The permanent custody of three siblings is yet to be decided until the judge hears more evidence in regard to a relative whose home study is pending with Highland County Children Services.
According to testimony given Thursday during a hearing in Highland County Juvenile Court, three siblings, ranging in age from 10 years old to 7 years old, have been in the temporary custody of Children Services since September of last year. They have been in the care of a foster family since that time and are doing well. But in the 14 months that have passed, the children have not seen their mother or father.
Walter Curren, a caseworker with Highland County Children Services, testified that since the beginning of the case the mother “has been very hard to contact,” and though he said he attempted contact with her many times, there were months where there was no contact at all because no one knew where she was. The father, Curren said, had been in prison for most of the duration of the case, but Curren had sent information on the case to the prison.
The caseworker also testified that the agency has been unable to find “suitable” family members for the children to be placed with, though a home study of a relative of the father is currently pending. He said he was not certain of the relative’s intentions since they have changed over the course of the case from her talking adoption, to asking about legal custody. He testified that at one point this year she applied for guardianship, but then withdrew it.
The children’s father was present for Thursday’s hearing. He has been in prison since February, the father said, and stands to be released in January 2017. Their mother was not present and according to the children’s foster mother, neither parent has contacted the children or arranged for a visit in the 14 months the children have lived with her. She also told the court that while she was willing to care for the children until there was permanent resolution, she and her husband would not be seeking adoption.
The father testified that he was not involved with the removal of the children from their mother last year, and in fact was unaware that they were even back in her custody. He said he was only contacted by Children Services one time when the children were removed from their mother last September and was unaware of his options in contacting them since then. He said that when he is released in less than two months he intends to go back to his mother’s house, get a job, and get his children back. He also testified that he has two other children that are in the care of others.
He said that if he was unable to gain custody of his children, he wanted them placed with a family member.
Under questioning by Highland County Assistant Prosecutor Molly Bolek, the father testified that he battled drug addiction for the last four years and had not had legal custody of the children since 2013.
Bolek said that “for years” the children had been “in a series of guardianship placement.” She said that at one point the father consented to custody with Children Services, though he said that was when he was using drugs.
Though the father said he had a relationship with the children, was “bonded” with them, he admitted that he did not visit them prior to his being jailed about a year ago.
In closing, Bolek told the court that she believed “both parents clearly have abandoned their children.” She said she believed it was is the best interest of the children to be placed with Children Service so that the agency could seek permanent placement for them as she said the children “deserve stability.”
Denny Kirk, the father’s attorney, asked that the father be given the chance to work with Children Services to reunify with his children. At least, he said, the father’s relative, who the father testified has a good relationship with the children, should be given the opportunity of being the guardian to the children. J.D. Wagoner, the children’s attorney, and Lee Koogler, the mother’s attorney, each agreed that the court at least wait until the relative’s home study has been approved or not.
Allyce Horne, the children’s guardian ad litem (GAL) who is appointed by the court to see to the best interests of the children, said she was the GAL for the children in 2013. “It’s sad they haven’t had a stable home until they were placed with Children Services” 14 months ago. “They deserved to continue to have a stable home,” she said, and asked the court to grant the permanent custody.
Judge Kevin Greer said this case possessed “unusual dynamics” in that the foster parents were not seeking adoption.
He said there was evidence enough to support the granting of permanent custody to the agency, but he feared that if he did so at this time the children might not be able to stay together since a prospective adoptive family might not want all three.
“I don’t want to see the children split up,” Greer said.
While the judge noted the indecisiveness of the father’s relative, he said there would be another hearing on the matter where there could be more evidence presented in regard to the father’s relative and the pending home study.
“This has gone on far too long,” Greer said. “These kids need a permanent, stable home.”
Reach Angela Shepherd at 937-393-3456, ext. 1681, or on Twitter @wordyshepherd.