This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In the Matter of the Welfare of:
T. N. L., T. B. L., and L. N. L., Children.
Mower County District Court
File No. JX9950394
Paul R. Spyhalski, P. O. Box 818, Austin, MN 55912 (for appellant parents)
Patrick A. Oman, Mower County Attorney, Robert W. Auron, Assistant County Attorney, 201 First Street Northeast, Austin, MN 55912 (for respondent county)
Fred Cline, 406 19th Street Southeast, Austin, MN 55912 (guardian ad litem)
Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Anderson, Judge.
Ha Van Le and Kim Oanh Nguyen appeal the termination of their parental rights for failure to correct conditions leading to their three children’s placement in foster care in 1997. Le and Nguyen contend that Mower County’s services were not culturally appropriate and that the termination of their parental rights is not in the children’s best interests. The evidence supports the district court’s findings that Mower County made reasonable and culturally appropriate efforts to rehabilitate the parents and reunite the family, that the parents were unable or unwilling to correct the conditions, and that termination of parental rights is in the children’s best interests. We affirm.
Ha Van Le and Kim Oanh Nguyen are the birth parents of T.N.L. (born 5/5/90), T.B.L. (born 12/4/92), and L.N.L. (born 10/26/95). Mower County first became involved with Nguyen in October 1994, when the county assigned a social worker to the family in response to reports that T.N.L. and T.B.L. were inadequately supervised, inappropriately clothed, and had been knocking on neighbors’ doors asking for food. Nguyen, T.N.L., and T.B.L. had moved to Austin after leaving Vietnam in 1993 and living for a year in Washington D.C. Le left Vietnam in 1994 and joined his family shortly before they left Washington. He followed them to Austin in February 1995. In the initial interviews, Nguyen told Mower County social workers that she moved to Minnesota to escape spousal and child abuse.
From 1994 through 1998, Mower County confirmed repeated reports of Le’s and Nguyen’s abuse and neglect of their children. The county substantiated reports of neglect for failure to supervise the children in December 1996, June 1997, September 1997, and February 1999. The county substantiated allegations of physical abuse of the children in October 1994, September 1995, June 1997, December 1997, and February 1998. Le was charged with fifth-degree assault for two of the abuse incidents.
During those years, the county provided services to assist Le and Nguyen in developing parenting skills. In October 1995, the county referred the family to Alternative Treatment Associates for six weeks of in-home family-therapy services to address parenting issues, health issues, and the family’s interaction with community members and agencies. The family’s primary therapist attempted to learn the Vietnamese language and traditions. To further assist them in developing acceptable parenting skills, the family received in-home counseling services from the Gerard Treatment Program from January 1997 until February 1998. From October 1995 through September 1998, a public health parenting aide was in the home five days a week when the children were present. The parent aide attempted to guide Nguyen and Le in providing supervision, adequate nutrition, and acceptable cleanliness standards. The parent aide’s written reports state that Le and Nguyen did not consistently implement these standards and techniques.
Mower County filed a children-in-need-of-protection-or-services (CHIPS) petition in 1997 after the county determined that Le and Nguyen had repeatedly neglected or physically abused the children. A guardian ad litem was appointed for the children in June 1997.
In April 1998, a psychologist with experience in working with the Asian community, assisted by an interpreter, provided psychological evaluations for Le and Nguyen. The psychologist determined that Nguyen had significant cognitive delays and that, consequently, she would have a great deal of difficulty in parenting effectively without supervision and assistance. He also determined that Le needed both assistance in ongoing anger management and parenting classes to learn to appropriately discipline his children.
In May 1998, the county referred Le to Zumbro Valley Mental Health Center in Rochester for anger-management counseling. The county selected the center because it could offer more comprehensive services for Southeast Asians than providers in Mower County. The counselor determined that Le denied and minimized his angry and abusive behavior toward his children, that Le believed that “his behavior in corporally disciplining his children was [culturally] appropriate,” and that he showed no remorse for harming his wife and children. The center used an interpreter to conduct the counseling, but Le attended only two sessions after the counselor made the adverse determinations.
In November 1998, the county made a final attempt to rehabilitate and reunite the family by recommending that Le and Nguyen attend a structured and intensive parenting program in Rochester called U-Turn. This program also used an interpreter. After six and one-half months, Le and Nguyen’s participation in the program was terminated by mutual decision. The U-Turn staff concluded that Le and Nguyen were making little or no progress in developing acceptable parenting skills. Because the U-Turn program is highly structured and intensive, it is generally viewed as a last resort for reuniting a family.
Despite the county’s extensive provision of services, the children were continuously in foster care from December 1997 until the hearing in November 1999, except for nine days when they were returned to their parents’ home.
The children were initially placed together in the same foster care home. T.N.L. was later moved to a separate home after it was discovered that he was sexually abusing his younger brother. T.B.L. was later scheduled to be moved to a separate home because she was sexually abusing her younger brother. By the time of the hearing, the children had been out of their parents’ home for almost two years.
Following the contested hearing in October 2000, the district court terminated Nguyen’s and Le’s parental rights for each of the three children. Nguyen and Le appeal the district court’s determination that the county’s efforts were reasonable and that the termination of parental rights is in the best interests of the children.
D E C I S I O N
A court may terminate parental rights only for grave and weighty reasons. In re Welfare of M.D.O., 462 N.W.2d 370, 375 (Minn. 1990). On review, an appellate court must consider whether the district court’s “findings address the statutory criteria, whether those findings are supported by substantial evidence, and whether they are clearly erroneous.” In re Welfare of D.D.G., 558 N.W.2d 481, 484 (Minn. 1997) (citation omitted). Although the district court may rely on only one statutory basis to terminate parental rights, that basis must be supported by clear and convincing evidence. Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1 (2000) (previously codified at § 260.221 (1998)); Minn. R. Juv. P. 74.04. The paramount consideration in every termination case must be the child’s best interests. Minn. Stat. §§ 260C.001, subd. 2, 260C.301, subd. 7 (2000).
The district court terminated Le’s and Nguyen’s parental rights on its finding that “following the child[ren]’s placement out of the home, reasonable efforts, under the direction of the court, have failed to correct the conditions leading to the child[ren]’s placement.” Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(5) (2000). Under the Juvenile Court Act, the district court must make findings and conclusions on the social service agency’s reasonable efforts to rehabilitate the parents and reunite the family. Minn. Stat. §§ 260.012(c), 260C.301, subd. 8(1) (2000). The Juvenile Court Act defines reasonable efforts as
the exercise of due diligence by the responsible social services agency to use appropriate and available services to meet the needs of the child and the child’s family in order to prevent removal of the child from the child’s family; or upon removal, services to eliminate the need for removal and reunite the family.
Minn. Stat. § 260.012(b) (2000); see In re Welfare of S.Z., 547 N.W.2d 886, 890 (Minn. 1996) (termination of parental rights requires district court to make findings on county’s reasonable efforts and thus implicates section of the Juvenile Court Act that defines “reasonable efforts”).
In determining whether the county made reasonable efforts, the court must consider whether the services 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). Whether efforts are “reasonable” also “requires consideration of the length of time the county has been involved with the family as well as the quality of effort given.” In re Welfare of M.G., 407 N.W.2d 118, 122 (Minn. App. 1987) (citing In re Welfare of J.J.B., 390 N.W.2d 274, 281 (Minn. 1986)).
The district court made comprehensive findings detailing the county’s extensive efforts over a five-year period to provide Nguyen and Le with counseling and parenting services. The court found that the county had made reasonable efforts, including culturally appropriate efforts, to rehabilitate Nguyen and Le and to reunite the family. During the county’s five-year involvement, the family received in-home counseling services to address parenting issues and health concerns; daily parenting aide services to assist the family on acceptable discipline methods, nutrition, and cleanliness; psychological evaluations; anger-management counseling; a guardian ad litem; foster care placement; supervised visitation; and an intensive and structured parenting program in a final attempt to reunite the family.
These services were relevant to the children’s safety and protection in light of the documented incidents of physical abuse and neglect. The numerous services were tailored to the specific needs of the family, which included recognizing and addressing Nguyen’s limited cognitive abilities and her limited language abilities. No evidence suggests that the services were not consistent, timely, available, or accessible. For example, the county provided transportation for the family to the U-Turn program in Rochester and adjusted the schedule for services according to the family’s work schedules.
The services took into account the family’s Vietnamese culture and Le’s and Nguyen’s primary language. The record indicates that the family’s social worker attempted to schedule an interpreter when possible, sought out the Office of the Asian Ombudsperson to obtain an appropriate psychologist to do an evaluation on Le and Nguyen, contacted a Vietnamese Hennepin County child-protection worker, and sought to obtain information from Vietnamese people or people familiar with the Vietnamese culture. An interpreter was provided and consistently present for the U-Turn program, the psychological evaluations, and court hearings. For the various other services, an interpreter was intermittently present or available. The county also provided an interpreter for some of the in-home counseling sessions on parenting techniques. The guardian ad litem and social worker did not use an interpreter for every meeting, but believed that communication was not a problem and that the family understood them. At times they relied on Le to act as an interpreter for Nguyen. The district court found that Le comprehends and demonstrates a proficiency in English.
The persistent and insoluble problems that the district court listed as uncorrected during the children’s two-year absence from the home were not problems of language but problems of conduct and lack of ability or commitment to change the conduct. The record amply supports the district court’s finding, by clear and convincing evidence, that after the children had been placed in foster care, the county’s reasonable efforts to reunite the family failed to correct the conditions that led to the foster care placement. See Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(5).
Le and Nguyen also challenge the district court’s finding that termination of parental rights was in the best interests of the children. If the district court finds substantial evidence necessary to support termination under the statute, then the court must consider the child’s best interests. See Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subds. 1(b), 7 (paramount consideration in termination case is child’s best interests).
In finding that termination of parental rights was in the best interests of the children, the district court relied on testimony and evidence provided by the service providers, the family’s social worker, the guardian ad litem, and psychologists who evaluated Le, Nguyen, and T.N.L.
The record supports the district court’s findings that T.N.L.’s therapist believed it would be beneficial for T.N.L. to maintain a relationship with his parents; that his therapist has seen a dramatic positive change in T.N.L.’s behavior the longer he has remained in foster care, and a further improvement when separated in foster care from his siblings; and that T.N.L.’s therapist advocates continued contact with Le and Nguyen, but does not believe that it would be in T.N.L.’s best interests to return to his abusive and neglectful family environment.
The record also supports the district court’s finding that the children’s guardian ad litem believed it to be in the best interests of all the children that parental rights be terminated and the children be placed for adoption. The children’s guardian ad litem did not believe that they would be safe in the home. Finally, the family’s social worker repeatedly reported to the district court in reference to the CHIPS files that it would be in the children’s best interests that parental rights be terminated. The social worker noted the history of abuse and neglect, the parents’ unwillingness or inability to progress in their parenting goals, their inability to follow through with the children’s medical needs, and Le’s continuing practice of placing the children at risk by leaving them alone with Nguyen, who is incapable of adequately supervising them.
The record also supports the district court’s extensive findings that Nguyen and Le neglected and abused the children. Le maintained that disciplining the children by hitting them with a stick or other objects was appropriate. Le minimizes the frequency and degree of the physical punishment that he inflicted on the children. And Nguyen and Le have not been able to implement even minimally the parenting skills that they were taught.
By the time of the termination hearing, the county had exhausted its available and reasonable services. None of the service professionals who worked with the family recommended or suggested that it was in the children’s best interests to be returned to the home. The district court’s findings fully support the statutory criteria of failure to correct the conditions requiring the out-of-home placement. The findings are supported by the evidence. The district court did not err in concluding that termination of parental rights was in the best interests of the children.