In re K.M., 124,825

CourtCourt of Appeals of Kansas
Writing for the CourtPER CURIAM
PartiesIn the Interests of K.M. and T.C., Minor Children.
Docket Number124,825
Decision Date16 September 2022

In the Interests of K.M. and T.C., Minor Children.

No. 124,825

Court of Appeals of Kansas

September 16, 2022


NOT DESIGNATED FOR PUBLICATION

Appeal from Johnson District Court; ERICA K. SCHOENIG, judge.

Richard P. Klein, of Lenexa, for appellant natural mother.

Elizabeth A. Billinger, assistant district attorney, Sommer Mackay, legal intern, and Stephen M. Howe, district attorney, for appellee.

Before GREEN, P.J., ISHERWOOD and COBLE, JJ.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

PER CURIAM

In December 2018 the district court adjudicated K.M. and T.C. children in need of care (CINC) and removed the children from Mother's custody. The family was reintegrated in November 2019, but the children were removed again by the following February. The case failed to progress in a positive fashion and the State ultimately moved to terminate Mother's parental rights. In December 2021, the district court found the children's best interests demanded termination of Mother's parental rights.

Mother appeals and advances three claims of error against the district court's decision. The first two are intertwined as she argues the court's conclusions that she was unfit and unlikely to become fit in the foreseeable future lacked a clear and convincing evidentiary foundation. Lastly, she argues that the court abused its discretion when it

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unreasonably determined that the children's interests would be best served by termination of her parental rights. Following a comprehensive review of the evidence in a light most favorable to the State, as the party prevailing below, we are satisfied that the court's conclusion is buttressed by the requisite clear and convincing evidence. And further, when considering the children's mental, emotional, and physical health, it can be said that a reasonable person would have found termination to be in their best interests. The judgment of the district court is affirmed.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

In November 2018, the State filed child in need of care (CINC) petitions for K.M. (YOB 2016) and T.C. (YOB 2018), supported by allegations that Mother recently tested positive for methamphetamines, marijuana, amphetamines, and PCP. It also alleged that T.C.'s father, C.C., visited Mother at her home in violation of a protection from abuse order that was entered against him in January 2018 following a domestic violence incident. The children were removed from Mother's residence on the same day the petitions were filed and placed into the custody of the Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF).

On December 20, 2018, the district court found that K.M. and T.C. were CINC as defined in K.S.A. 38-2202(d)(1) (a child who "[i]s without adequate parental care, control or subsistence and the condition is not due solely to the lack of financial means of the child's parents or other custodian") and K.S.A. 38-2202(d)(2) (a child who "is without the care or control necessary for the child's physical, mental or emotional health"). Mother was provided with a six-month reintegration plan.

Mother regained custody of the children in November 2019, but they were removed again roughly three months later in the wake of a domestic violence incident perpetrated by C.C. The court ordered a new six-month reintegration plan.

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Mother tried to work through her reintegration tasks, but as the months wore on, it became apparent from her lack of meaningful progress and the children's trauma-induced behavior while in daycare, school, and various foster homes, that the focus of the case needed to shift to a permanency plan beyond Mother.

The State filed a motion to terminate Mother's parental rights in December 2020 and the matter proceeded to a termination hearing in November 2021. The State called five witnesses, Emma Long, a child protection specialist for DCF; Christine Lenz, Mother's case manager through KVC; Megan Dieme, a mental health service provider at Keeler Women's Health; Jessica Banes, a case manager and service coordinator for Johnson County Mental Health; and Katie Ebbrecht, a permanency case manager with KVC.

Long explained that she first became acquainted with Mother at the start of 2017 upon receiving a report that she and K.M. were homeless. Long assisted with getting the family into the Salvation Army Lodge followed by Safehouse where they remained until December 2017.

According to Long, their paths crossed again in 2018 when Mother tested positive for cocaine and marijuana during T.C.'s birth. Mother worked with social service agencies to secure stable housing and family preservation services, as well as to obtain a protection from abuse order against C.C. following a violent domestic incident. Mother also struggled with substance dependency involving cocaine, crack, methamphetamine, and marijuana, so she also received assistance in locating substance abuse and mental health services. Unfortunately, Mother's situation failed to stabilize as her destructive relationships with narcotics and C.C. persisted.

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Lenz testified to offer insight into Mother's reintegration plan and the areas that posed the greatest concerns. First, Mother struggled to maintain secure employment as required. During Lenz' time with the case Mother held three different jobs.

Of greater concern, reported Lenz, was Mother's inability to either formulate a transportation plan or secure a driver's license and fulfill all its attendant obligations, such as insurance and registration. According to Lenz, this factor was critical because K.M. has significant special needs that require the child to be transported for weekly appointments with various specialists. Those same challenges often prompt K.M. to act out inappropriately at school, resulting in early dismissals, so reliable transportation is needed to respond to those occurrences.

Lenz also addressed the physical and psychological obligations Mother was expected to satisfy. She explained that Mother needed to attend individual therapy to address her bipolar disorder and depression, as well as her history of trauma and domestic violence. Lenz testified that Mother attended individual therapy at one time but was discharged due to a lack of participation. This segment of Mother's reintegration plan also required that she submit to regular drug tests, the results of which revealed that Mother continued to use amphetamines and methamphetamine.

Finally, Lenz spoke on the visits Mother shared with the children. Mother was granted hour long, supervised visits with the children but her attendance was inconsistent. Mother often offered illness, car trouble, or work conflicts as explanations for her absences. But she nevertheless failed to truly appreciate the substantial emotional impact the missed visits had on the children, especially K.M.

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Dieme was the next witness called by the State and testified regarding the individual therapy sessions she conducted with Mother. Dieme explained that Mother struggles with a major depressive disorder and possible PTSD as a result of abuse and trauma she suffered as a child.

Mother had seven sessions scheduled with Dieme but missed three, which prompted her placement on a waitlist only status, as per Dieme's policy. Dieme testified that Mother expressed a desire for healing and change, but she was concerned Mother lacked the organizational capabilities to make significant strides with her mental health, which is often a by-product of the types of psychological demons Mother battled.

Banes testified that her role as Mother's case manager and service coordinator was to shepherd Mother towards the specific resources that would be beneficial in assisting her with reaching her goals. She scheduled Mother for 50-minute meetings, but Mother was consistently only "minimal[ly]" engaged and lacked an understanding of the precise areas of her life that required improvements. While a handful of their sessions together extended to 30 minutes, typically the time Mother was willing to visit with Banes only averaged between 2 and 10 minutes.

Ebbrecht was Mother's permanency manager with KVC and adopted the case from Lenz. Thus, similar to Lenz, she testified about Mother's reintegration plan. She explained that Mother secured stable employment and housing but had not managed to maintain individual therapy. Rather, Mother expressed to Ebbrecht that she did not suffer from any mental health issues so there was no need for her to attend therapy or take medication for her bipolar disorder. Additionally, Mother continued to test positive for amphetamine usage. According to Ebbrecht, these factors signaled a warning for the children's safety if returned to Mother's home.

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Further testimony from Ebbrecht revealed that transportation remained an issue, and she reinforced the importance of this matter to Mother given the children's special needs. Ebbrecht explained this was particularly critical for K.M. who required occupational and play therapy on top of the children's family therapy. Ebbrecht opined that K.M. and T.C. required a level of care that ranked "[h]igher than average."

Finally, Ebbrecht testified that while Mother truly loved her children and, overall, shared very pleasant interactions with them, Mother had attempted to complete her reintegration plan, but her required tasks remained largely incomplete. It was Ebbrecht's belief that the issues which resulted in Mother's inability to consistently visit the children and organize her own appointments were unlikely to change in the...

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