr. Farrell noted that M.L.H. was underweight and observed that the mother seemed to lack the capacity to properly care for the child. Dr. Farrell opined that when the services DCFS had provided to the mother ended, the mother began to revert to her old habits of not properly caring for M.L.H.

         Dr. Ann Springer, another pediatrician at University Health, also examined M.L.H. She noted that the child had an ear infection, a "bad" diaper rash and that she was not gaining weight. Dr. Springer expressed her "concerns" that the mother lacked an understanding of how to feed M.L.H., despite being educated on how to do so.

         Later in December 2015, M.L.H. was once again removed from the mother's custody. However, the juvenile court vacated the order and custody was returned to the mother. Thereafter, the mother's struggles with caring for M.L.H. continued: DCFS noted that the child was not being properly fed, she was not gaining weight and the mother was not keeping the child's medical appointments.

         On March 23, 2016, DCFS received a report that the mother was not properly feeding M.L.H, the child was not gaining weight, was often observed to be "dirty" and was infected with head lice. Additionally, the daycare providers reported that M.L.H. usually arrived at the daycare with a heavily soiled diaper and without enough formula for the day. During the course of its investigation, DCFS learned that the mother was not giving M.L.H. the medication that had been prescribed to ward off the HIV virus. DCFS also discovered that M.L.H. had missed multiple medical appointments, which the mother never rescheduled. During her interview with the DCFS worker, the mother admitted that she fed M.L.H. by mixing water with baby food in a bottle and that she would "forget" to send formula to the daycare with the child. Further, an inspection of the mother's home revealed that it had a foul odor, the floor was cluttered with toys and clothing, the stove was covered with dirty pots and roaches were present inside the home.

         On March 24, 2016, DCFS received an instanter order removing M.L.H. from her mother's custody and placing her in the custody of DCFS. On June 7, 2016, she was adjudicated a child in need of care ("CINC"). The court's disposition order continued custody with DCFS and approved an initial case plan wherein the permanent plan for M.L.H. was reunification with the mother. Due to the mother's limited intellectual/cognitive ability, the plan was simplified. The case plan contained the following requirements: (1) maintaining stable, adequate and clean housing; (2) following the cleaning instructions provided by DCFS service providers; (3) maintaining sufficient food in the home to feed herself and M.L.H.; (4) paying $25 per month to contribute to the care of M.L.H. in foster care; (5) attending parenting classes; (6) undergoing a mental health evaluation; (7) attending scheduled visits with M.L.H.; (8) maintaining regular contact with DCFS; (9) completing a medical examination to address the mother's current health issues and complying with all recommendations, including taking her medication and keeping her medical appointments; (10) completing a psychological examination and complying with all recommendations; (11) completing a psychiatric examination to assess the need for medication; and (12) cooperating with service providers and complying with all recommendations.

         Subsequently, following multiple custody review hearings, the juvenile court changed the goal from reunification to adoption, finding lack of substantial compliance with the case plan by the mother and alleged father. On May 1, 2017, DCFS filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of the mother, A.L.P., "John Doe and/or any unknown father of [M.L.H.]." Following a hearing, the juvenile court found, by clear and convincing evidence, the necessary grounds for terminating the parental rights of the mother, A.L.P. and "John Doe and/or Any Unknown Father of [M.L.H.]." In its judgment, the court stated, in pertinent part:

6. [DCFS] has proven by clear and convincing evidence *** that [the mother] has failed to work a court approved family case plan to ensure the minor child's health and safety, and make significant measurable progress towards alleviating the conditions that required the minor child to be in the custody of [DCFS], and her parental rights should be terminated.
9. The physical, mental and emotional welfare needs of the minor child, [M.L.H.], would best be served by terminating the parental rights of [the mother], [A.L.P.], John Doe and/or any unknown father of [M.L.H.] ***; and that the child be freed and certified for adoption.

         The mother appeals.[3]


         The mother contends the trial court erred in terminating her parental rights. She argues that DCFS did not prove, by clear and convincing evidence, the statutory grounds for termination or that terminating her parental rights was in the child's best interest. According to the mother, she has a mental and/or intellectual disability, which required DCFS to provide her with specialized services. ...

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