In the Matter of the Involuntary Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of: K.T. (Minor Child) and D.T. (Father), Appellant-Respondent,
The Indiana Department of Child Services, Appellee-Petitioner.
from the Jasper Superior Court The Honorable Russell D.
Bailey, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 37D01-1803-JT-42
Attorney for Appellant Linda L. Harris Kentland, Indiana
Attorneys for Appellee Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General
of Indiana Katherine A. Cornelius Deputy Attorney General
D.T. ("Father") appeals the trial court judgment
terminating his parental rights to K.T. ("Child"),
born January 8, 2015. On appeal, Father challenges the
sufficiency of the evidence to support the trial court's
conclusions that he was unlikely to remedy the reasons for
Child's removal from the home and he was a threat to the
well-being of Child.
and Procedural History
H.B. ("Mother") and Father, biological parents of
Child, were never married but Father established his
paternity of Child. Child lived with Mother, who was the sole
custodian. The Indiana Department of Child Services
("DCS") received information that Child had
sustained various injuries-including black eyes, multiple
bruises, and a second-degree burn-while in Mother's care
over the period of December 23, 2016, to January 13, 2017. In
a report dated December 29, 2016, DCS found that the
allegations of neglect by Mother were substantiated, although
the allegations of physical abuse were not. DCS found the
allegations of neglect and/or physical abuse by Father were
unsubstantiated. The DCS report also noted that Mother was
Child's "sole caregiver[, ]" and Child had not
been in Father's care during the time period Child
sustained injuries. Ex. at 101. DCS removed Child from Mother
on January 13, 2017, and filed a petition alleging Child was
a Child in Need of Services ("CHINS").
A parenting assessment of Father, completed on March 14,
2017, recommended his participation in the Father's
Engagement program so that he could "learn about his
legal rights as a parent as well as his legal options for
gaining regular parenting time or pursuing joint or sole
physical custody should [Mother] reunify with [Child] at the
end of this case and begin denying visitation again."
Id. at 6. The assessment also recommended individual
therapy to help Father "further address his anger,"
although it noted that his "anger is
understandable" given that this was the second CHINS
case initiated while Child was in Mother's
care. Id. The assessment recommended
visitation with Child to "be moved to unsupervised if no
issues are seen in [Father's] parenting."
Id. at 7.
Child was adjudicated a CHINS on April 11, 2017. Father
appeared at the CHINS detention hearing, initial hearing, and
fact-finding hearing. The CHINS court entered a dispositional
order on May 9, 2017, in which it found that
"participation by the parent, guardian, or custodian in
the plan for the child is necessary to: achieve reunification
of the family." Id. at 113. The court ordered
that Child would remain in out-of-home placement and both
parents must participate in specified services.
In an order dated February 28, 2018, the trial court changed
Child's permanency plan from reunification to termination
of parental rights ("TPR") and adoption. The order
noted that Father "has partially complied with the
child's case plan. The father has recently beg[u]n
participating in services." Ex. at 120. On March 13,
2018, DCS filed a petition for involuntary termination of
Mother's and Father's parental rights to Child.
Mother filed a voluntary relinquishment of her parental
rights, and the court held the TPR fact-finding hearing on
August 13, 2018.
At the fact-finding hearing, various service providers and
DCS workers testified that Father had failed to fully comply
with services. They also testified that he had initially
missed approximately four months of visitation with
Child-from September through December of 2017-in order to
attend the Little League baseball games of his son, B.T.,
over whom he shared custody with his son's mother.
However, since January of 2018, he had attended approximately
eighty percent of the visitations. The service providers and
DCS workers also noted Father had some issues with anger and
alcohol use. DCS family case manager ("FCM") Erin
Smith testified that she believed termination of Father's
parental rights was in Child's best interests. Donna
Besse ("Besse"), the Family Focus caseworker who
supervised visitations, and Amy Collier, Child's
therapist, testified that Father and Child had failed to
"bond." Tr. at 59, 69-70. Besse's
visitation reports, admitted as Exhibit 6, also reported
"no bond" between Child and Father. Ex. at 59.
Those reports also showed that, during the last three months
of visitation, Child sat on Father's lap, played with
Father, hugged Father, and tickled Father. During visits in
April of 2018, Child called Father "Dad" and
brought Father things she had made for him. Id. at
67-70. Besse's visitation reports noted that Father
kissed and hugged Child, told Child he loved her, played with
Child, and consistently tried to interact with Child.
Nevertheless, in her most recent report, Besse characterized
the visits as "destructive" because Father
"takes on a role of friend during visits, … sets
no limits and/or guidance, … is unaware of appropriate
expectations for [Child], … comes and goes
[throughout] the visit for various reasons, … put[s]
his needs before [Child's], … does not provide a
snack for her[, ] and shows her no empathy."
Id. at 54.
The Court Appointed Special Advocate ("CASA"),
Renee Conley, who had attended some of the supervised visits
with Child, testified that she did not believe termination of
Father's parental rights was appropriate because,
although visits with Child had "progressed well,"
the visitation supervisor's interference with
Father's parenting of Child and her "personality
conflict" with Father had hindered further progress. Tr.
at 109, 113. The CASA testified that it is "important to
[Child] to have the ability to get to know her dad without
interference" from the visitation supervisor.
Id. at 114.
Father testified that he owned his own home and had joint
custody of his son.
stated that he missed some services appointments and
visitations due to his work schedule and because he was
responsible for taking his son to his Little League baseball
games. Father stated he had conflicts with the supervisor of
the visitations because he felt that she interfered too much
with his parenting of Child. Father testified that he had
tried, unsuccessfully, to reschedule some of the missed
appointments and visitations. Father testified he had worked
fulltime for the last nine years and had to travel often in
his job. He testified he had recently increased his visits
with Child because he had changed jobs so that he "could
try to win custody" of Child. Id. at 98.
On June 3, 2019,  the trial court granted the TPR petition
and found in relevant part as follows:
The minor child was residing with Mother as the sole provider
of custody before being detained by CPS. CPS received
information that minor child was reported to have sustained
injuries including two severe black eyes, multiple bruises, a
second degree burn to her hand, and multiple scratches to her
face and lower back. These injuries occurred while in
Mother's care at various intervals over a period of
December 23, 2016[, ] to January 13, 2017. In investigating
the reports, the injuries were possibly consistent with
Mother's story, but Mother failed to report the new
injury to the caseworker and delayed getting medical
treatment for the Minor Child and there were concerns of
physical abuse. The Minor Child was detained by CPS on
January 13, 2017[, ] and the Minor Child was adjudicated a
CHINS on April 11, 2017.
The Court entered a Dispositional Decree on May 9, 2017[, ]
that required Mother and Father to engage in services, and
the Minor Child is still under this Dispositional Decree.
Father was to attend and complete all parenting assessments
and the recommendations of these assessments, visitation with
Minor Child, Father Engagement, and individual therapy and
co-parenting classes. …
Father was ordered to complete Father Engagement with Family
Focus. During the period of February 2017 [to] August 2017,
Father only met with the Lifeline Caseworker, Nancy Koedyker,
four times for the 13[-]week program. She was largely
unsuccessful in contacting him and arranging visits as Father
would not be available and there were several no-shows.
Father consistently wished to get custody of Minor Child but
expressed distrust of CPS and that he did not want the
services required by CPS. Father met with caseworker, [Brian
Gabel],  a total of 9 times for this program.
However, Father only completed about six weeks of the program
as the caseworker was engaged in reviewing prior materials
due to Father's no-show absences and the period of time
since they went over the materials. The program began in
February 2018 and should have been completed in May 2018.
Father contacted the caseworker on May 22, 2018[, ] and
stated that he would not be continuing the Father's
Engagement sessions until the Little League baseball season
concluded in June 2018, as he did not want to miss any of his
son's Little League Games. The Caseworker attempted to
contact Father at the end of June 2018 but was unsuccessful
and Father never restarted the program.
Father met with a social worker from Family Focus and his
compliance was inconsistent. Father attended the scheduled
sessions sporadically until the months of July and August of
2018 whe[n] attendance was more consistent. Father failed to
attend the sessions because of his work schedule and desire
to attend baseball games for his son and continued to express
anger and frustration over the process of engaging with the
Father was ordered to engage in [a] parenting curriculum,
which is a 12-week curriculum. Father has only completed 3
classes out of the 12 and cited [as] his reasons for not
attending [that] it was interfering with his attendance at
his son's Little League baseball games. However, he did
not complete the curriculum upon the conclusion of the
Father was also ordered to engage in supervised visitations
with the Minor Child over the course of this case. The
visitations were ordered to be supervised, as he has not had
custody of the Minor Child since December of 2016 and it was
in the best interests of the Child to reintroduce Father to
the Minor Child as he was not a consistent figure in her life
until this time. The visits with Father began in August of
2017 and Father stopped the visits from September to December
of 2017 as he did not want to participate in weekly visits,
which were scheduled for one hour a week each week. Father
restarted the visits in January of 2018 and has remained
about 80% compliant in attending the scheduled visits. There
were issues with Father not confirming visits and some visits
did not occur because of the lack of confirmation. Father
began missing visits during the baseball season in May of
The visit supervisor, Donna Besse, reports that the Minor
Child did not bond with Father and exhibited negative
behaviors during these visits. Father rejects these
contentions and states that the visits with the Minor Child
have [gone] well and have been getting better. Father
testified that he wants a relationship with the Minor Child,
but he was frustrated that all of the service providers were
telling him what to do and would not let him parent the Minor
Child as he wants to. Father expressed that he wants to raise
the child how he wants to, not how Donna wants and that he
has a personal conflict with Donna Besse. Also, Father has
expressed to various providers that he has a personal
conflict with Donna Besse during this case. The CASA, Renee
Conley, who has been involved in this case since February of
2017, testified that she attended only a few visits but she
observed the personal conflict between Father and the visit
supervisor, Donna Besse, and reports that the visits have
progressed well. The Court finds that the conflicting
testimony of the CASA and the Visit Supervisor as to the
quality of the visits is immaterial. While a personal
conflict with the visit supervisor did exist, the fact
remains that Father completed only 80% of the visits offered
and he had never progressed to unsupervised visitations with
the Minor Child over the course of nineteen months ...