This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. ß 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In the Matter of the Welfare of: A.M.B.
Anoka County District Court
File No. JX0051750
Daniel J. Sadowski, Tenth Judicial District Public Defenderís Office, 433 Jackson Street, Anoka, MN 55303 (Child)
Greg King, P.O. Box 25351, Woodbury, MN 55125 (Guardian Ad Litem)
Susan Dredge, P.O. Box 831, So. St. Paul, MN 55075 (Guardian Ad Litem)
††††††††††† Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Foley, Judge.*
U N P U B L I S H E D† O P I N I O N
TOUSSAINT, Chief Judge
Appellant mother A.B. appeals the termination of her parental rights, arguing that there is no evidence in the record to support the juvenile courtís findings that (1) she is a palpably unfit parent; (2) the conditions leading to the order adjudicating A.M.B. as a child in need of protection or services (CHIPS) are unchanged; (3) the county made reasonable efforts to reunite the family; and (4) the termination of A.B.ís parental rights was in A.M.B.ís best interests.† Because there is evidence in the record supporting the juvenile courtís determination that despite the countyís reasonable efforts, the conditions leading to the CHIPS adjudication remained unchanged; and appellant is, and will continue to be, a palpably unfit parent into the reasonably foreseeable future, we affirm.
A.M.B. was born on November 7, 1998 to appellant A.B., a fifteen-year-old, and an unnamed father.† A.B. was living with her daughter A.M.B at A.B.ís motherís home.† A.B.ís parents have provided financially for A.B. and A.M.B., including housing, transportation, medical care, and the like.† A.B.ís mother also provided a substantial amount of care to A.M.B.† According to A.B.ís mother, A.B. at times refused to change A.M.B.ís diapers, did not get up at night to respond to the baby, and called the baby a ďbitchĒ on occasion.
Six months after A.M.B.ís birth, on May 7, 1999, A.B.ís mother voluntarily placed A.B. in foster care.† A.B.ís mother reported that she was afraid of A.B. because A.B. had drawn a knife on her on three different occasions, hit her numerous times, and destroyed property.† The initial plan was for A.B. and A.M.B. to be placed in foster care together.
A.B. was informed of the placement while at school.† She became upset, screamed, shouted, and threatened to kill herself.† Thereafter, A.B. was taken to Mercy Hospital for a mental health assessment.† As a result of A.B.ís behavior, the county reconsidered its decision to place A.M.B. and A.B. in foster care together, a 72 hour hold was placed on A.M.B, and eventually A.M.B. and A.B. were placed in separate foster homes.
††††††††††† On August 18, 1999, A.M.B. was adjudicated a child in need of protection or services and a case plan was begun.† Both A.B. and A.M.B. were each appointed a guardian ad litem.
A.B. received services from PHN, ECFE Home Visiting Program, and the Anoka County Teen Parent Program. While in the programs, it was noted that A.B. expressed affection to A.M.B. in the form of (1) always showing up for her visitations; (2) expressing that she missed A.M.B. when separated from her; and (3) kissing the child while visiting her.† However, it was also noted that A.M.B. did not respond to A.B.ís affection.† The child would oftentimes attempt to pull away from A.B.† Further, it was noted that A.B. interfered with A.M.Bís development by not allowing the A.M.B. to feed herself, requiring A.M.B. to sit on her lap rather than exploring the room, and forcing certain toys upon A.M.B.† A.B. was counseled against engaging in all of these behaviors because they are considered to be detrimental to A.M.B.ís development.
††††††††††† The staff evaluating A.B. in these programs noted that A.B.ís parenting skills did improve.† However, A.B. still responded to A.M.B.ís cues only 25% of the time.† The following incidents were given as examples of A.B.ís inappropriate responses to A.M.B.ís cues: (1) A.B. spent 30 minutes dressing A.M.B. for outside play and then only allowed her to play outside ten minutes, which upset A.M.B.; (2) A.B. continued to restrain A.M.B. when she attempted to pull away from A.B.; (3) A.B. would take food away from A.M.B. and replace it with a remote control if A.M.B. was only picking at her food rather than eating continuously; and (4) A.B. would not respond to A.M.B.ís desire to play.
It was also noted by the skills staff and A.B.ís foster parents that A.B. would become disinterested and physically exhausted after spending four hours with A.M.B.† A.B. would begin making phone calls or express a desire to go home.† Furthermore, while A.B.ís skills initially improved, they regressed again shortly before the termination hearing.† Finally, all of these services were voluntary and terminated by A.B., contrary to recommendations.† Therefore, the skills staff concluded that even after intensive services and training, A.B. was still not adequately skilled to care for A.M.B. on her own.
††††††††††† In addition to receiving skills training, A.B. received psychological care.† A.B.ís mental health history indicates that since 1990, she has been emotionally unstable and exhibits behavioral problems. Evaluations conducted in 1992 reported that A.B. was emotionally unstable, suffering from mood swings and severe depression, but that a diagnosis could not be made because A.B. failed to sufficiently cooperate with the evaluators.†
In 1999, as a part of the CHIPS case plan, A.B. was reevaluated on several occasions.† Each of these evaluations noted that A.B. continued to be uncooperative in conducting the evaluations and that she continued to suffer from mood swings, but that these mood swings now included exhibitions of anger.† Further, A.B. continued to fabricate elaborate stories to the extent that some of the evaluators were concerned that A.B. ďwas disconnected from reality and did not make sense most of the time;Ē that the ďstories are increasingly outrageous in nature;Ē and the ďnumerous remarks [are] suggestive of grandiosity, paranoia, and being out of touch with reality.Ē† Thus, one of the evaluators concluded that her story telling ďwould tend to inhibit [her] ability to function effectively in society.Ē
Because of A.B.ís failure to cooperate with the evaluators, none of the evaluators could establish with a reasonable degree of certainty what problems A.B. was suffering from.† Medication and continued therapy was suggested.† A.B. refused to take medication and expressed a lack of interest in counseling.
††††††††††† On May 24, 2000, the county filed a petition seeking the termination of A.B.ís parental rights to A.M.B.† In addition to reports by the skills staff and the psychological evaluators, the county provided reports by the guardian ad litems who stated that it was in A.B.ís and A.M.B.ís best interests to terminate A.B.ís parental rights because A.B. was unable to care for A.M.B. on her own.
Nothing was submitted to the court that would indicate that A.B. would be able to provide housing, transportation, medical expenses, and other living expenses for herself or A.M.B.† A.B. does not have a high school degree, or a G.E.D.† Further, she did not provide evidence of employment or income.† The county evaluated whether or not a relative could assist with the provision of necessities.† Evaluators ruled out A.B.ís father, an aunt and uncle, finding that these persons were not able to provide the parenting skills necessary for the care of both A.B. and A.M.B.† The evaluators considered the return of A.B. and A.M.B. to A.B.ís motherís household.† While the mother had a history of depression, she had the skills necessary to provide care and necessities.† Nevertheless, the motherís desire to have A.B. and A.M.B. return to her home vacillated.† Finally, there is no biological father providing financial or emotional support.
††††††††††† In support for the petition, the county also provided evidence that A.B. refused to consent to medical treatment for A.M.B.† A.M.B. was suffering from frequent ear infections.† A doctor indicated that tubes should be surgically placed in her ears.† A.B. refused to consent; eventually, the district court ordered the medical treatment.† Presently, A.M.B. has a wart on her toe which needs to be removed before her toenail will be damaged.† A.B. again refused medical treatment.
††††††††††† After reviewing the evidence, the juvenile court made detailed findings of fact and conclusions of law supporting the termination of A.B.ís parental rights to A.M.B. on the basis that A.B. is palpably unfit to be a parent and that the conditions have remained unchanged since the CHIPS adjudication.† No motion for new trial or amended findings was made.† This appeal followed.
††††††††††† "[T]ermination of parental rights is not a preferred action."† In re Welfare of M.G., 407 N.W.2d 118, 120 (Minn. App. 1987).† A presumption exists that a natural parent is a fit and suitable person to be entrusted with the care of his or her child.† In re Welfare of Chosa, 290 N.W.2d 766, 769 (Minn. 1980).† The petitioner must establish at least one statutory basis for termination by clear and convincing evidence.† In re Welfare of S.Z., 547 N.W.2d 886, 893 (Minn. 1996).† The petitioner must show that the conditions justifying termination exist at the time of trial and will continue for an indefinite period of time.† Chosa, 290 N.W.2d at 769.
††††††††††† Here, the juvenile court found it in the best interests of A.M.B. to terminate appellant's parental rights and did so for palpable unfitness and failure to correct conditions leading to determination of need for protection or services.† Minn. Stat. ß 260C.301 subd. 1(b)(4), (5) (2000).† When a motion for new trial is not made, this courtís review is limited to determining whether the district court's findings are clearly erroneous and whether it erred in its conclusions of law.† Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01; Tyroll v. Private Label Chemicals, Inc., 505 N.W.2d 54, 56 (Minn. 1993).
††††††††††† Appellant asserts that there is insufficient evidence in the record to establish a pattern of conduct, which would support a finding that she is palpably unfit to be a parent.† A person may be found a palpably unfit parent
because of a consistent pattern of specific conduct before the child or of specific conditions directly relating to the parent and child relationship either of which are determined by the court to be of a duration or nature that renders the parent unable, for the reasonably foreseeable future, to care appropriately for the ongoing physical, mental, or emotional needs of the child.
Minn. Stat. ß 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4).
The evidence shows that A.B. lacked parenting skills and suffers from psychological disorders that prevent her from taking care of herself, much less a baby.† After a year of intensive services, A.B. is able to play with A.M.B., but skills staff reported that she does not consistently respond to A.M.B.ís developmental, nutritional, and emotional needs.†† The skills staff further reported that A.B. does not demonstrate an understanding of the future developmental needs and stages of A.M.B.
Further, A.B.ís guardian ad litem and a social worker reported that A.B.ís emotional disorders prevent her from being able to provide for, and appropriately respond to A.M.Bís needs in the foreseeable future. Physiological evaluators similarly reported that A.B.ís mood swings interfere with her ability to relate and function appropriately in society which prevented her from having insight into her own needs, much less A.M.B.ís.†
Neither the substance of the foregoing evidence, nor witness credibility is challenged.† Evidence of an inability to comprehend the parenting skills necessary to provide for the needs and development of a child in the present, and as the child grows, is sufficient to support a finding of palpable unfitness.† See, e.g., In re Welfare of M.M.D., 410 N.W.2d 72, 75 (Minn. App. 1987) (finding termination of parental rights justified by testimony of social services counselor and psychologist, that mother's emotional and psychological needs were sufficiently great as to render effective parenting improbable, mother had low probability of ever learning effective parenting skills, and as child matured, mother would find it even more difficult to properly parent her).† In addition, evidence that a parentís mental health prevents them from properly parenting their child is sufficient to support a finding of palpable unfitness.† See, e.g., In re Welfare of J.J.B., 390 N.W.2d 274, 280 (Minn. 1986) (affirming termination of parental rights where mother was suffering from organic personality disorder causing her to experience wide mood swings and to lack insight into her problems, with frequent suicide attempts or threats and numerous hospitalizations).† Because the record contains evidence that appellantís emotional needs and parenting skills prevent her from providing proper care to A.M.B. now and into the reasonably foreseeable future, we cannot say that the juvenile court erred in concluding that appellant is palpably unfit to continue in the parent-child relationship, and that the conditions would continue for a prolonged period of time.
††††††††††† A district court may involuntarily terminate all rights of a parent to a child if it finds:
that following the child's placement out of the home, reasonable efforts, under the direction of the court, have failed to correct the conditions leading to the child's placement. It is presumed that reasonable efforts under this clause have failed upon a showing that:
(i)††††††† In the case of a child under age eight *** the presumption arises when the child has resided out of the parental home under court order for six months unless the parent has maintained regular contact with the child and the parent is complying with the case plan;
(ii)†††††† the court has approved a case plan required under section 260C.212 and filed with the court under section 260C.178;
(iii)†††† conditions leading to the out-of-home placement have not been corrected. It is presumed that conditions leading to a child's out-of-home placement have not been corrected upon a showing that the parent or parents have not substantially complied with the court's orders and a reasonable case plan; and
(iv)††††† reasonable efforts have been made by the social services agency to rehabilitate the parent and reunite the family.
Minn. Stat. ß 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(5) (2000).
††††††††††† A.B. argues (1) that there is no evidence supporting the juvenile courtís determination that the conditions leading to the CHIPS adjudication were unchanged; and (2) if the conditions were unchanged it was a result of the countyís failure to make reasonable efforts to reunite A.B. and A.M.B.
In the August 1999 CHIPS order, the district court concluded that A.M.B. was in need of protection or services because she was a child without proper parental care because of the emotional, mental, or physical disability, or state of immaturity of her parent, A.B.† The county provided A.B. the following services: (1) individual and family counseling; (2) psychological evaluation, including an evaluation for depression and intelligence testing; (3) parent aid services; (4) living skills classes; (5) foster care for A.B. and A.M.B.; (5) visitation with A.M.B.; and (7) a social worker to help A.B. comply with her court order and case plans.† Because the services included skill-based training to which appellant was more receptive, in addition to insight-based training to which appellant responded minimally, the county expended reasonable efforts.† See In re Welfare of S.Z., 547 N.W.2d 886, 892 (Minn. 1996) (providing mental health services constituted "reasonable efforts" toward rehabilitating father where such therapy was necessary for reuniting that particular father and child); In re Welfare of A.R.G.-B., 551 N.W.2d 256, 263 (Minn. App. 1996) (providing services relating to physical environment of home, parents' ability to support children, discipline, nutrition, hygiene, medical attention, competent and appropriate babysitters, and mental health of parents, constituted reasonable efforts).†
Despite these extensive efforts by the county, the record contains evidence that A.B. is still unable to function as a responsible parent.† The reports of the psychological evaluators, a guardian ad litem, and a social worker state that A.B.ís emotional disorders are unchanged and prevent, and will continue to prevent, A.B. from effectively parenting her child.† Furthermore, skills staff reported that appellantís progression with the parenting classes was minimal and even regressed toward the end of training.† Finally, the record also contains evidence that A.B.ís parenting deficiencies will continue into the reasonably foreseeable future.† Skills staff and the guardian ad litems reported that A.B. would not be able to care for A.M.B. on her own and that whole family foster care would be necessary.
Because there is evidence in the record that (1) the county made reasonable efforts to improve A.B.ís ability to parent; (2) A.B.ís parenting skills have remained unchanged since the CHIPS adjudication; and (3) A.B.ís parenting deficiencies will continue into the reasonably foreseeable future, the juvenile court did not err in terminating appellantís parental rights under section 260C.301, subdivision 1(b)(5).
††††††††††† Finally, A.B. contends that the finding that termination of her parental rights is in the best interests of A.M.B. is not supported by the record.† In determining whether termination of parental rights is appropriate, the best interests of the child is the paramount consideration.† J.J.B., 390 N.W.2d at 279.† An order terminating parental rights must explain the district court's rationale for concluding why the termination is in the best interests of the child.† In re Welfare of M.P., 542 N.W.2d 71, 74-75 (Minn. App. 1996).† In deciding whether termination of parental rights is in the best interests of the child, the court must consider (1) the child's interest in preserving the parent-child relationship; (2) the parent's interest in preserving the parent-child relationship; and (3) any competing interests that the child may have such as a need for a stable environment or permanency.† In re Welfare of R.T.B., 492 N.W.2d 1, 4 (Minn. App. 1992).
††††††††††† The district court made detailed findings why terminating A.B.'s parental rights is in the best interests of A.M.B.† Since her birth, A.M.B. has spent 18 of 24 months in foster care.† Several persons reported that if A.B.'s parental rights were not terminated, A.M.B. would have to stay in whole family foster care indefinitely because of A.B.'s emotional instability and inability to care for A.M.B.† Such a result is contrary to public policy.† See also Minn. Stat. ß 260C.201, subd. 11 (2000) (encouraging permanent placement).† See In re Welfare of J.M., 574 N.W.2d 717, 722 (Minn. 1998) (long-term foster care is a highly disfavored disposition for a child under age 12). Furthermore, A.M.B.'s guardian ad litem and A.B.ís guardian ad litem testified that it was in the respective best interests of A.M.B. and A.B. for termination to occur because of their respective needs-- A.M.B.ís need for permanency so that she can develop properly; and A.B.ís need to pursue psychological therapy so that she can obtain mental stability.† Thus, there is evidence in the record supporting the juvenile courtís determination that it is in the best interests of A.M.B. to terminate appellantís parental rights.† Accordingly, we cannot say the juvenile court erred.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, ß 10.