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In re Termination of Parent-Child Relationship of S.E.

Court of Appeals of Indiana

July 30, 2014


Page 38

APPEAL FROM THE HAMILTON CIRCUIT COURT. The Honorable Paul Felix, Judge. Cause No. 29C01-1203-JT-413.

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: JAMES D. CRUM, CATHY M. BROWNSON, Coots, Henke & Wheeler, P.C., Carmel, Indiana.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: GREGORY F. ZOELLER, Attorney General of Indiana; ROBERT J. HENKE, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, Indiana; CHRISTINE REDELMAN, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, Indiana.

VAIDIK, Chief Judge. NAJAM, J. and BROWN, J. concur.


Page 39

VAIDIK, Chief Judge

Case Summary

R.K. (" Mother" ) appeals the termination of her parental rights to her daughter, S.E. Mother, who is deaf, contends that the trial court denied her due process by requiring her to use sign language when she testified at the termination hearing. She also argues that there is insufficient evidence to support the termination order.

Page 40

Trial courts have wide latitude to control the flow of the proceedings and the presentation of evidence. In some cases, an interpreter may be required to ensure that the trier of fact hears and understands a witness's testimony. Here, the trial court could not understand Mother when she attempted to testify orally. As a result, the trial court required Mother to testify by signing to an interpreter, who then spoke Mother's responses aloud. We conclude that this procedure did not violate Mother's due-process rights. We also conclude that there is sufficient evidence to support the trial court's decision to terminate the parent-child relationship. We affirm.

Facts and Procedural History

Mother gave birth to a daughter, S.E., on January 4, 2011.[1] Mother, who is in her early thirties, was born with hearing loss and became deaf as an adult. Mother has a serious and complicated medical history. She suffers from foot, knee, back, and neck pain. Among other things, she has fibromyalgia, scoliosis, degenerative disk disease, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, high blood pressure, and acid reflux. She also has blood clots in her lungs and elevated white blood cell counts. Mother has been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD), borderline personality disorder, depression, and anxiety, and she takes medications for these diagnoses. She has attempted suicide more than twenty times and has been hospitalized more than fifty times.

A few months after S.E.'s birth, Mother began living in a homeless shelter. Shelter staff contacted the Hamilton County Department of Child Services (HCDCS) with concerns about Mother's ability to care for S.E. A short time later, HCDCS filed a petition alleging that S.E. was a child in need of services (" CHINS" ), but allowed S.E. to remain in Mother's care. Around that time, Mother moved into her mother's home.

S.E. was adjudicated a CHINS in June 2011 and removed from Mother's care. Mother was ordered to do a number of things designed to facilitate reunification, including:

o Obtain and maintain appropriate housing and a source of income
o Successfully complete a parenting assessment
o Successfully complete home-based therapy
o Successfully complete individual counseling
o Successfully complete a mental-health evaluation and medication-management services
o Attend all scheduled parenting time with S.E.

See State's Ex. 7.

Mother's compliance with the trial court's order was sporadic and ultimately unsuccessful. In late 2011 Mother did not participate in services or exercise parenting time with S.E. regularly. By early 2012 Mother was still failing to exercise parenting time consistently. She had not completed a mental-health evaluation and was not participating in individual counseling or any mental-health treatment. In August 2012 Mother gave birth to another child, E.K.[2] E.K. was removed from Mother's care three days after her birth, and a CHINS petition was filed for E.K. a short time later.

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Because she continued to attend parenting time inconsistently, Mother's parenting time was suspended in October 2012. Two months later, the trial court suspended all services due to Mother's noncompliance. In March 2013 Mother abruptly moved to Terre Haute to live with her boyfriend. The same month, HCDCS filed a petition to terminate Mother's parental rights. The trial court held three hearings on the termination petition in July and September 2013.

At the hearings, those involved in the case expressed concern about Mother's health and her ability to parent S.E. Throughout the case, Mother saw a number of different service providers. Multiple providers were unable to provide services to Mother because she was confrontational, accusatory, or noncompliant. Tr. p. 23 (testimony of psychologist Dr. Tyrone Powell), 56 (testimony of social worker Cristina Werremyer), 120 (testimony of social worker Carol Ganza), 236 (testimony of therapist John Polstra). Dr. Dawn Castner-Rector, a psychologist, was the only service provider working with Mother at the time of the hearings. Dr. Castner-Rector described Mother's progress as " mild" and testified that she would need ongoing mental-health services " for an extended period of time[,] if she's motivated to participate in services." Id. at 83-84.

Jerri Gibson, Mother's case manager, also summarized Mother's progress:

Q: Ultimately by the end of your time overseeing the case, what had successfully occurred as far as goals reached and referrals completed successfully, if anything?
A: I can't say that anything ended and was completed successfully other than the psych evaluation was completed.
Q: Did the necessity to supervise visitation ever halt?
A: No.
Q: Did visitations ever increase as far as the amount of time per visitation or the number of visitations offered per week or per month?
A: No. In fact, visits decreased.

Id. at 302-03. Gibson also described S.E. as " happy" and " content" in her foster placement. Id. at 304. She recommended terminating Mother's parental rights. Id.

Vivian Gross, the guardian ad litem (GAL) assigned to the case, also testified. GAL Gross stated that she did not believe S.E. would be safe in Mother's care. Id. at 351. She also testified that S.E. had adjusted to her foster home and was happy there. Id. at 352-53. She ...

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