Appealed from the Ouachita Parish Juvenile Court Parish of
Ouachita, Louisiana Trial Court No. 20, 643 Honorable Sharon
M. ADAMS Counsel for Appellant, Mother
VARHONDA E. BURRELL Counsel for Father
L. SANDERS, II Assistant District Attorney Counsel for State
of Louisiana DCFS
AID OF NORTH LOUISIANA By: Krystal J. Williams Counsel for
GARRETT, STONE, and COX, JJ.
mother of ZP, appeals from a trial court ruling refusing to
change the goal in this child in need of care
("CINC") case from adoption to reunification,
changing the visitation schedule and conditions, and ordering
the state to file a petition to terminate parental rights.
For the following reasons, we affirm.
explained below, the child in this case has been in state
custody for more than four years. All of the protracted court
proceedings described below were heard by the same judge who,
by the time of the rulings at issue here, was thoroughly
familiar with the case and the procedural background.
November 21, 2013, ZP was born to AP and DP, a married couple
in their early 20s. AP, the mother, had significant mental
health issues. There were concerns that she was not mentally
stable enough to care for the baby and that the child might
be harmed. AP had previously been diagnosed with ADHD and
major depression; she admitted to head banging or fighting.
On November 25, 2013, a report of neglect/dependency was made
to the Department of Children and Family Services
("DCFS"). A safety plan was developed whereby AP
and ZP were to stay with AP's mother and stepfather, BP
and CP. AP failed to comply with the safety plan. She did not
take her mental health medications or attend her psychiatric
appointments. She did not stay in the home with her parents
and, due to her mental health diagnosis, she had little
patience with ZP. AP was not readily available to go to
ZP's medical appointments and had to be tracked down to
had mental health issues and was largely uninterested in
caring for ZP. During this time, DP lived with his
grandparents. Their home was close to BP and CP. AP would
frequently go there to stay with DP when she was supposed to
be at her mother's house caring for ZP.
instanter order taking ZP into state custody was issued on
March 31, 2014. ZP was placed with BP and CP. A hearing was
held on April 3, 2014. The DCFS worker testified that there
were concerns about AP and DP, who were both approximately 21
years old. AP was not following the safety plan, which
required her to stay with her parents, and was not going to
medical appointments. Also, there had been an incident in
which AP became upset and used profanity when talking with a
DCFS supervisor on the telephone. AP and DP failed to get
mental health evaluations or submit to drug testing. AP was
not bonding with the baby and DP slept and played video games
all day. ZP had been diagnosed with a heart murmur and was
receiving care from a cardiologist.
testified that she had a long history of psychiatric problems
and was hospitalized at Brentwood for approximately one year
beginning when she was 12. Her grandmother had died and she
had depression and hallucinations where she thought she saw
and talked to her grandmother. She said she was bipolar,
schizophrenic, and had thoughts of suicide. AP said, "I
am a head banger when I get angry." While pregnant with
ZP, AP banged her head harder than she meant to, and was
hospitalized at Conway Hospital for several days. Following
the hearing, a judgment and order were signed on April 3,
2014, finding reasonable grounds to believe ZP was a CINC and
custody was continued with the state.
9, 2014, a CINC hearing was held. AP and DP stipulated that
ZP was a CINC. A judgment to that effect was entered. AP and
DP were instructed to attend mental health assessments. The
trial court approved a case plan requiring AP and DP to
maintain income, comply with mental health treatment,
complete anger management, and complete parenting classes.
review hearing on September 8, 2014, the DCFS reported that
AP and DP had not been working their case plans. A letter
from the DCFS filed prior to the hearing stated that AP and
DP were not employed and had not maintained stable incomes.
They both received SSI benefits. The DCFS reported that AP
and DP were not responsible with their finances. They had not
maintained an adequate home. They had lived for a time with
DP's grandparents. The police had been called to the
house due to fighting between AP and DP and between AP and
DP's grandmother. Both DP and AP had been referred for
mental health treatment, but were refusing to take their
medications as prescribed. They were attending parenting
classes and the DCFS was attempting to find an appropriate
anger management class for them. According to the DCFS, they
needed one-on-one counseling rather than group therapy.
this time, ZP was living with BP and CP, who were seeking to
be certified as foster parents and were willing to adopt the
child. AP and DP were allowed to visit with ZP daily, as long
as they were supervised by AP's parents. They did not
visit daily, even though they lived less than one mile from
AP's parents. A judgment was entered continuing ZP in
DCFS custody. In September 2014, a court-appointed special
advocate ("CASA") volunteer was appointed to the
September 23, 2014, AP filed a motion seeking to have the
court grant the guardianship of the child to her mother, BP.
The DCFS raised concerns about BP due to prior reports to the
agency. When AP was a baby, BP was married to a child
molester and left AP in his care. This resulted in a positive
report for failure to supervise AP. According to BP, that
former husband is currently serving a life sentence for the
molestation of another child, not AP. She divorced him and
later married CP.
had a valid report for physical abuse involving AP in 2002,
but the DCFS could not locate the records from that report.
Late in 2014, ZP was removed from BP's home and was
placed with DW, BP's uncle, and his wife, PW, who are in
their 60s. It was determined that ZP had ADHD and was mildly
autistic. She was provided services to deal with those
conditions. She also had surgery to place tubes in her ears
due to frequent infections.
January 22, 2015, the parties appeared in court for the
hearing on the guardianship motion, but the matter was
continued. The trial court expressed concern about AP's
physical condition in court, noting that she was hardly able
to stand up. BP said that AP was very emotional, they had
taken her to a psychiatrist, and were taking her back there
as soon as the hearing was concluded that day.
March 2015, ZP had been in state custody for one year. The
hearing on the motion for guardianship was finally held on
April 27, 2015. AP testified that she wanted BP to be
ZP's guardian. She stated that the family resides in a
three-bedroom, two bathroom mobile home. BP and CP lived
there, along with AP and AP's teenage brother, who has
spina bifida and is paralyzed from the waist down.
appeared and testified that he wished the guardianship of the
child to be placed with BP and CP. AP and DP were separated
at that point and planned to get divorced as soon as they had
the money to do so.
testified that she had cared for ZP for more than one year
and the child was removed from her home in late 2014, because
of the two valid reports with DCFS concerning AP, discussed
above. Because of these reports, BP could not be certified as
a foster parent. BP stated that she accepted the fact that AP
had disabilities and that she would have to be responsible
for her. She said that when AP was five years old, she was
told to have her sterilized. BP had no complaints about the
care ZP was receiving from DW and PW.
DCFS worker outlined the concerns with BP's prior valid
reports. She also acknowledged that ZP was well cared for
while with BP and CP. During the course of the proceedings,
DW and PW, who were caring for ZP, were certified as foster
parents. They planned to seek certification to adopt if ZP
became available. The DCFS planned to request that the
permanent case plan be changed from reunification to
adoption. The court signed a judgment denying AP's motion
to grant the guardianship of ZP to BP, and continued the
child in DCFS custody.
to the permanency hearing in April 2015, the DCFS filed a
report with the court and recommended that the permanent case
plan be changed to adoption. The CASA volunteer filed a
report with the court which concluded that AP was too
immature and childlike to parent a child at that point. ZP
was observed to be happy and well-adjusted in the home of DW
permanency hearing on April 30, 2015, the DCFS worker
testified that neither AP nor DP had made much progress with
their case plans. They had attended parenting classes, but
slept through many classes and missed some of them. They had
not been taking their mental health medications as
prescribed. AP could not tell the worker what medications she
was taking. According to the DCFS, AP's mother prompted
her to take her medications. AP had started anger management
classes, which were ordered because of fighting between AP
and DP. At one point she hit him in the head with a frying
DCFS did not think that AP or DP could care for ZP without
outside help. AP had to be told everything to do for the
baby. The DCFS did not rule out the possibility that AP could
care for ZP in the future if she took care of her mental
health issues. At the time of that hearing, AP was pregnant
with a child not fathered by DP.
trial court found that neither parent had completed their
case plan, but AP had made more effort in addressing her
mental health needs than she had in the past. The trial court
found that the most appropriate permanent plan was adoption.
review hearing was held on October 12, 2015. AP had given
birth to her second child on September 28, 2015. AP had been
punctual with her visits to ZP, had finished batterer's
intervention, and was working hard to follow her case plan.
DP had visited with ZP, but had not done anything else to
complete his case plan. Following the review hearing, the
trial court signed and filed a judgment noting that the
permanent case plan was adoption and not reunification.
December 3, 2015, the DCFS filed a motion and order to
approve a case plan which listed the permanent case plan as
reunification, with a secondary goal of adoption. On January
7, 2016, the trial court denied the motion, noting that the
case plan had been changed to adoption.
March 2016, ZP had been in state custody for two years. A
permanency hearing was held on April 7, 2016. Prior to the
hearing, the DCFS filed a report with the trial court
expressing concern for ZP's risk of harm in the care of
AP and DP. At the hearing, it was noted that AP had made
progress, but the permanent case plan goal remained adoption.
AP's mental health medication had been changed because
she was pregnant again.
review hearing was held on October 6, 2016. BP was allowed to
remain in the courtroom because she had power of attorney to
handle AP's legal matters and to help her understand the
court proceedings. AP was opposed to continuing the permanent
plan of adoption and her lawyer indicated that a motion to
modify the plan to the goal of reunification would be filed.
The trial court expressed surprise that no petition for
termination of parental rights had been filed. The court
stated that was where the case needed to head and noted that,
"[I]f we're here for our next permanency review
without that having been ...