Relative Placement Preference Under ASFA
Erik L. Smith
In re Schaefer, 111 Ohio St.3d 498, 2006-Ohio-5513. Decided October 25, 2006.
The child was born abused and dependent and placed with foster parents when two weeks old. The foster parents had a "foster-to-adopt" license.1Schaefer, at par. 15. No relative named by the parents wanted custody. At that time, the parents did not mention the married, paternal grandfather. When the parents did not satisfy the case plan, a permanent custody hearing was scheduled. The paternal grandfather and his wife learned of the child when she was six months old, visited her monthly for five months, and then moved for custody. The juvenile court considered that placement possibility, but concluded that the child's best interest demanded the child remain in foster care, even though the grandfather and his wife could provide a legally secure placement.2Id., at pars. 20-23. The juvenile court relied strongly on R.C. 2151.414(D)(1), requiring the court consider the child's interactions and relationships with relatives, foster caregivers, and others. The juvenile court granted permanent custody to the agency, concluding that because the child had "developed a very strong bond and attachment with his foster parents," it was "in the child's best interest for permanent custody to be granted so that the placement of the child in the current foster home can be maintained."3Id., at pars. 23 and 56.
The Appellate Court held that the trial court did not properly consider placement with the grandfather, and should have extended temporary custody to let him and his wife keep visiting.4Id., at pars. 28-29. The Appellate Court also considered whether a least restrictive alternate to termination of parental rights should have been considered. I do not deal with that issue. The Appellate Court focused on factor (D)(4) of R.C. 2151.414: "The child's need for a legally secure permanent placement and whether that placement can be achieved without a grant of permanent custody to the agency."5Id., at par. 54, 56.
The Ohio Supreme Court reversed, holding that R.C. 2151.414 did not require the juvenile court to find by clear and convincing evidence that no suitable relative was available for placement. Rather, the statute required weighing all of the statutory factors, without needing to give special weight to any of them.6Id., at par. 63. The juvenile court considered the grandparent placement, but found factor (D)(1), relating to the child's relationship with the foster parents and relatives to be most significant, and that keeping the child with the foster parents would best serve the child's interests.7Id., at par. 56. Moreover, none of the relatives the parents named at the time of the removal wanted custody.8Id., at par. 64. Thus, the juvenile court properly considered all of the R.C. 2151.414(D) factors in determining the child's best interest.9Id., at pars. 64-65.