STATE OF LOUISIANAIN THE INTEREST OF C. C., JR., P. B., M. B., J. B.
APPEAL FROM THE JEFFERSON PARISH JUVENILE COURT PARISH OF
JEFFERSON, STATE OF LOUISIANA NO. 16-CC-85, DIVISION
"C" HONORABLE BARRON C. BURMASTER, JUDGE PRESIDING
COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE, STATE OF LOUISIANA,
DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN & FAMILY SERVICES Elizabeth G.
COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT, J. M. AND R. M. Sherry A.
composed of Judges Susan M. Chehardy, Marc E. Johnson, and
John J. Molaison, Jr.
M. CHEHARDY CHIEF JUDGE
appeal, foster parents, J.M. and R.M.,  seek review of
the denial of their motion to intervene and modify the
custody determination for their former foster child, J.B. For
the following reasons, we vacate the trial court's ruling
and remand for further proceedings.
and Procedural History
August of 2016, the Jefferson Parish District Attorney and
the State of Louisiana, Department of Children and Family
Services ("DCFS") received reports that four minor
children - C.C., P.B., M.B., and J.B. - located in Jefferson
Parish were suffering from neglect, abuse, and/or lack of
supervision by their mother, P.At that time, C.C.
was twelve years old, P.B. was nine, M.B. was four, and
September 16, 2016, as a result of the DCFS investigation,
all four children were removed from their mother's
custody, put into the emergency custody of DCFS, and placed
into foster care. At that time, the mother, who has never
been married, reported that C.C., Sr. was the father of her
three older children, C.C., P.B., and M.B., but not the
baby's biological father. On September 20, 2016, at the
initial custody hearing, the trial judge found that the
circumstances warranted maintaining the children in the
continued custody of DCFS.
October 5, 2016, after further investigation, the Jefferson
Parish District Attorney filed a Child in Need of Care
("CINC") Petition pursuant to La. Ch.C. art.
606(A), alleging that the children were in need of care
because of abuse and neglect by their mother and the
prolonged absence of their fathers. On October 18, 2016, the
State dismissed the CINC allegation against C.C., Sr. in
reference to the baby, J.B., because the mother denied that
C.C., Sr. was the baby's father. That day, J.B.'s
father was listed as "unknown" and the previous
appointment of the curator ad hoc to represent him
November 15, 2016, the trial judge held an adjudication
hearing, in accordance with La. Ch.C. art. 659 et
seq., to determine if the State could prove that the
children were in need of care. During that hearing, both P.
and C.C., Sr. stipulated without admitting the allegations of
the CINC petition that the children were in need of care
pursuant to La. Ch.C. art. 647. The Court accepted their
stipulations, adjudicated the children in need of care, and
maintained the children in DCFS custody in their respective
foster care placements.
anticipation of the December disposition hearing, DCFS filed
a report with the trial judge. In its report, DCFS listed
J.B.'s father as "unknown" and specified its
case plan goal for the children was "reunification with
a concurrent goal of adoption."
December 13, 2016, the trial court held a disposition
hearing. After hearing the testimony, the judge found that,
because the issues that brought the children into care still
exist, the children were still in need of care and should
remain in DCFS custody in their current foster care
placements. Further, the trial judge found that the case plan
submitted by DCFS is "consistent with the health and
safety of the children and is in the best interest of the
children … and orders all parties to comply
therewith." At the close of the disposition hearing, the
trial court advised P. and C.C., Sr. that the State was
statutorily required to file a petition to terminate their
parental rights if the children remained in DCFS custody for
a period of fifteen months out of a twenty-two month period.
The judge set a status hearing for March of 2017.
February 21, 2017, in anticipation of the status hearing,
DCFS produced a progress report for the family, in which it
again recommended that all the children remain in their
current placement because the risk factors that brought them
into care still existed. DCFS's case plan goal for all of
the children at that time was "reunification with a
concurrent goal of adoption." Further, the Court
Appointed Special Advocate ("CASA") for M.B. and
J.B. reported that her recommendation to "protect and
promote the best interest of M.B. and J.B." was for the
two siblings to "remain in the custody of the State and
in their current placement in the certified foster home of J.
minute entry from the March status hearing reflects that the
trial judge determined that the children should remain in
DCFS custody as "the issues that brought them into care
still exist." Further, the court found that the
children's current foster care placements were the
"safest, least restrictive, most appropriate setting for
the children at this time" and were meeting all of the
children's needs. The judgment issued after that hearing
states that the trial judge informed the parents that,
"Federal law requires the state to file a petition to
terminate parental rights when a child has been in custody
for 15 of the most recent 22 months."Finally, the trial
judge set a permanency hearing for September of 2017.
August 22, 2017, in anticipation of the permanency hearing,
DCFS submitted a report to the trial judge again determining
that the risk factors that brought the children into care
still existed and recommending that the children remain in
DCFS custody in their current foster care placements. In its
report, DCFS specifically noted that J.B. and his sister
remained in the certified foster home of Mr. and Mrs. M.
where M.B. and J.B. "feel as if they are part of the
family. J.B. only knows the [foster parents] as his
parents." (Emphasis added.) Finally, DCFS requested
that the court accept the new case plan goal of adoption into
to a minute entry dated September 7, 2017, the trial judge
learned in a pre-trial conference that P. had named D.W. as
J.B.'s putative father. That day, the trial judge ordered
DCFS to locate D.W., who was reportedly incarcerated, to
perform genetic testing to determine if he was J.B.'s
biological father. The permanency hearing for all of the
children was continued until September 26, 2017.
anticipation of that permanency hearing, DCFS reported to the
trial judge, again recommending that the children continue in
DCFS custody in their current placements. Although DCFS
listed D.W. as J.B.'s father, the agency's report
made no further mention of any paternity determination and
reiterated that the case plan goal for all of the children
September 26, 2017 permanency hearing, the trial judge found
that the new case plan goal of adoption was in the "best
interest of the children" and approved it. Further, the
trial judge advised P. and C.C., Sr. of the option of
voluntarily surrendering their rights and consenting to
adoption. The trial judge ordered that the children remain in
the custody of DCFS in their current foster care placements.
November 21, 2017, J.B.'s court-appointed attorney moved
to set a status hearing after "becoming aware" that
"J.B.'s biological father" proposed a
"custody arrangement" that would transfer physical
custody of J.B. to the father's sister in Texas. The
status hearing was scheduled for February 6,
interim, the clinicians at T-PEP were advised that DCFS might
recommend that J.B. be removed from his foster family and
placed with his paternal aunt, L.W., in Texas. In a letter to
the trial judge dated December 31, 2017, the clinicians