In re T.D., ED109487

CourtCourt of Appeal of Missouri (US)
Writing for the CourtCristian M. Stevens, J.
Docket NumberED109487
Decision Date12 April 2022


No. ED109487

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Fifth Division

April 12, 2022

Appeal from the Juvenile Court of Ste. Genevieve County Cause No. 20SG-JU00034 Honorable Jerel L. Poor II

Cristian M. Stevens, J.


The juvenile officer filed a petition in the Circuit Court of Ste. Genevieve County requesting care and treatment of T.D., the minor child of M.R. ("Mother). Following an adjudication hearing, the circuit court entered judgment assuming jurisdiction over T.D. and granting temporary custody to the Children's Division. Mother appeals that the judgment (1) was not supported by substantial evidence and was against the weight of the evidence; (2) was based on facts not pleaded in the petition and not proved by clear and convincing evidence; and (3) was based on witness testimony that was not pleaded in the petition and was irrelevant. We affirm the judgment of the circuit court.

Facts and Procedural Background

Pre-Hearing Procedure


T.D. was born on November 29, 2020, in Carbondale, Illinois, to Mother, a Missouri resident. Shortly after T.D.'s birth, an investigator from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services ("DCFS") responded to hospital staff's concerns regarding the behavior of Mother and her paramour, C.D. DCFS determined Illinois would seek custody of T.D. if Missouri did not, due to major concerns about returning T.D. to Mother's custody. Thereafter, T.D. was taken into emergency protective custody by the Ste. Genevieve County, Missouri, Children's Division.

On December 1, 2020, a juvenile officer of the Ste. Genevieve County Circuit Court filed a petition asking the court to take jurisdiction of T.D. The petition referred to allegations of neglect and alleged that T.D. was "in need of care and treatment because the child is otherwise without proper care, custody or support," pursuant to Section 211.031.1(1)(b).[1] The petition stated that T.D. was taken into emergency protective custody on December 1, 2020, due to Mother's "highly inappropriate and uncooperative" behavior at the hospital following T.D.'s birth and Mother's "history with drug abuse and involvement with [the Children's Division]."

The petition further alleged that Mother had three pending charges for endangering the welfare of a child from a "co-sleeping incident" on April 1, 2020. In that incident, Mother's infant daughter, A.S., died while Mother was under the influence of methamphetamine and marijuana. The petition also asserted that Mother admitted doing a "speedball" (simultaneous use of methamphetamine and marijuana) and was "under the influence" on April 2, 2020.

The petition alleged that, following T.D.'s premature birth, Mother and C.D. were uncooperative with hospital staff and Illinois DCFS, and showed little interest in T.D. or his health concerns. The juvenile officer's petition concluded, "Due to the natural mother's drug abuse


history, pending charges, lack of cooperation with hospital staff as well as DCFS in Illinois and lack of interest in the child, the child's safety could not be ensured."

On the same day, the circuit court entered an order for protective custody of T.D., finding probable cause to believe T.D. was within the court's jurisdiction under Section 211.031.1(1). The court ordered T.D. to remain in the custody of the Children's Division until further order.

On December 9, 2020, after a protective custody hearing, the court ordered that T.D. would remain in the custody of the Children's Division. In its order, the court granted Mother supervised visitation with T.D. The court also ordered an adjudication hearing on the juvenile officer's petition to be set in January 2021.

On January 5, 2021, Mother filed a motion asking the circuit court for findings of fact and grounds for its anticipated adjudication judgment, pursuant to Rule 73.01.[2] Among 26 questions posed to the court, the motion asked whether the actions of "another individual," E.F., in removing Mother's infant daughter, A.S., from her bassinet, placing A.S. in bed, and sleeping with A.S. on the night of A.S.'s death were acts of abuse or neglect by Mother.

The following evidence was adduced at the adjudication hearing on January 22, 2021.

Adjudication Hearing

On April 1, 2020, A.S. died from suffocation. Lt. Lance White of the Ste. Genevieve County Sheriff's Department investigated the death. He testified at the adjudication hearing that Mother, her three children, and another adult female, E.F., lived in a mobile home in Ste. Genevieve County. Lt. White learned from his investigation that E.F. acted as a caretaker for Mother's children and had always lived with Mother to help with the children.


E.F. stated she regularly cared for A.S. and typically slept in the same bed with A.S. Caring for A.S. was primarily E.F.'s responsibility because Mother was "too invested" in her other children. E.F. had one child of her own, but she recently "gave away" the child to the father. E.F. did so because she was afraid her drug use would harm the child. Other witnesses, including E.F.'s aunt, corroborated this fact and Mother's knowledge of it.

Witnesses present the night of A.S.'s death informed Lt. White that Mother placed A.S. in her bassinet around 10 p.m., and Mother and E.F. went to sleep later that night or early the next morning. At some point after A.S. was placed in the bassinet, E.F., by her own account, removed A.S. from the bassinet and placed her in bed with E.F., Mother, and the other children. E.F. fell asleep on top of A.S., suffocating A.S. to death.

Lt. White determined that Mother and E.F. used illegal drugs on the night of A.S.'s death. A.S.'s father informed Lt. White that Mother called him but was too distraught to talk, so another woman talked on Mother's behalf. The woman told A.S.'s father that E.F. was under the influence of speedballs and killed A.S. Blood drawn from E.F. tested positive for amphetamine, methamphetamine, marijuana, and creatine. E.F. later confessed that she and Mother used speedballs on the night that A.S. died, and that the drugs facilitated A.S.'s death.

Shortly after A.S.'s death, the Children's Division requested a drug test of Mother. Mother tested positive for amphetamine, methamphetamine, marijuana, and creatine, the same substances used by E.F. Although the test could not identify the date of Mother's drug use, it confirmed that she used methamphetamine during the week of A.S.'s death. Lt. White confronted Mother about her drug use on the night of A.S.'s death. Mother neither confirmed nor denied using drugs, and instead demurred, "I don't know."


Based on his investigation, Lt. White recommended criminal charges to the prosecutor. Charges against Mother for endangering the welfare of all three children in the home on the night of A.S.'s death were pending at the time of the hearing.

Another witness at the adjudication hearing was a hospital social worker who talked with Mother shortly after the birth of T.D. The social worker testified that Mother admitted that A.S.'s death was caused by a friend who was under the influence and rolled over on A.S. The social worker considered Mother "at risk" due to her previous involvement with children's services. The social worker also had concerns about the behavior of C.D., Mother's paramour. C.D. appeared to be under the influence and "out of it" at the hospital. He was found asleep on the floor and had to be awakened by multiple nurses. Mother informed the social worker that C.D. was on probation for "cutting somebody's brake lines and [a] possible attempted murder charge." The social worker was concerned that Mother was planning to take T.D. home with C.D. Mother also exhibited uncooperative behavior, including covering her head with a blanket and refusing to answer questions.

An Illinois DCFS investigator also testified at the hearing. She responded to the hospital due to reports about the behavior of Mother and C.D. The investigator testified that, upon her arrival, Mother and C.D. were "difficult to engage." Mother was lying on the bed, facing away from the investigator, with a blanket over her head. C.D. was sitting next to the bed on his phone. Mother refused to speak with the investigator. C.D. did not engage with the investigator except to deny that he had been sleeping in the hallway.

After receiving the investigator's report, a DCFS child protective advanced specialist was assigned to T.D.'s case. The specialist testified that, shortly after the birth of T.D., Mother told her she last used methamphetamine in March 2020. Mother admitted to testing positive for


methamphetamine and marijuana at the time of A.S.'s death in April 2020. Mother also admitted that she did not engage in substance abuse treatment or counseling after the death of A.S.

The final witness at the hearing was Kelly McFarland, a Missouri children's service worker. McFarland managed Mother's supervised visitations with T.D. Mother's counsel objected that McFarland was not listed as a witness, the petition lacked any allegation about events occurring after T.D.'s birth, and McFarland's subjective view of the visitations was irrelevant. Counsel for the juvenile officer responded that McFarland had submitted multiple reports and McFarland's testimony was relevant to Mother's ability to care for T.D. The circuit court overruled the objections and allowed the testimony.

Over objection, McFarland testified to her "concerns" about the visitations. During two of the three visitations, Mother failed to bring any supplies or check T.D.'s diaper for changing. The day before the hearing, Mother asked McFarland to feed T.D. because Mother was frustrated, and McFarland had to show Mother how to feed him. McFarland testified that Mother was confused about how to feed T.D. without causing him to choke, despite that T.D. was her...

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