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In re Termination of Parent-Child Relationship of W.M.L.

Court of Appeals of Indiana

August 31, 2017

In Re: the Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of W.M.L. and A.J.L. R.R. (Guardian ad Litem), Appellant-Petitioner,
E.L. (Mother), O.H. (Father), et al., Appellees-Respondents.

         Appeal from the Allen Superior Court The Honorable Charles F. Pratt, Judge Trial Court Cause Nos. 02D08-1603-JT-53 02D08-1603-JT-54

          Appellant, pro se Roberta L. Renbarger Fort Wayne, Indiana

          Attorney for Appellee (Mother) Donald J. Frew Fort Wayne, Indiana

          Pyle, Judge.

         Statement of the Case

         [¶1] Guardian Ad Litem, Roberta Renbarger, ("GAL Renbarger") appeals the trial court's denial of the Department of Children's Services' ("DCS") petition to terminate the relationship between parents, E.L. ("Mother") and O.H. ("Father"), and their children, W.L. ("W.L.") and A.H. ("A.H.") (collectively "the children"). Concluding that the trial court did not err in denying DCS's petition to terminate the parent-child relationships, we affirm the trial court's judgment.

         [¶2] We affirm.


         Whether the trial court erred in denying DCS's petition to terminate the parent-child relationships.


         [¶3] The evidence most favorable to the judgment reveals that Mother and Father are the parents of son, W.L., who was born in October 2008, and daughter, A.H., who was born in May 2012. Both children were removed from Mother and Father shortly after A.H.'s birth when it was discovered that Mother had used marijuana during her pregnancy and that the family was homeless. The children were adjudicated to be Children in Need of Services ("CHINS"), and both parents were court-ordered to participate in services.

         [¶4] The children were returned to their parents' home in July 2013. However, in September 2013, the police arrested Father for battering Mother. The children were removed from the home and placed in foster care. Father was convicted of domestic battery and placed on probation until September 2014. He was also restrained, under a no-contact order, from having any contact with Mother. Both parents were ordered to refrain from criminal activity, maintain clean and appropriate housing, and cooperate with all service providers. Mother and Father were also ordered to obtain diagnostic assessments, obtain drug and alcohol assessments, enroll in and successfully complete home-based services programs, refrain from the use of alcohol and illegal drugs, and attend all visits with the children. Mother was further ordered to obtain and maintain employment and to enroll in non-violence counseling at the Center for Nonviolence. Father was also ordered to attend and complete a specific program at the Center for Nonviolence.

         [¶5] In March 2016, DCS filed a petition to terminate the parental relationship between Mother and Father and their children, W.L. and A.H.[1] The trial court held five days of hearings from August to November 2016. Testimony at the hearings revealed that Father had completed a six-month batterer's intervention program at the Center for Nonviolence in 2014 and had successfully completed the probation imposed following his domestic battery conviction. He had also completed a five-month substance abuse group program two weeks before the termination hearing. In addition, Father had worked for the same roofing company for several years.

         [¶6] The testimony further revealed that Mother had completed a five-month substance abuse program in 2013. She had also completed a program that had required her to complete applications for Social Security disability, food stamps, and Medicaid. At the time of the hearing, Mother was attending substance abuse counseling twice a week. She also had a full-time job with a lawn care service. Mother testified that although she still took prescribed methadone for pain for her physical ailments, including multiple sclerosis, hip dysplasia, rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoarthritis, she had not used illegal substances for the past year. According to Mother, she was "willing to do whatever it t[ook] to be better for [herself] so [she could] be better for [her] children." (Tr. 114).

         [¶7] In addition, Mother and Father, who had been together for sixteen years, had recently gotten married and were living together in a three-bedroom house. Both parents regularly visited W.L. and A.H. Therapist Nicole Gaunt ("Therapist Gaunt"), who treated Mother and supervised the parents' visitation with their children, testified that the children were "ecstatic" to see their parents and that W.L. had asked multiple times when he could "move back home with his mom and dad." (Tr. 142). She also explained that the parents engaged in imaginary play with their children and made a "good team as parents." (Tr. 146). She recommended allowing the children to visit their parents at the parents' home. Gaunt further testified that Mother had a home with Father and a job and was paying her bills. According to Gaunt, Mother's life was as stable as it had ever been. Gaunt also testified that termination of the parent-child relationships would be detrimental to the children.

         [¶8] The children's foster mother testified that Mother and Father had kept in regular communication with the children and that W.L. had a good bond with Father. She further testified that ...

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