Court of Appeals of Missouri, Southern District, First Division
IN THE INTEREST OF M.A.M., D.T.M and W. V. M., Minors, BUTLER COUNTY JUVENILE OFFIC and MISSOURI DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES, CHILDREN'S DIVISION, Petitioners-Respondents,
M.D.M., Mother, Respondent-Appellant.
FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF BUTLER COUNTY Honorable John H.
("Mother") appeals the judgments that terminated
her parental rights in, to, and over her children, M.A.M.,
D.T.M., and W.V.M. ("the Children"). The trial court
found that Mother had neglected M.A.M., abused and neglected
D.T.M. And W.V.M.,  and failed to rectify the conditions that
caused the trial court to assume jurisdiction over the
Children. Mother presents three points, but we need
decide only her assertion that the judgments were not
supported by substantial evidence of a convincing link
between Mother's past behavior, her conduct at the time
of the termination hearing, and a likelihood of future harm
to the Children. Finding merit in that claim, we reverse the
portions of the judgments applicable to Mother.
Law & Applicable Standard of Review
parent's right to raise her children is a fundamental
liberty interest protected by the constitutional guarantee of
due process. It is one of the oldest fundamental liberty
interests recognized by the United States Supreme
Court." In re K.A.W., 133 S.W.3d 1, 12 (Mo.
banc 2004). As a result, "appellate courts must examine
the trial court's findings of fact and conclusions of law
affirm a judgment terminating parental rights "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." In re Adoption of C.M.B.R.,
332 S.W.3d 793, 815 (Mo. banc 2011).
prevail, Mother must demonstrate that no evidence in the
record tends to prove a fact necessary to uphold the trial
court's judgment as a matter of law. In re G.C.,
443 S.W.3d 738, 746 (Mo. App. S.D. 2014). We view conflicting
evidence in the light most favorable to the judgment, and we
disregard evidence contrary to the judgment. J.A.R. v.
D.G.R., 426 S.W.3d 624, 626, 626 n.4 (Mo. banc 2014).
The trial court may believe all, some, or none of the
evidence, and our role is not to re-evaluate the evidence
through our own perspective. Id. at 627. "We
are bound by the trial court's factual findings if
supported by substantial evidence." McAllister v.
McAllister, 101 S.W.3d 287, 290 (Mo. App. E.D. 2003).
15, 2014, the Children's babysitter, Lisa Wills
("Babysitter"), drove Mother, D.T.M., and W.V.M. to
the Women, Infants, and Children ("WIC") office in
Poplar Bluff. Before departing from Mother's home,
Babysitter noticed a bruise on W.V.M.'s hand. Mother told
Babysitter that W.V.M. had fallen out of her high chair, and
Mother claimed to have taken W.V.M. to the emergency room the
night she fell. After the group arrived at the WIC office,
W.V.M's pant leg came up, and WIC personnel noticed
bruising on W.V.M.'s leg. Mother gave WIC personnel the
same explanation for the bruising that she had given to
the group left the WIC office, Mother received a telephone
call from the Children's Division of the Missouri
Department of Social Services ("the Division")
asking Mother and W.V.M. to come to the Division's
office, and Mother did so. The Division asked Babysitter and
Mother to take W.V.M. to Dr. Claudia Preuschoff's
("Dr. Preuschoff") office for an examination.
Preuschoff's office, Mother again claimed that W.V.M. had
fallen out of her high chair. Upon Mother's request,
Babysitter left Dr. Preuschoff's office to pick up M.A.M.
from school. When Babysitter returned with M.A.M, Mother and
M.A.M. went to the restroom. While they were gone, Babysitter
lifted W.V.M's shirt and observed that the child's
back, ribs, and buttocks were also bruised.
Preuschoff's examination revealed extensive bruising over
multiple areas of W.V.M.'s body, and she opined that the
bruises were the result of non-accidental trauma. Dr.
Preuschoff's testimony from another hearing was admitted
into evidence, and in addition to the bruising, she described
some lesions on D.T.M.'s vaginal area as consistent with
being "made from some object[.]" Her examination
also revealed that W.V.M.'s eyes were sunken, and
portions of W.V.M.'s scalp were hairless. W.V.M. was
"far behind" on immunizations and suffered from a
recent, unexplained weight loss. Dr. Preuschoff planned to
take W.V.M. into protective custody unless Mother agreed to
transfer her by ambulance to St. Louis Children's
Hospital. Mother acquiesced, and W.V.M. was transported that
same day. The doctor classified W.V.M.'s abuse as
Preuschoff also contacted Valerie Guffey ("Ms.
Guffey"), a supervisor in the Division's abuse and
neglect unit, and Ms. Guffey investigated the family home.
She saw a gallon of urine in the bedroom, and urine and/or
food stains covered the walls. She also found garbage,
debris, and old food spread throughout the home.
direction of the Division, M.A.M. and D.T.M. were removed
from Mother and Father's home and placed with Babysitter.
The next day, the Division directed Babysitter to bring
M.A.M. and D.T.M. to the Division's office. Babysitter
brought the Children in as directed, and she saw Mother
speaking with a sheriff's deputy. Mother later left with
the deputy, and Babysitter was allowed to take the Children
home with her.
later admitted to Babysitter that W.V.M.'s injuries were
not incurred in an accidental fall. Mother stated that Father
had whipped W.V.M. with a belt the night before they had gone
to the WIC offices. Mother also told Babysitter about other
incidents of abuse that Father had inflicted on both Mother
and the Children, including an incident in which Father
rubbed dirty diapers in the faces of W.V.M. and D.T.M. and
poured cold water on them.
2014, Mother told her family support team that Father had
abused her at least ten times at various points in the past.
During an incident in 2012 ("the 2012 incident"),
Father hit Mother in the face, "busting [her] eye
open." D.T.M., who had been in Mother's arms at the
time, suffered a black eye. Father was jailed for the 2012
incident, and he underwent anger management counseling. With
the exception of the 2012 incident, Mother did not tell
Babysitter, her family, or the authorities about any of
Father's violent acts until after the Children were taken
into the Division's care.
Division offered Mother a written services agreement
("services agreement") on June 9, 2014 that set
forth three goals: child well-being (to be accomplished by
Mother keeping all visits); family health (to be accomplished
by Mother engaging in counseling); and parent capabilities
(to be accomplished by Mother engaging in random drug
screenings). Because Mother wanted to consult with her
attorney before signing, she did not sign the agreement until
July 17, 2014. The services agreement did not specify any
details regarding Mother's counseling; it simply
provided: "Mother wishes to engage in
the Children came into care, Father was arrested and charged
with serious physical abuse of W.V.M. Mother moved across the
Missouri border into Arkansas at the end of May 2014. Mother
also filed a petition to dissolve her marriage to Father on
July 8, 2014, and an interlocutory decree of dissolution
followed in September 2014.
the Division concluded its investigation, it issued a report
substantiating the allegations that Mother had neglected the
Children and had failed to protect them by failing to report
Father's abuse of the Children. After a July 18, 2014
adjudication hearing, the trial court took jurisdiction over
the Children and placed them into the legal and physical
custody of the Division.
month after the trial court took jurisdiction over the
Children, the permanency planning goal was changed from
reunification with Mother to termination of parental rights.
After this change occurred, a new services agreement was not
entered into with Mother, and further services to her were
not to be provided unless ordered by the trial court or
specifically requested by Mother. Mother did not request any