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In re M.J.

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Second Division

December 26, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF: M.J., M.J. and M.J.; JUVENILE OFFICER, Respondent,
v.
M.J. (MOTHER), Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri The Honorable David M. Byrn, Judge

          Before: Anthony Rex Gabbert, Presiding Judge, Thomas H. Newton, Judge and Gary D. Witt, Judge

          Gary D. Witt, Judge

         M.J. ("Mother") appeals from the judgment of the Circuit Court of Jackson County terminating her parental rights to minor children, MaJ, MoJ, MeJ. (collectively "Children"), finding that: pursuant to section 211.447.5(2)[1], Mother has neglected the Children; pursuant to section 211.447.5(3), Mother has failed to rectify the harmful conditions that prevent the Children's proper care; and pursuant to section 211.447.5(6), Mother is unfit to be a party to the parent and child relationship. Mother argues that the court erred in terminating her parental rights because there was insufficient evidence presented at trial to show a causal relation between Mother's disabilities and actual harm to the Children, as required under section 211.447.10. We affirm.[2]

         Statement of Facts[3]

         MaJ and MoJ are twins and were born September 15, 2011. In 2012, they were placed in the care of the Jackson County Children's Division ("Children's Division"), after the court granted a petition filed by the Jackson County Juvenile Office ("Juvenile Office") alleging parental abuse and neglect. In 2013, MaJ and MoJ were briefly placed back with Mother under the continued supervision of the Children's Division. MeJ was born on December 12, 2013. In 2014, all three of the Children were in Children's Division custody. MaJ and MoJ were returned to Children's Division's custody due to Mother's failure to complete ordered services, and MeJ was placed in the Children's Division's custody due to neglect and abuse. The Children have remained in the Children's Division's custody since 2014 and Mother has been allowed predominately only supervised visitation. While the Children were in the custody of the Children's Division, the court made multiple findings during Permanency Hearings regarding Mother's failure to rectify the conditions for which the Children were placed in the Children's Division's custody, including Mother's inappropriate behavior and lack of proof of medication compliance.[4]

         On April 22, 2016, the Juvenile Office filed a Petition for Termination of Parental Rights, and a trial was held on February 7, 2017. During the trial, evidence was presented regarding Mother's mental disabilities and resulting behaviors. Mother has been diagnosed with psychotic disorder, impulse control disorder, schizoaffective disorder, cannabis disorder, and bipolar disorder with psychotic features. Mother has an IQ of 74 and reads at a fourth grade level. Dr. Sisk, who performed a psychological evaluation on Mother in 2012, assessed that Mother's inability to care for the Children is likely a result of her bipolar disorder. Mother originally received her diagnosis of bipolar disorder at the age of 17 and was hospitalized for issues connected with that disorder as recently as June 2014. Mother's mental disabilities result in dysregulation in her moods, anger, paranoia, and aggressive reactions. Ky Clement ("Clement"), the Children's case manager from May 2014 to October 2014, testified Mother's demeanor was irrational, combative, and argumentative, and Mother had threatened her with physical violence. She also testified to a phone call with Mother in which Mother was irrational, delusional, and wavering whether she wanted the Children returned to her custody or not. Bridgette Crutchfield ("Crutchfield"), the Children's current case manager, testified that Mother's behavior switched between calm and manic. Crutchfield also testified that since October 2014, Mother has had three different therapists and six different parent aides due in part to Mother's combative behavior.

         Testimony was provided at trial regarding Mother's failure to comply with signed service agreements. Mother had signed service agreements in November 2014 and April 2015, which included the combined goals of: (1) complete individual therapy; (2) remain medication compliant 100% of the time; (3) do not self-medicate by using illegal drugs; (4) demonstrate good parenting; (5) complete court ordered services 75% of the time within the next three months; (6) be able to meet all three of the Children's needs and keep them safe 100% of the time; (7) be able to keep a routine and stable parenting plan for all three Children 100% of the time. Bridgette Banks ("Banks"), Mother's therapist from October 2014 to February 2015, testified that Mother would become combative at every therapy session, which on multiple occasions caused therapy sessions to end prematurely. She also testified that Mother missed approximately four or five sessions of individual therapy and failed to significantly progress in addressing her mental health issues. Mother ceased attending therapy seasons completely in February 2015. Mother was not medication compliant.

         Diana Vega ("Vega"), a parent aide who worked with Mother in 2013 and again from 2015 to 2016, testified Mother did not progress in developing her parenting skills. Vega never recommended Mother have unsupervised contact with the Children because she was concerned that Mother would be physically violent towards the Children if left unsupervised. Vega terminated her work with Mother in 2016 due to a violent threat from Mother. Joyce Crawford ("Crawford"), a parent aide who worked with Mother from 2014 to 2015, testified that she also did not feel as though Mother had made parenting progress. Crawford terminated her work with this family due to being verbally threatened by Mother. Further, Mother never provided documentation to demonstrate that she was medication compliant and her behavior was inconsistent with medication compliance.

         Testimony was also provided regarding Mother's relationship with the Children and the care she provided. Vega testified that Mother constantly favored MaJ and on one occasion forgot MeJ in a store. Due to the lack of attention MeJ received during visits when all of the Children were present, the Children's visitations were split so MeJ received individual visits. Mother would frequently talk to herself and when the Children would interrupt her she would yell at them. Clement testified that the Children did not want to participate in the visits with Mother and were not close to or bonded with Mother. After returning from the unsupervised visits that were allowed, MaJ and MoJ would rub themselves and demonstrate behaviors that resembled the act of masturbation. Mother was also ordered to pay $247.00 monthly as support for the Children, which she failed to do, and has accumulated a significant arrearage. Mother has failed to maintain stable employment over a significant period of time.

         On April 3, 2017, the trial court issued its judgment terminating Mother's parental rights over the Children, finding that: pursuant to section 211.447.5(2), Mother has neglected the Children; pursuant to section 211.447.5(3), Mother has failed to rectify the harmful conditions that prevent the Children's proper care; and pursuant to section 211.447.5(6), Mother is unfit to be a party to the parent and child relationship. This appeal followed.

         Standard of Review

Our review of this decision is in accordance with Murphy v. Carron, 536 S.W.2d 30, 32 (Mo. banc 1976). 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. In re Adoption of C.M.B.R., 332 S.W.3d 793, 816 (Mo. banc 2011) (citation omitted). The judgment will be reversed only if this court is left with a firm belief that the order is wrong. Id. Evidence is reviewed in the light most favorable to the trial court's decision, and this court defers to the trial court's credibility determinations. Id. The ...

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