STATE IN THE INTEREST OF I. A.
FROM THE FIFTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF
LAFAYETTE, NO. JC2017-706 HONORABLE THOMAS R. DUPLANTIER,
PELLERIN PUBLIC DEFENDER'S OFFICE FIFTEENTH JUDICIAL
DISTRICT COURT COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT: IN. A. (MOTHER)
DAVENPORT-MCGRAW ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY FIFTEENTH
JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT COUNSEL FOR OTHER APPELLEE: STATE OF
ALEXANDER HURD ACADIANA LEGAL SERVICES COUNSEL FOR OTHER
APPELLEE: I. A. (CHILD)
COORDINATOR C/O CASA OF SOLA OTHER APPELLEE: CASA OF SOLA
RENEISHA STEWART DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES
OTHER APPELLEE: DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILYSERVICES
DANGERFIELD ATTORNEY AT LAW COUNSEL FOR OTHER APPELLEE:
composed of Sylvia R. Cooks, Shannon J. Gremillion, and D.
Kent Savoie, Judges.
SHANNON J. GREMILLION JUDGE.
the mother of I.A., appeals the judgment of the trial court
maintaining I.A. in the custody of the State of Louisiana
with the goal of placing I.A. for adoption. For the reasons
that follow, we affirm.
August 2, 2017, In.A. was placed in the custody of the
Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) after
allegations were made that she had been sexually abused. She
was eleven years old. She complained of stomach pain while in
DCFS custody and was taken to a nearby hospital, where
personnel ascertained that In.A. was thirty-two weeks
pregnant. I.A. was born on September 15, 2017. The trial
court issued an instanter order placing I.A. into DCFS
custody, and he and In.A. were placed at Lighthouse
Ministries, a shelter for adolescent mothers and children.
I.A. was adjudicated a Child in Need of Care (CINC) in
Lighthouse, In.A. exhibited defiant behavior. In.A. did
receive parenting instruction at Lighthouse, but those
lessons seem to have not been absorbed. There surfaced other
concerns as well, which led the facility to request that I.A.
and In.A. be placed elsewhere. According to the testimony of
In.A.'s case worker, Ms. Reneisha Stewart, I.A. was moved
to a foster home on March 20, 2018, because of "incident
reports that were happening between [I.A.] and [In.A.] and
the home felt that it was a liability on them and they
didn't want anything to happen to [I.A.]" In.A. was
also moved to a different facility in Baker, Louisiana.
Thereafter, In.A. saw I.A. every other week during supervised
visits at either the DCFS facility in Lafayette or at a park
near the Lafayette DCFS facility. I.A. was appointed a Court
Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer, who also
attended the bi-monthly visits.
was subject to a DCFS plan with the goal of reunifying her
with I.A., but "her behavior problems as well as her not
willing to listen to the instructors who were trying to help
her parent her child" resulted in In.A. not progressing
satisfactorily in this plan, according to Ms. Stewart. Her
defiance, Ms. Stewart testified, had even progressed to
physical aggression against the staff of the home. After nine
months, DCFS sought approval to maintain I.A. in its custody
but to change the goal of the plan from reunification to
adoption. This plan was submitted on June 13, 2018.
hearing on this change in I.A.'s plan was held on June
26, 2018. At the hearing, Ms. Stewart testified to the above
facts. Her testimony indicated that In.A. had problems
maintaining an orderly room. According to information Ms.
Stewart received from her foster caretakers, In.A. resorts to
destructive tantrums when not given her way. Ms. Stewart also
testified to difficulties In.A. had in following the
instructions of the foster caretakers regarding her own
personal hygiene. In.A.'s rough play with I.A., that
resulted in a minor "bump" on his head, was of deep
concern for Ms. Stewart. Daycare workers also reported to Ms.
Stewart that, following a family visit, I.A. presented with
scratches on his abdomen.
The report of the CASA volunteer indicated, in pertinent
[In.A.] has shown herself to be incapable of properly caring
for her baby for an ongoing time. Information gathered by
CASA, from the DCFS case files, states that Dr Pappaspyrus,
child psychiatrist, diagnosed [In.A.] (at age 8) with
Oppositional Defiance Disorder. In February 2018, Dr Brennan,
child psychologist, has expressed her concerns in regard to
[In.A.]'s behavior toward [I.A.]. There have been reports
from [In.A.]'s caregivers of her behaving in violent and
aggressive ways. She has had trouble maintaining her own
personal hygiene. According to reports, [In.A.] will never be
capable of living on her own, caring for her child without a
primary caregiver, or holding a job. She attends elementary
school in a special education classroom. She is currently
living at Provisions Residential Care in Baker, LA. In a
conversation with staff members on [In.A.]'s progress, it
was reported that [In.A.] struggles with hygiene, care of her
belongings and proper interactive behavior. She does have
some good days. [In.A.] is going to summer school to catch up
on lessons, so that she will be ready for 7th
grade. Ms[.] Keisha Roberson informed CASA that [In.A.] does
have a long way to go with her progress and is very immature
for her age, also saying that some things will never be
possible for [In.A.] because of her low IQ.
CASA has observed and/or interacted in four different family
visits (9.5). [In.A.] invariably shows brief and intermittent
interest in [I.A.] and then moves on to her own interests.
She demonstrates that she is not aware of [I.A.]'s needs
and wants at any given moment and is only concerned with her
own interests. She does not show any ability or even desire
to care for him for more than a few moments at any given
time. [In.A.] gives most of her attention to her mother,
[V.A.], to her phone, and to photos or other belongings
brought to visits. She often defers to another adult when
someone indicates that [I.A.] is in need of some attention.
When she does have him, she demonstrates lack of
understanding of basic care for him. At one visit, she wanted
to give [I.A.] a french fry "because he has three
teeth". No family member objected, so CASA advised her
that he was too young for this food and that it could cause
him to choke. According to Reneisha, DCFS caseworker, she
later 'snuck' the french fry to him anyway. When
family visits are set at the park, CASA must interact when
necessary, such as when [In.A.] or the 8-year-old half sister
brings [I.A.] to a baby swing or when someone is trying to
feed him things not meant for a baby. No family member has
ever brought an age appropriate toy for [I.A.] to a visit.
CASA volunteer recommended that DCFS change the goal for I.A.
from reunification to adoption. The CASA volunteer, however,
did not testify at the hearing.
close of testimony, In.A.'s attorney argued that DCFS had
not made reasonable efforts at reunification. Specifically,
he argued that In.A. had not been given parenting classes
since I.A. was separated from her. He also argued that In.A.
had not been given reasonable assistance to manage her trauma
and improve her behavior. The trial court found that In.A.
was "a twelve (12) year old child trying to be a mother,
and that she does not possess the ability to be a mother,
based on it's not going to change with parenting skills
or anything else." The trial court noted the lamentable
situation this posed but found that adoption was the
appropriate disposition to correct it.
order was entered by the trial court on June 25, 2018. The
order did not contain language finding that DCFS's
efforts at reunification were reasonable. It did state that
the new plan was in I.A.'s best interests. In.A. then
perfected this appeal.
In. A. assigns the following as errors:
1. The trial court failed to make any particularized finding
regarding the Department's reasonable efforts to reunite
In.A. with I.A.
2. A permanency change was not warranted by the evidence
presented at the permanency hearing.
3. The Department made no reasonable efforts to reunify In.
A. with I.A., so that the trial court's approval of the
permanent placement plan of adoption was error.
permanent disposition of CINC cases by hearing is governed by
La.Ch.Code art. 702, which provides, in pertinent part:
B. The court shall conduct a permanency hearing within nine
months after the disposition hearing if the child was removed
prior to disposition or within twelve months if the child was
removed at disposition, but in no case more than twelve
months after the removal. Permanency reviews shall continue
to be held at least once every twelve months thereafter until
the child is permanently placed or earlier upon motion of a
party for good cause shown or on the court's own motion.
C. The court shall determine the permanent plan for the child
that is most appropriate and in the best interest of the
child in accordance with the following priorities of
(1)Return the child to the legal custody of the parents
within a specified time period consistent with the
child's age and need for a safe and permanent home. In
order for reunification to remain as the permanent plan for
the child, the parent must be complying with the case plan
and making significant measurable progress toward achieving
its goals and correcting the conditions requiring the child
to be in care.
(3)Placement with a legal guardian.
(4) Placement in the legal custody of a relative who is
willing and able to offer a safe, wholesome, and stable home
for the child.
E. Except as otherwise provided in Article 672.1, the court
shall determine whether the department has made reasonable
efforts to reunify the parent and child or to finalize the
child's placement in an alternative safe and permanent
home in accordance with the child's permanent plan. The
child's health and safety will be the paramount concern
in the court's determination of the permanent plan.
specifically the language in paragraph (C)(1), which requires
that the parent be "complying with the case plan and
making significant measurable progress toward achieving its
goals and correcting the conditions requiring the child to be
in care." While Article 702 establishes a priority of
placement, and the main priority is reunification, plan
compliance and significant progress are prerequisites to its
consideration. As our colleagues on the second circuit
Mere cooperation by a parent is not the sole focus of the
evaluation of a permanency plan. Rather, the courts must
assess whether the parent has exhibited significant
improvement in the particulars that caused the state to
remove the children from the parent's care and custody.
Stability in the home environment and relationships is a
consideration in the permanency plan determination. A parent
who professes an intention to exercise his or her parental
rights and responsibilities must take some action in
furtherance of the intention to avoid having those rights
State in Interest of E.M., 51, 511, p. 10 (La.App. 2
Cir. 6/2/17), 224 So.3d 1122, 1128.
determination may be reversed only on a finding of manifest
error. Id. Under the manifest error standard of
review, we review the entire record to determine not whether
the trial court was right or wrong, but whether the record
contains reasonable support for the trial court's