In re Interest of Julia D.

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In re Interest of Julia D.

Caselaw No.
No. A-16-030
Filed on
Tuesday, September 6, 2016

SUMMARY: Diana S. appeals from an order of the separate juvenile court of Douglas County granting an objection to a proposed change of placement for her daughter, Julia D., and striking permanency objectives of reunification and ordering that no further reasonable efforts for reunification be provided to Diana. The Court of Appeals affirms the order of the juvenile court.


Julia was born in December 2014 and removed from Diana’s care upon discharge from the hospital due to concerns of the staff about Diana’s mental health and parental abilities. At three days old, Julia was placed in foster care.


On December 23, 2014, the State filed a petition to adjudicate Julia as lacking proper support, alleging that Diana had been diagnosed with a medical condition that made her unable to provide parental care. A June 18, 2015 adjudication order followed, finding Diana to be within the meaning of § 43-247(3)(a) and stipulating that Julia remain outside of the parental home. Julia’s caseworker identified Diana’s first cousin, Deloris, and her husband (the Collinses) in Washington as a potential placement option.


At an August 13, 2015 disposition hearing, a court report and case plan was put forth by the caseworker. It was reported to the court by the worker that Diana attended 25 out of 46 supervised visits offered to her, often rejected suggestion, and ended visits early. The plan noted further that Diana had not visited Julia since July 27, 2015 and consistently refused to address her mental health obstacles in order to regain custody of Julia. Therefore, the worker recommended that a concurrent adoption plan be accepted by the court. Following the hearing, the court ordered that the permanency objective for Julia was reunification by May 30, 2016 with a concurrent plan of adoption.


In September 2015, the Collinses passed placement background checks and the court granted them supervised visits with Julia. In October 2015, the Collinses were in Nebraska and visited with Julia every day for four hours to get to know her. Future visits were scheduled for November. On October 16, 2015, the ICPC home study on the Collinses was completed and the couple was verbally approved for placement of Julia and her adoption, despite objections from Julia’s GAL to limit contact until the study was reviewed.


An October 2015 Impact from Infancy Snapshot hearing saw the juvenile court enter an order stating that Julia was progressing well in foster placement. It also included that the worker recommended Julia’s permanency objective be changed to adoption because Diana could not be found, but that the ICPC report was still pending.


On November 19, 2015, DHHS filed a notice of change of placement, stating approval of the Collinses ICPC. DHHS sought to place her with the Collinses on December 30, 2015. The court granted the motion. On November 30, 2015, the parties filed a stipulated motion to allow the Collinses unsupervised and overnight visits with Julia prior to placement which was also granted. On December 9, 2015, Diana filed a motion asking the court to allow Julia to leave Nebraska to visit the Collinses in Washington from December 18-25, 2015. This was also granted by the court.


On December 23, 2015, Julia’s GAL filed an objection to the change of placement. On December 24, 2015, the State filed a motion for termination of Diana’s parental rights to Julia.


At the December 29, 2015 hearing for the GAL’s objection, the ICPC report and a report by the GAL was offered to the court. The ICPC report revealed that Deloris Collins has fibromyalgia which largely goes untreated, excluding two days bedridden each month. Deloris claimed that this would not affect care for Julia, but the study noted that her husband leaves the state for business regularly and that an alternate plan would be necessary. The report also included that Deloris has been previously diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and PTSD, which also are untreated with medication but have shown little or no symptoms in a decade. Deloris describes having a “love-hate” relationship with doctors which led to terminating mental health treatment. Her husband also was found to have a list of health problems.


Julia’s GAL reported that her foster placement was going well and all milestones were being met. The GAL commented that Julia’s mother did not prefer placement with relatives over her current foster placement, where she seemed to be thriving. Additional testimony showed that the Collinses largely stayed disconnected from Diana prior to Julia’s birth and that either placement would be satisfactory to Julia’s DHHS worker.


The lower court reviewed that case plan and report and concluded that, since Diana had been largely uncooperative and given the evidence following the GAL objection to placement with the Collinses, Julia’s placement should not be changed from foster care to living with the Collinses. Further, the reunification objective with Diana was struck and the court ordered no further reasonable efforts for reunification be provided to Diana.


Diana subsequently filed this appeal alleging that the juvenile court erred in granting the GAL’s objection to a change of placement to the Collinses and striking reunification as a concurrent permanency objective with no further reunification efforts to be made.


Turning to Diana’s claim that Julia should be placed with relatives, the Court of Appeals notes that, once a child has been adjudicated under § 43-247(3), the juvenile court decides where that child is placed and has broad discretion in doing so. See In re Interest of Karlie D., 283 Neb. 581 (2012). The ultimate concern of the juvenile court is the child’s best interests going forward. Ibid.


To this end, the Court considers informative the fact that Julia has done well with her current foster parents, where she was placed a few days after birth, and that Julia initially showed no issue with Julia’s foster placement. This foster placement is the only home that Julia has ever known and has bonded with her foster parents. The Court finds that, aside from a preference for placement with blood relatives, no other reason is present to remove Julia from her current foster family. While the law and administrative rules give preference to placing children with relatives, the evidence given shows that Julia had no prior relationship with the Collinses prior to the visits beginning in September 2015 and Diana had little contact with Diana during their lives.


As for the ICPC report, the Court finds Deloris’ health concerns to be troubling. Placement with the Collinses would require alternative care plans if Deloris had a symptom flare-up while her husband was out-of-town for work. Also noteworthy is Deloris’ distrust of doctors and therapists and the potential impact this could have on Julia.


As for Diana’s second assignment of error, the Court highlights the difficult history Diana has had in complying with her rehabilitation plan. Since Julia’s birth, Diana has demonstrated no forward progress, disappeared at times over the course of the case, refused to attend evaluations, indicated that she was not interested in participating in services, attended barely half of the supervised visits with Julia, and showed difficulty in the visits she did attend.


Thus, the Court of Appeals affirms the lower juvenile court and finds no merit in either of Diana’s claims challenging placement and the striking of the permanency objective of reunification.