This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In the Matter of the Welfare of:
C.P.S., D.A.S., and G.D.S. II, Children.
Filed August 15, 2000
Wadena County District Court
File No. J79750171
Soren Paul Petrek, Johnson & Petrek, P.A., P.O. Box 210, Long Prairie, MN 56347-0210 (for appellant mother)
Jonathan A. Edin, Wadena County Attorney, Wadena County Courthouse, 415 South Jefferson Street, Wadena, MN 56482 (for respondent Wadena County Social Services)
Jeffrey D. Pederson, Hansen & Pederson, P.A., P.O. Box 623, Wadena, MN 56482-0623 (for respondent guardian ad litem)
Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge, Davies, Judge, and Peterson, Judge.
The district court ordered permanent placement of three siblings with their maternal grandfather. Appellant mother appeals, claiming the evidence was insufficient to support the permanent placement because: (1) respondent Wadena County had not made “reasonable efforts” to reunify the children with her; and (2) respondent had not undertaken an adequate “relative search” to assess whether a different relative placement would be superior. We affirm.
Appellant sustained permanent brain damage when she was three months old. The injury affects her judgment, vision, attention span, ability to learn, and motor abilities. She is the mother of three children with special needs, C.P.S. (age 5), D.A.S. (age 4), and G.D.S. II (age 2). Appellant and the children’s father have divorced and the father voluntarily terminated his parental rights.
The two eldest children were adjudicated as CHIPS. For the eldest child (C.P.S.), the CHIPS concerns related to his failure to thrive and concerns about the parenting abilities of both appellant and the father. When C.P.S. was placed in foster care to see if he would gain weight, he immediately began to gain weight and thrive. The father, when he left the family home, voluntarily placed the second child (D.A.S.) in foster care and reported that appellant could not adequately care for D.A.S. alone. The youngest child (G.D.S. II) was placed in foster care at birth. For more than two years, all three children have been in foster care with the maternal grandfather and his wife.
In December 1997, respondent Wadena County moved to terminate appellant’s parental rights. The district court denied the 1997 motion, stating that respondent had not worked with appellant to develop her individual parenting skills. In response, appellant was given neuropsychological tests, which showed deficits in motor, perception, and cognitive function, impairments that cause significant difficulty with “functional daily activities such as meal preparation and maintaining household safety.” Dr. Gregory Hague, and later Dr. Wayne Samuelson, evaluated appellant and agreed that she “cannot adequately and safely parent her children without 24-hour supervision in a foster-care setting which is not now contemplated as an appropriate disposition for children under the age of 8 * * * .”
Following this evaluation, respondent offered services, including an in-home worker, public-health care, financial services, day care, counseling, psychological and living-skills assessments, parenting classes, cooking classes, and supervised and unsupervised visitation. She was also given transportation to obtain these services. In October 1999, respondent filed a petition for permanent placement of the three children, stating that, despite the services provided, appellant was not mentally or emotionally prepared to care for the three children.
In addition to the current foster-care placement with the maternal grandfather and his wife, two other couples were considered for permanent placement: (1) the maternal grandmother and her husband; and (2) appellant’s brother and his wife. All three potential placements were evaluated. The individuals under consideration testified at the permanent-placement hearing.
The district court concluded that permanent placement with the maternal grandfather and his wife was in the best interests of the children. In a detailed order, the district court found that the services had not improved appellant’s parenting skills enough to allow her to care for her three “special needs” children. Although the district court criticized some services as directed more at documenting known deficits than at realistic efforts to teach parenting skills, the court concluded that “it cannot be said that [the offered services] were unreasonable given the extent of the effects of [appellant’s] brain injury.”
The district court also found that permanent placement with the maternal grandfather and his wife “serves the children’s best interests more than placement with either of the other two prospective options would.” The court found that the children have a strong attachment to the grandfather and his wife, that their home is the only one the children have known, that the children are attached to their two cousins (who also reside with the maternal grandfather), and that the children have stability and are apparently well-adjusted to the home. But the district court nonetheless criticized respondents for not taking steps to investigate the other placements until two months before trial.
Appellant mother appeals from this permanent-placement order.
In permanent-placement cases, the reviewing court determines “whether the trial court’s findings address the statutory criteria and are supported by ‘substantial evidence or whether they are clearly erroneous.’” In re Welfare of A.R.G.-B., 551 N.W.2d 256, 261 (Minn. App. 1996) (quoting In re Welfare of M.D.O., 462 N.W.2d 370, 375 (Minn. 1990)). The Supreme Court has used the term “substantial evidence” and “clear and convincing evidence” interchangeably in termination-of-parental-rights cases. Id.
Statutory construction is a question of law, which this court reviews de novo. Sorenson v. St. Paul Ramsey Med. Ctr., 457 N.W.2d 188, 190 (Minn. 1990).
Appellant claims that respondent failed in its statutorily mandated responsibility to make “reasonable efforts” to reunify the children with her.
In making a permanent-placement order, the district court must make detailed findings on: (1) how the child’s best interests are served by the order; (2) the nature and extent of the responsible social service agency’s reasonable efforts to reunify the child with the parent; (3) the parent’s ability to use services to correct the conditions that led to out-of-home placement; and (4) whether conditions that led to out-of-home placement have been corrected so that the child can return home. Minn. Stat. § 260C.201, subd. 11(h) (Supp. 1999). Once a child has been removed from the home, “reasonable efforts” means “services to eliminate the need for removal and reunite the family.” Minn. Stat. § 260.012(b) (Supp. 1999). When determining whether reasonable efforts have been made, the court must consider whether services to the child and family were:
(1) relevant to the safety and protection of the child; (2) adequate to meet the needs of the child and family;
(3) culturally appropriate;
(4) available and accessible;
(5) consistent and timely; and
(6) realistic under the circumstances.
Minn. Stat. § 260.012(c) (Supp. 1999).
The detailed findings of the district court support its conclusion that the efforts were reasonable under these circumstances. Both doctors concluded that the effects of appellant’s brain injury are serious and affected judgment, planning, and attention. They concluded that appellant should not be granted custody without 24-hour supervision. The district court specifically found that the offered services, starting in November 1995, were not unreasonable, considering the permanent brain injury and its effects.
In addition, the district court found that all three boys have “special needs,” and appellant cannot even provide for basic needs. The evidence is sufficient to support the conclusion that the efforts to reunify were reasonable.
Appellant also claims that respondent failed adequately to consider placement with appellant’s brother.
When an agency determines that a permanent placement is necessary, the agency must notify relatives that a permanent home is sought and that interested relatives should contact the agency. Minn. Stat. § 260C.212, subd. 5(b) (Supp. 1999).
The notification requirements have been met. The record shows that appellant’s brother had actual notice of the impending permanent placement. Indeed, the brother was evaluated for permanent placement two months before the hearing and testified at the placement hearing.
Although the district court criticized the lateness of this evaluation, the findings show that the court carefully weighed and considered each of the three potential
placements. The evidence was sufficient to support permanent placement with the maternal grandfather.