Highland County’s juvenile court judge has yet to decide a matter of permanent custody in regard to a toddler, who the biological parents haven’t visited since last December.
Judge Kevin Greer heard testimony Tuesday from the child’s parents, the child’s foster mother, and Highland County Children Services staff.
According to the testimony of each of the parents, they left Hillsboro several months ago to be able to make a fresh start. The father is employed, the pair have stable housing, and they have a new baby.
A Children Services caseworker said that the mother and father have made progress on their respective case plans, though the father said he had been unable to fully complete the recommended treatment aspect of his case plan due to insurance issues.
The caseworker also testified as to the drug screens of each parent. In recent months, those have all been clean.
A coordinator with the Children Services Family Advocacy Center, where parents of kids in care can visit with their children in a supervised environment, said that the parents had not been to visit with their child since December.
Each parent testified that transportation was an issue with being able to make the more than two hour journey from where they now live. The father said that when they were still in Hillsboro and he was working, Children Services was unwilling to work around his employment schedule so that he could set up visits.
In an emotional testimony, the father said, “I’ve got all this stress on my head” about what needs to be completed for the case plan, about keeping up with work, and bills. He said that he was trying to do what he needed to do to get his child back.
Both parents testified that getting their child back is what they want.
Appointed to see to the best interests of the child, guardian ad litem J.D. Wagoner pointed out to the mother that she and the child’s father were able to find transportation to leave Hillsboro, first to one place, then to where they live now, and to court on Tuesday.
The mother indicated that those were “emergency situations” where the people helping them were able to assist, but who are unable to assist on a regular basis.
Wagoner asked, “Isn’t maybe losing your (child) an emergency situation?” He added that the parents missed the child’s first Christmas, first birthday, and other firsts.
“You’ve missed everything,” Wagoner said.
According to the testimony of the foster mother, the child has been in her home since a day after the child’s birth in January 2014.
She said the 18-month-old is “very” bonded to her and her husband and their two other children. She said that she and her husband would move to adopt the child should permanent custody be granted.
Prosecutor Anneka Collins asked the court to grant the permanent custody based in part on the child being in the custody of the county for more than a year, as well as the “significant absence” of the parents in the child’s life.
Collins told the court that a “big question” for her should the parents be granted more time to complete their case plans was, “What’s going to change?”
Lee Koogler, representing the father, said he thought his client has “felt overwhelmed” with trying to keep up with case plan requirements and stabilizing his and his family’s life.
Koogler said he agreed that seven months was “an awfully long time” to not see one’s child, but he believed his client thought his priorities were to get done what he needed to so that he could move on to getting the child back.
He asked the court to give the father time to finish what he started so that he could be reunited with his child. Allyce Horne, the mother’s attorney, asked for the same.
Wagoner asked the court to grant the permanent custody, saying that “seven months is inexcusable” for a parent not to see their child when the opportunity is there. He added that the parents have offered “excuse after excuse” on the matter.
He said that what is best for the child is to remain in the same “stable environment” the toddler has been in since birth.
Greer said he intended to deliver a decision in the coming days.
In other hearings, a toddler previously removed from a home by emergency order in June following allegations of abuse has been placed in the temporary custody of Children Services for the next year.
Also, temporary custody of a child born in June has also been granted to the agency for a year.
According to the complaint, the newborn was removed at birth due to the mother testing positive for heroin during the pregnancy, as well as her admitting to using heroin daily.
Reach Angela Shepherd at 937-393-3456, ext. 1681, or on Twitter @wordyshepherd.