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State ex rel. C.C. v. State

Court of Appeals of Utah

July 28, 2017

State of Utah, in the interest of C.C., R.T., T.T., and X.W., persons under eighteen years of age.
State of Utah, Appellee. A.W., Appellant,

         Second District Juvenile Court, Farmington Department The Honorable J. Mark Andrus No. 1102119

          Aaron C. Garrett and Virginia Ward, Attorneys for Appellant

          Sean D. Reyes, Carol L.C. Verdoia, and John M. Peterson, Attorneys for Appellee

          Martha Pierce, Guardian ad Litem

          Judge J. Frederic Voros Jr. authored this Opinion, in which Judge David N. Mortensen concurred. Judge Michele M. Christiansen concurred, with opinion.


          VOROS, Judge.

         ¶1 A.W. (Mother) appeals the juvenile court's termination of her parental rights to her four children: C.C., an eleven-year-old male; R.T., an eight-year-old male; T.T., a four-year-old male; and X.W., a three-year-old male. We affirm.


         ¶2 Mother is a person with a learning disability who also suffers from anxiety, depression, agoraphobia, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. She has a history of illegal substance abuse, particularly methamphetamine. She was involved in two abusive marriages before her marriage to her current husband, L.W. (Husband).

         ¶3 Mother's involvement with the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) that led to termination of her parental rights began in March 2014. Mother lived with Husband, her mother (Grandmother), and her brother (Brother). DCFS investigated a claim of domestic-violence-related child abuse against Husband and found it to be factually supported. Husband had fractured Mother's jaw while she was holding X.W. At the time, X.W. was still an infant. After the incident, Mother and Husband agreed to adhere to a treatment plan that included a domestic violence assessment, domestic violence counseling, and individual counseling. Mother and Husband did enter counseling but did not obtain a domestic violence assessment or domestic violence treatment.

         ¶4 Three months later, Husband physically restrained C.C. and screamed at Grandmother. A few days later, Husband held R.T.'s face against a wall and yelled an obscenity at the child. Husband then engaged in an altercation with Brother and Grandmother and left the home with X.W. After this incident, Mother gathered the other three children and stayed with Husband at another family member's house.

         ¶5 In June 2014 DCFS placed the children in protective custody. One of the foster families with whom C.C. and R.T. were placed explained that when the boys arrived they were "really wild." R.T. was developmentally delayed. Both boys had frequent bed-wetting accidents. Nor did they know how to wash their hands, bathe their bodies, or brush their teeth properly. R.T. did not know how to use eating utensils and would "stick his head down in the bowl" to eat food. He refused to eat anything besides junk food, and C.C. "almost would gorge himself" when he ate and "would take food and put it in his pockets and save it for later."

         ¶6 In September 2014 the juvenile court ordered that a Child and Family Plan (the service plan) be developed for the children and the parents. In its order, the court stated that Mother "is lower functioning and . . . suffers from severe anxiety, depression, and agoraphobia." The court also ordered that reunification services be provided to Mother and established the primary permanency goal as reunification with Mother with the concurrent goal of adoption.

         ¶7 The service plan contained the following requirements for Mother: (1) continue to participate in mental health treatment; (2) obtain a domestic violence assessment with Husband and comply with its recommendations for treatment or counseling; (3)avoid further domestic violence, hostile arguments, and other unsafe behavior in her relationship with Husband; (4) avoid criminal behavior; (5) improve her parenting skills through parenting classes, counseling, and eventually peer parenting; (6) avoid illegal substances; (7) provide a stable home for the children and not allow unsafe persons in the home; (8) address the children's various medical and educational needs; and (9) have regular and appropriate visits with the children. The juvenile court accepted the service plan in October 2014; Mother did not object.

         Reunification Services

         ¶8 The DCFS caseworker assigned to the case began reunification services in September 2014.[1] The caseworker had received training on working with persons with disabilities. She was aware that Mother had several special needs and would need personalized care to succeed with the service plan. The caseworker reviewed the service plan with Mother and discussed where Mother could receive the required services. When Mother had questions about a requirement, the two would "talk about it [at] length, " discussing "why it was put into place [and] what the steps are to follow through with it." Although the DCFS caseworker did not "normally go out to the parent's home and go quite as in-depth or spend quite as much time with the families, " the caseworker "spent numerous hours, several times a month" with Mother. The caseworker noticed that Mother "seemed to lack a lot of skills. For example, . . . her house was very messy, [Mother] did not know how to keep the children entertained and safe while she cleaned up the kitchen or gave one of the children a bath or played with one of them." The caseworker "helped show [Mother] how to clean her house, how to take care of the children while she was cleaning her house, . . . how to . . . make a grocery list, cut coupons, [and] go to the store."

         ¶9 When the caseworker worked with Mother, she noticed that Mother "would do very well at taking the skills and applying them to the situation" but tended to get side-tracked easily, causing the caseworker to "constantly . . . redirect her back to the skill-building." The caseworker noticed that Mother "did very well hands-on"; as a result, the caseworker modeled different skills, which Mother then repeated on her own. The caseworker prepared charts for Mother to help her manage her time, to budget, and to help care for herself and her children. Mother "did well on those for the most part, but after . . . two or three weeks, she would get side-tracked with something else and then everything [she] worked on was gone."

         ¶10 In addition to working with the DCFS caseworker, Mother received 41 in-home family therapy sessions starting in December 2014, each lasting one to two hours. The DCFS caseworker arranged the in-home therapy to accommodate Mother's agoraphobia. Mother disclosed her learning disabilities, agoraphobia, and trauma history to the therapist at intake. Because of her disclosed disabilities, the therapist "slowed things down [and] did a very individualized family approach." The therapist also noted that Mother responded well to hands-on learning and integrated it into the skill-building by demonstrating example behavior for Mother and then observing Mother follow the example. The therapist worked with Mother to create a victim personal safety plan to address the domestic violence issues involving Husband. However, toward the end of reunification efforts, Mother stopped implementing the skills she had acquired in the therapy sessions.

         ¶11 Mother also completed a domestic violence class. The instructor was aware that Mother had a disability and requested that Mother repeat the class to help reinforce the concepts, which she did. The instructor also met with Mother one-on-one to help her complete homework assignments and ensure that Mother comprehended her reading assignments. After Mother repeated the class, the instructor recommended that Mother take three additional domestic violence courses, but Mother either did not complete the courses or did not provide verification that she had completed them. After Mother expressed discomfort with the group setting of the classroom due to her agoraphobia, the caseworker suggested a domestic violence course that was taught in a one-on-one classroom setting. Mother did not follow through with this referral.

         ¶12 Mother submitted to a mental health assessment but failed to provide documentation and verification of the assessment to DCFS. Mother maintained that her mental health diagnoses were controlled by medication. Mother attended regular ...

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