Court of Appeals of Missouri, Southern District, Second Division
April 13, 2015
IN THE INTEREST OF: M.B.N., a child under seventeen years of age. GREENE COUNTY JUVENILE OFFICE, Petitioner-Respondent,
FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF GREENE COUNTY. Honorable David C.
Jones, Circuit Judge.
for Appellant - Arthur E. Olson of Springfield, MO.
for Minor Child - Kristoffer Barefield of Springfield, MO.
for Respondent Greene County Juvenile Office - Paul
Shackelford of Springfield, MO.
for Respondent Missouri Children's Division - Jon Thomas
Wagner of Springfield, MO.
Steffen Rahmeyer, J., Opinion Author, Mary W. Sheffield,
P.J., Don E. Burrell, J. - Concurs.
Steffen Rahmeyer, J.
(" Mother" ), the mother of M.B.N. ("
Child" ), brings this appeal from the judgment
terminating her parental rights to Child. In her first three
points, she challenges the statutory bases for the
termination and in her fourth point she challenges that it is
in the best interest of Child to have Mother's parental
rights terminated. We affirm the judgment.
who was born in 2002, came into the care of the
Children's Division in 2010, as a result of his own
severe behavioral problems. At the same time, Child's
older sibling, who was at C-Star for substance abuse issues,
was taken into protective custody. A hotline was received
that Child had such a severe meltdown at school that the
classroom was evacuated. The principal stated that Child
when he was on his medication but, over the few weeks prior
to the meltdown, Child's behaviors had gotten worse and
more aggressive. Mother had told the school principal that
she was running low on Child's medication, which was a
patch. The Children's Division worker felt that Mother
was unreceptive to input from the Children's Division,
but Mother was told that she needed to address Child's
medication issue immediately. Mother told the principal that
she did not have money for medication and was giving Child
half the dosage of his medication.
had received services from the Children's Division during
several periods of time prior to this hotline referral.
Mother took Child to the emergency room due to an "
accidental" overdose; she said she gave him more
medication because his behavior had been worsening. Custody
was taken in June 2010, after a juvenile conference with a
determination that Mother was acting " very
erratic." Mother was told she needed to address her own
mental health needs. The court found removal was necessary
due to Mother's improper supervision of Child,
inappropriate parenting, and abuse by intentionally giving an
overdose of medication. After custody had been taken, Mother
was put on a 96-hour hold because of her comments concerning
going to sleep and not waking up.
Child was in foster care, his behavior continued to regress.
He was first in a traditional foster home but was moved
because the foster parent was afraid for the life of her
biological child. Child was hospitalized and then moved to a
career foster home, with all placements indicating he had the
same behavior issues that he had before he came into custody.
He was placed in at least three different facilities. At the
time of trial he was in a very structured group facility,
Butterfield, and continued to have negative behavior issues,
causing him to be in seclusion. He is on at least six
different medications at Butterfield. An aunt had a home
study requesting custody, but was not approved. No other
family members stepped forward as a possible placement and
there was no future placement available, other than the group
home, at the time of trial. The Children's Division
" hoped that there might be someone out there" as
an available placement if Mother's parental rights were
same time, the Children's Division reported that Mother
did not have stable housing or employment and had problems
with visitation because Child had a history of running away,
and also because the Children's Division felt Mother did
not have a " nurturing ability." It was recommended
that Mother take parenting classes and family therapy. Mother
sought therapy from Ms. Courtney-Miller, who indicated that
the number one issue to address was Mother's unresolved
grief and loss bereavement arising from the murder of her
oldest son and the loss of Child to protective custody. Many
of Mother's symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress,
sleep disturbances, outbursts of anger, difficulty
maintaining focus and concentration, and disruptions in
appetite were due to recollections of her son's death.
The symptoms were a " walking diagnosis for
posttraumatic stress disorder." The therapist stated
that Mother's depression adversely impacted her ability
to parent Child at the time or to even care for herself but
suggested that there was a reasonable likelihood that the
mental health issues would be rectified within an
ascertainable period of time; however, the impending murder
trial was forcing Mother into continual trauma.
addition to her personal issues of depression, Mother was
involved in a
relationship where there was domestic violence. After Child
went into care, Mother had substance-abuse issues, including
positive drug tests for methamphetamine and a failure to
appear for drug testing. She also failed to appear for
visitation and family visits and stopped attending grief
counseling over the death of her older child. At the time of
trial, the Children's Division was unaware of whether
Mother had a stable residence and appropriate home or stable
employment. Child was placed three hours from Mother's
home. Though Mother could have had some assistance with
transportation, she rarely availed herself of it.
" This Court reviews whether clear, cogent, and
convincing evidence was presented to support a statutory
ground for terminating parental rights under Murphy v.
Carron, 536 S.W.2d 30 (Mo. banc 1976). Therefore, the
trial court's judgment will be affirmed unless there is
no substantial evidence to support it, it is against the
weight of the evidence, or it erroneously declares or applies
the law. The judgment will be reversed only if we are left
with a firm belief that the order is wrong.
Conflicting evidence will be reviewed in the light most
favorable to the trial court's judgment. 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.
. . . .
After this Court determines that one or more statutory ground
has been proven by clear, convincing, and cogent evidence,
this Court must ask whether termination of parental rights
was in the best interest of the child. At the trial level,
the standard of proof for this best interest inquiry is a
preponderance of the evidence; on appeal, the standard of
review is abuse of discretion."
J.A.R. v. D.G.R., 426 S.W.3d 624, 626 (Mo. banc
2014) (quoting In re Adoption of C.M.B.R.,
332 S.W.3d 793, 815-16 (Mo. banc 2011)). " The circuit
court's judgment will be affirmed if the record supports
at least one ground and supports that termination is in the
best interest of [Child]." Id. at 630.
that standard of review in mind, we will thus address the
claimed error in Mother's third point: that Mother had
failed to rectify the conditions that led to Child's
placement in care and that conditions of a potentially
harmful nature still existed such that Child could not be
returned to Mother in the near future.
admits that she had " missteps in addressing her own
therapy issues" but states that these missteps were
primarily a result of the post-traumatic stress caused by the
murder and subsequent trial for the murder of her older son.
Mother points to the evidence of her therapist that Mother
could address the issues of lack of visitation, unstable
housing and unemployment, and her inability to deal with
Child's severe behavioral issues within the next six
months. The trial court entered Interim Findings and
Recommendations but scheduled a third day of trial for ninety
days after the hearing in order to give Mother an opportunity
to remedy some of the issues which arose during the trial.
Mother did not appear in person for that third day of trial.
During that time, Mother did not submit to drug testing,
attending only one counseling session, and visited Child only
once. There was testimony that Child was doing "
better" on the last day of the trial than he had been
clear from the above, including the admissions of Mother,
that substantial evidence supports the trial court's
judgment. Mother was not able to care for Child
during the entire time that he was in the care of the
Children's Division. Although she had been dealt a harsh
hand with the death of one son and the behavioral issues of
the second son, the reality facing the trial court was that
Mother was given an opportunity to deal with her issues and
Child's issues and was not able to do so at the time of
trial. Mother had failed to rectify the conditions that
caused Child to come into care, including her depression, her
substance abuse, her living conditions (including involvement
in a violent relationship), and her inability to put
Child's needs first. She simply was not capable, and
would not be capable, in the foreseeable future to parent
Child. The above-cited evidence supports the judgment that
Mother failed to rectify the conditions that brought Child
into care. Mother's third point is denied.
addition to finding that one of the statutory conditions had
been met, the trial court had to determine whether the
termination of Mother's parental rights was in the best
interest of Child. We review that finding of the trial court
for an abuse of discretion. In re F.C., 211 S.W.3d
680, 684 (Mo.App. S.D. 2007). Although it is troubling that
Child's behavior was the trigger that brought him into
care and away from his family and that behavior regressed
while in the care of experts in childcare, we cannot find an
abuse of discretion in the findings that the termination was
in Child's best interest. This is so because of the
evidence indicating a limited emotional tie between Mother
and Child, the limited visitation and contact between Mother
and Child, and the testimony indicating that additional
services would not bring about lasting parental adjustment
enabling the return of Child to Mother within an
ascertainable time. The case was pending for four years and,
though there were events that would challenge the strongest
of parents, Mother simply could not parent Child at the time
of trial. Although Mother points to the evidence that it will
be difficult to find an adoptive home for Child due to the
past frequent placements of Child, the court did not abuse
its discretion in believing the testimony that it would be
possible to find a permanent home for Child and that one of
the difficulties in finding that permanent home was that
Mother's parental rights had not been terminated. We are
mindful of Mother's concern that Child will be parentless
with little hope for adoption and a permanent home, but we
cannot find that the trial court abused its discretion in
finding that it was in Child's best interest that
Mother's parental rights be terminated.
judgment is affirmed.
Sheffield, P.J., Don E. Burrell, J. - Concurs