This opinion will be unpublished and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

C7-00-2090

 

 

In the Matter of the Welfare of:  P.M.P., Child

 

and

 

In the Matter of the Welfare of:  J.J., and N.J., Children.

 

Filed June 5, 2001

Affirmed

Huspeni, Judge*

 

Rice County District Court

File No. JX0050326

 

 

John L. Fossum, Fossum & Zrimsek, L.L.P., 18 Bridge Square, P.O. Box 840, Northfield, MN 55057 (for appellant mother)

 

Stephen R. Ecker, 302 1st Avenue NW, Faribault, MN 55021 (for respondents J.J. and N.J.)

 

G. Paul Beaumaster, Rice County Attorney, Meredith A. Erickson, Assistant County Attorney, 218 N.W. Third Street, Faribault, MN 55021 (for Rice County)

 

Kathleen Glewwe, GAL Inc., P.O. Box 831, South St. Paul, MN 55075 (guardian ad litem)

 

Leland Jacobs, P.O. Box 4532, St. Paul, MN 55104-4532 (father pro se)

 

 

 

            Considered and decided by Amundson, Presiding Judge, Foley, Judge,* and Huspeni, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

HUSPENI, Judge

In challenging termination of her parental rights, appellant alleges that (a) she has psychological problems and limited funds and, therefore, the district court erred in finding that she has refused to comply with the duties imposed by the parent-child relationship, (b) the record does not support a determination that she is a palpably unfit parent because her prior mistakes in caring for the children have been corrected, (c) the failure of efforts to correct her parenting deficiencies is excused because the county failed to make reasonable efforts to correct the mother’s deficiencies, and (d) termination is not in the children’s best interests.  Because the decision of the trial court is supported by clear and convincing evidence in the record, we affirm.

FACTS

            Appellant Machell Jacobs is the mother of  J.J., N.J., and P.M.P.  Leland Jacobs is the father of J.J. and N.J., but not of P.M.P.  The father of P.M.P. is unknown.  Pursuant to the decree dissolving the marriage of appellant and Jacobs, appellant was granted sole physical custody of J.J. and N.J.; Jacobs had liberal visitation rights.  Appellant has been diagnosed as mildly mentally retarded and is receiving social security disability payments because of her condition.

In December 1997, Northfield Law Enforcement received a child protection report, alleging that appellant had called Jacobs saying that “she went off on the children and he needed to come and get them.”  Pursuant to this report, Rice County social services investigated the incident.  A social services worker noticed that N.J. had light bruising on his right buttocks and that J.J.’s teeth were beginning to rot.  Appellant admitted to one social worker that she had hit her children.  The county determined maltreatment and opened a child protection case for ongoing services.  The county also continued Developmental Disability (DD) assistance, Public Health Nursing, and Parent Aid assistance to appellant.  Additionally, the county initiated respite care services in the form of daycare and overnight as needed.

In March 1998, a mandated reporter at J.J.’s school filed an abuse report with Rice County, alleging abuse of J.J. by appellant.  The report stated that J.J. had a red, swollen right hand and that J.J. told the reporter that appellant hit him with a spoon.  The county placed the three children on a 72-hour police hold.  The following day, N.J.’s wrist also appeared bruised, and N.J. told a social services worker that “Mom hit me with a spoon.”  The county determined that maltreatment had occurred and that protective services were needed.  Following this incident, the county filed a Child in Need of Protection and Services (CHIPS) petition against appellant and Leland Jacobs, alleging that:

The children were in need of protection or services because they had been victims of physical abuse and that they were without proper care because of the emotional, mental, or physical disability or state of immaturity of the parent.

 

At a May 14, 1998 hearing, both appellant and Jacobs admitted that their children were in need of protection and services.  The county removed the children from appellant’s care and placed them in foster care.

While in foster care, the county became aware of other problems involving the children.  The foster mother noticed that the children were extremely thin, their rib cages were visible from their backs and sides, and their stomachs were protruding.  Additionally, all three boys exhibited sexual behavior while in foster care.  The foster mother testified that she had never seen such aggressive sexual play among siblings.  The children could not be bathed together or clothed at the same time because they would fondle each other’s genitals.  The children were taken for psychological evaluation, but no conclusive determination was made as to whether the children were ever sexually abused.

The county twice attempted unsupervised visitation between appellant and her children, the first occurring in September 1998.  Appellant had frequent visits with her children in October, November, and December.  However, in January 1999, supervised visitation resumed when social services noticed increased aggressive behaviors in the children.  In March 1999, the county again attempted unsupervised visitation, with the goal of reunifying the family in September 1999.  Reunification was never accomplished, however, and the county ended unsupervised visitation in either October or November 1999.

In February 1999, the county attempted to arrange in-family foster care for appellant and the children.  The county investigated at least three homes, but there was not a successful placement. 

In July 1999, the county obtained a waivered services[1] grant, and services commenced in October 1999.  These services were specifically tailored to appellant’s developmental disability.

In August 1999, the county filed another abuse report, alleging that appellant hit N.J. with a belt.  Following an investigation of this report, the county again determined maltreatment.

By order filed November 3, 2000, the district court terminated appellant’s parental rights to J.J., N.J., and P.M.P.  The order also terminated Leland Jacobs’s rights to J.J. and N.J.  Appellant now appeals, claiming that the district court’s decision was not supported by substantial evidence.  Though an appeal was never filed, Leland Jacobs also challenges the district court’s termination of his rights in a respondent’s brief.[2]

D E C I S I O N

“Parental rights are terminated only for grave and weighty reasons.”  In re Welfare of M.D.O., 462 N.W.2d 370, 375 (Minn. 1990) (citation omitted).  There is a presumption that the natural parent is suitable to be entrusted with the care of his or her child and that it is in the child’s best interests to be in the natural parent’s care.  In re Welfare of Clausen, 289 N.W.2d 153, 156 (Minn. 1980). 

            The legislature has established nine criteria that support termination of parental rights.  See Minn. Stat. § 260C.301 (2000).  The party petitioning for termination must prove one or more of the statutory grounds by clear and convincing evidence.  In re Welfare of J.S., 470 N.W.2d 697, 701 (Minn. App. 1991), review denied (Minn. July 24, 1991).  A district court must make “clear and specific” findings that conform to the statutory requirements.  In re Welfare of Chosa, 290 N.W.2d 766, 769 (Minn. 1980).

            On review, we determine whether the district court’s termination findings address the statutory criteria, whether the findings are supported by substantial evidence, and whether the findings are clearly erroneous.  Id.  Although some deference is given to the district court’s findings, we exercise great caution and closely inquire into the sufficiency of the evidence when determining whether it is clear and convincing.  See In re Welfare of A.H., 402 N.W.2d 598, 603 (Minn. App. 1987).

            Here, the district court terminated appellant’s parental rights based on Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(2) (“substantially, continuously, or repeatedly refus[ing] or neglect[ing] to comply with the duties imposed upon [the] parent by the parent and child relationship”), subd. 1(b)(4) (“[the] parent is palpably unfit to be a party to the parent and child relationship.”), and subd. 1(b)(5) (“reasonable efforts, under the direction of the court, have failed to correct the conditions leading to the child’s placement”).

1.         Compliance of Duties Imposed in the Parent and Child Relationship

Appellant argues that the district court inappropriately based its determination of this factor on her developmental disability and her financial status.  We disagree.

A parent’s rights may be terminated for failure to comply with the duties imposed in the parent and child relationship if the parent fails to provide

the child with necessary food, clothing, shelter, education, and other care and control necessary for the child’s physical, mental or emotional health and development, if the parent is physically and financially able, and either reasonable efforts by the social services agency have failed to correct the conditions that formed the basis of the petition or reasonable efforts would be futile and therefore unreasonable[.]

 

Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(2).

 

Testimony of a public health nurse revealed that appellant would give her children medicine improperly and would often fail to administer the proper dosage of penicillin for her children’s many infections.  She also refused to administer prescribed Ritalin to her children.  Appellant would not take her children to the doctor and refused to take them for dental care, despite evidence that their teeth were rotting.  The county attempted to address these issues, by providing appellant with calendar notes, public nurse visits, and parent aid assistance.  None of these services improved appellant’s parenting skills.

           Moreover, the county had a continuing concern that appellant would not modify her inappropriate discipline of her children if she was left unsupervised.  In December 1999, appellant informed a team of social workers that she would not change her methods of discipline.

Because there is substantial evidence in the record that appellant was unwilling to provide her children with proper nutrition and medical care, as well as evidence that appellant would continue to inappropriately discipline her children, the trial court did not err in finding appellant is unable to comply with the duties imposed on the parent and child relationship.

2.         Palpably Unfit

 

            The trial court concluded that appellant was

palpably unfit to be a party to the parent and child relationship because of a specific condition directly relating to the parent child relationship which is of a duration or nature that renders a parent unable, for the reasonably foreseeable future, to care appropriately, for the ongoing physical, mental, or emotional needs of the children.

 

Because the district court’s findings addressed the statutory criteria, we must determine whether the findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether they were clearly erroneous.  M.D.O., 462 N.W.2d at 375.

While mental disability standing alone does not render a parent palpably unfit, if the impact of that condition on the parent-child relationship renders a parent unable to care for ongoing physical, mental, or emotional needs, for the unforeseeable future, the statutory requirement may be met.  In re Welfare of D.I., 413 N.W.2d 560, 565 (Minn. App. 1987); In re Welfare of Kidd, 261 N.W.2d 833, 836 (Minn. 1978).

The record shows that appellant lacks parenting skills and suffers from developmental disabilities that prevent her from taking care of her children and understanding appropriate discipline techniques.  More than two years of intensive services were provided to appellant.  Those services were unsuccessful.  The guardian ad litem and social service workers testified that appellant’s parenting skills had not improved since December 1997.  In addition, as noted earlier, the record reveals that appellant has difficulty providing proper nutrition for her children and refuses to properly administer her children’s prescription medication.

            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).  In addition, evidence that a parent’s mental health prevents them from properly parenting their child is sufficient to support a finding of palpable unfitness.  See In re Welfare of N.C.K., 411 N.W.2d 577, 580 (Minn. App. 1987) (holding that mental health condition could support termination if it renders the parent unable to recognize a child’s needs and limitations or to perform the “mechanical functions of a parent”).

We have no doubt that appellant loves her children and wishes to continue in a parental relationship with them.  The record, however, contains evidence that appellant is unable to learn proper parenting skills and is unable to provide proper care for her children now and into the reasonably foreseeable future.  The district court did not err 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.

3.         Failure of Reasonable Efforts

 

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:

 

* * * *

 

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

 

* * * *

 

reasonable efforts have been made by the social services agency to rehabilitate the parent and reunite the family.

 

Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(5).

 

            Appellant argues that reasonable efforts were not made to reunify the family because the services provided did not specifically address her African American culture.  The county provided appellant the following services:  (1) family counseling, (2) parent aid services, (3) supported living services, which included a parenting component, job rehabilitation, money management, nutrition education, and transportation services, (4) respite care, (5) foster care for J.J., N.J., and P.M.P., (6) visitation with J.J., N.J., and P.M.P., and (7) waivered services. 

The county offered appellant family foster care; a service she initially rejected.  When appellant eventually consented to the possibility of family foster care, the county investigated three homes for placement of appellant and the children.  The first was the foster home where the children were initially placed.  Appellant and the county agreed that this would not be a good placement, due to the fact that the “boys would listen [to the foster mother] much more than they would listen to [appellant].”  The second home was an African American home in St. Paul.  After visiting the home, all agreed that it was not a good home for the family.  The third home declined to participate due to the over-sexualized behaviors of the children.  County social workers testified that all resources were exhausted in that area.

The county did not provide direct services to appellant to address her literacy issues.  Rather, testimony indicated that the service providers adjusted the manner in which they worked with appellant to accommodate the fact she was illiterate.  The county provided appellant with many videos on positive parenting, and read to appellant any handouts that were given to her.

Appellant argues that the county should have been more sensitive to her African American culture.  But the record reveals that appellant rejected the offer to address her African American cultural needs.  Stacey Knutson, a social worker assigned to the Jacobs family, testified as follows:

I asked [appellant] if there were any services that she needed that weren’t offered to her.  [She] replied, a direct quote, “Everything I think I’ve needed has been offered to me.”  And then [she] also stated that she believed that Rice County Social Services has looked close enough at her African American heritage needs, and she disagreed with her attorney when he said that Rice County Social Services hasn’t met her cultural needs.

 

While the county did not specifically address appellant’s literacy issues or tailor its services to her racial identity, we conclude that the county’s efforts were more than sufficient to constitute “reasonable efforts.”  See 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).

4.         Best Interests of the Children

Appellant also contends that termination of her parental rights is not in the best interests of J.J., N.J., and P.M.P.  In determining whether termination of parental rights is appropriate, the best interest of the child is the paramount consideration.  In re Welfare of J.J.B., 390 N.W.2d 274, 279 (Minn. 1986).  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).

Here, the county recognizes, as do we, that appellant loves her children and has an interest in preserving her relationship with them.  Testimony from various witnesses shows, however, that these children require consistency, discipline, and control.  The district court concluded, and we agree, that appellant was unable to provide this type of environment for her children.  The guardian ad litem testified that an adoptive home could be found for the children.  We believe that extraordinary efforts were made to improve appellant’s parenting skills.  There was a lack of progress by appellant.  We conclude that the district court did not err in determining that termination of appellant’s parental rights is in the best interests of her children.

            Affirmed.



*  Retired judges of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.

 

[1]  Waivered services “[is] a supportive program for adults with developmental disabilities, to assist them in their daily living.” 

 

[2]  This court has determined that Leland Jacobs is not a proper party to this appeal, because he failed to file a timely appeal of the November 3 order.  In re Welfare of P.M.P., No. C7-00-2090 (Minn. App. Apr. 16, 2001).  See Minn. Stat. § 260C.415, subd. 1 (2000) (stating that an appeal shall be taken within 30 days of the filing of the appealable order).  In the same order, this court further determined that Leland Jacobs is not a true respondent in this appeal, because he seeks reversal of the November 3 order and has not taken a position adverse to appellant’s position.  Accordingly, this court struck Leland Jacobs’s brief, and we do not determine the merits of his arguments.  However, at oral argument, as an accommodation to Mr. Jacobs, this court allowed him to make a brief statement to the court.