Court of Appeals of Missouri, Southern District, First Division
IN THE INTEREST OF: G.C., F.C., M.C., and S.C., Minors, A.C., Appellant,
GREENE COUNTY JUVENILE OFFICE, Respondent
APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF GREENE COUNTY. Honorable William R. Hass, Senior Judge.
For Appellant: Arthur E. Olson, Springfield, Missouri.
For Respondent: Brittany O'Brien, Springfield, Missouri.
WILLIAM W. FRANCIS, JR., C.J./P.J. - OPINION AUTHOR. JEFFREY W. BATES, J. - Concurs. DANIEL E. SCOTT, J. - Concurs.
WILLIAM W. FRANCIS, JR., C.J./P.J.
A.C. (" Mother" ) appeals the respective judgments terminating her parental rights to G.C., F.C., M.C., and S.C. (collectively the " Children" ). Finding no merit in Mother's points on appeal, we affirm the judgments of the Juvenile Division of the Circuit Court of Greene County (the " trial court" ).
Factual and Procedural Background
Our recitation of the relevant facts is in accord with the principle tat we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the judgment. See, J.A.R. v. D.G.R., 426 S.W.3d 624, 626 (Mo. banc 2014). " Appellate courts will defer to the trial court's credibility assessments. When the evidence poses two reasonable but different inferences, this Court is obligated to defer to the trial court's assessment of the evidence." Id. (internal quotation and citation omitted).
" All fact issues upon which no specific findings are made shall be considered as having been found in accordance with the result reached." Id. (quoting Rule 73.01(c)). " [W]e are not free to credit evidence or inferences that favor the terminated parent. To the contrary, we
must ignore these." In re Adoption of C.M., 414 S.W.3d 622, 630 (Mo.App. S.D. 2013) (internal quotation and citation omitted). " In reviewing questions of fact, the reviewing court is to recognize that the circuit court is free to disbelieve any, all, or none of the evidence, and it is not the reviewing appellate court's role to re-evaluate the evidence through its own perspective." J.A.R., 426 S.W.3d at 627. " The trial court receives deference on factual issues because it is in a better position not only to judge the credibility of the witnesses and the persons directly, but also their sincerity and character and other trial intangibles which may not be completely revealed by the record." Id. (internal quotation and citation omitted).
Viewed in this context, the following facts are pertinent to the current appeal.
The record reveals that in early March 2011, G.C., now 11 years old; F.C., now 8 years old; M.C., now seven years old; and S.C., now six years old came to the attention of the Children's Division of the Missouri Department of Social Services (the " Children's Division" ) when Mother made a call reporting that G.C. was exhibiting sexualized behaviors toward her sister, F.C. Mother also stated she did not feel she could take care of the Children at that time.
Kate Dickensheet (" Dickensheet" ), an investigator with the Children's Division, went to Mother's residence on March 14, 2011, to speak with Mother about her call to the Children's Division. Mother told Dickensheet that G.C. had been in a " behavioral hospital" at least nine times, and had been diagnosed with " ADHD, ODD, explosive disorder, impulsive control disorder, PTSD and mood disorder cycling." G.C. admitted to Dickensheet the inappropriate behavior. Dickensheet put in a referral to the Greene County Juvenile Office Delinquency Unit and set up interviews with the Child Advocacy Center (" CAC" ) for both G.C. and F.C. Following the CAC interviews, Dickensheet referred the entire family for counseling.
On March 31, 2011, Mother again contacted Children's Division stating she was at her wit's end with G.C. and she wanted to place G.C. in a residential facility. The Greene County Juvenile Office (" Juvenile Office" ) set up a juvenile conference for April 1, 2011. F.C., M.C., and S.C. were temporarily moved to Isabel's House, and G.C. was placed in temporary residential treatment at Heartland Behavioral Health Services (" Heartland" ).
At another juvenile conference on April 11, 2011, Mother indicated she was overwhelmed with caring for the Children. She admitted that G.C.'s behavior problems and PTSD were from witnessing domestic violence between Mother and Father. Mother stated that Father would hit and push her, as well as force her to have sexual relations with him. Father would yell, throw things, and even locked Mother and the Children in a motel room to keep them from leaving. Mother admitted she could not take care of the Children and it was in the Children's best interest to be taken into State custody. The Children were placed into protective custody following the conference.
On April 12, 2011, a Juvenile Officer filed petitions to take custody of the Children. The petitions alleged Mother was unable to control G.C.'s physically aggressive and sexualized behaviors; could not
manage the behaviors of the other children; that Mother admitted it was in the Children's best interest for her parental rights to be terminated; and that Mother and Father had been involved in a long-term physically abusive relationship that the Children had witnessed.
On April 29, 2011, a treatment plan was implemented for Mother. Goals included: (1) maintaining a stable and healthy residence; (2) obeying all federal and state laws; (3) identifying, understanding, and addressing day-to-day stressors and any possible mental health issues; and (4) providing safe parenting through appropriate discipline and physical interaction including completing anger management and domestic violence classes, and visiting the Children on a regular basis.
On May 17, 2011, an adjudication hearing was held. The trial court found the allegations in the petitions to be true and the Children came under the trial court's jurisdiction.
On October 1, 2012, petitions to terminate parental rights were filed on behalf of the Children alleging that Mother: (1) failed to make substantial or meaningful progress on her treatment plan; (2) failed to consistently demonstrate her ability to provide the Children with a stable home or appropriate care, custody and control; (3) failed to demonstrate appropriate parenting for the Children despite the provision of intensive services; (4) failed to rectify the ongoing chaotic home environment; and (5) failed in her ability to meet the Children's needs.
A hearing on the termination of Mother's parental rights to the Children was held on September 18, 2013. Mother did not testify.
Children's Division representatives testified that substantial resources were invested in attempting to reunify Mother with the Children. The Children's Division attempted two separate rounds of supervised visitation, unsupervised visitation, and permissive placements. The Children's Division provided individual counseling for Mother, marriage counseling, parenting classes, and parent aides in her home to supervise visits with the Children and to assist Mother with her parenting techniques. James Snare, a caseworker for the Children's Division, testified that he provided Mother " probably more services than I've ever put in a home before." During permissive placement, Mother had between two and three workers assisting her in two-hour sessions, five-to-seven days a week.
One of the reasons the Children were first taken into State custody was because the Children had witnessed domestic abuse between Father and Mother. Despite this fact, Mother reunited with Father during the first permissive placement and the domestic abuse resumed. The Children's Division removed the Children from Mother's custody when this was discovered.
Evidence was presented that Mother was hostile toward and untruthful with Children's Division workers, and also failed, or simply refused, to implement their parenting suggestions. When Mother did implement parenting suggestions, it was " only to a degree," and not integrated in the way that Children's Division workers discussed with Mother. Mother also failed to attend parenting classes for over a year after they were first ordered as part of her treatment plan.
Mother was also told not to bring a woman named " Leta" to supervised visits because Leta was dominating the visits,
causing the visits to descend into chaos, and Leta was filming the Children. Mother openly disregarded this instruction and continued to bring Leta to the visits. During a permissive placement, Mother and Leta had a physical altercation and Mother was told the Children were to have no further contact with Leta. Mother was specifically prohibited from using Leta for babysitting. Nevertheless, Mother continued to let the Children see Leta, and was untruthful with Children's Division workers about this fact. On one occasion, a Children's Division worker found the Children alone with Leta in Leta's apartment.
Mother also had ongoing problems with withholding food and beverages from the Children. Sometimes she would withhold food and beverages arbitrarily, and other times under the guise of disciplining the Children. On one occasion, G.C. asked for cereal for breakfast and Mother told her " no, she wasn't getting any, to go to her room." On another occasion, the Children came in from playing outside and Mother denied their request for drinks for no apparent reason. At one point, Mother attempted to withhold food from the Children for seven-to-eight hours as a form of discipline. The Children discussed that at times they were not getting enough food when they were at home with Mother.
There was testimony that the food Mother did provide for the Children was often inappropriate. Mother would purposefully prepare food the Children did not like, and then force the Children to eat substantial portions of it. Children's Division workers expressed concern about Mother's failure to refrigerate food, or that she sometimes served food cold that should ...