This opinion will be unpublished and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

C1-01-281

 

 

In the Matter of the Welfare of:
T.C., Child.

 

Filed August 21, 2001

Affirmed

Peterson, Judge

 

 

Freeborn County District Court

File No. J90050476

 

 

Craig S. Nelson, Freeborn County Attorney, Freeborn County Courthouse, 411 South Broadway, Albert Lea, MN† 56007 (for respondent)

 

 

Nancy Beers, 416 Water Street East, Albert Lea, MN† 56007 (guardian ad litem for child)

 

 

Chester D. Swenson, 206 South Washington, P.O. Box 426, Albert Lea, MN† 56007 (for appellant)

 

 

††††††††††† Considered and decided by Harten, Presiding Judge, Kalitowski, Judge, and Peterson, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D†† O P I N I O N

PETERSON, Judge

††††††††††† This appeal is from an order terminating appellant motherís parental rights to her child T.C.† We affirm.


FACTS

Appellant Toy Mehus is the mother of T.C., who was born on August 14, 1992.† T.C. is a special-needs child who has been diagnosed with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome,[1] Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, possible behavior disorder, and mild mental retardation.† Mother reads at a sixth grade level and suffers from dysthemia, a borderline personality disorder, chemical dependency, and mild mental retardation.†

††††††††††† In early 2000, mother contacted the Freeborn County Department of Human Services requesting assistance with T.C.† Mother then opened a social-services case for T.C. as a young person with developmental disabilities.† The county offered services that included case management, respite care, in-home support, transportation, and parenting information.† Mother declined parenting information.

In February 2000, social worker Jill Petersen met with mother a number of times to introduce respite-care providers, develop a respite-care schedule, and discuss complaints the county had received about motherís chemical use.† On February 25, while visiting mother at home, Petersen believed that mother was intoxicated because she was slurring her words and there was a case of empty beer bottles in the kitchen.

On March 7, 2000, mother contacted the police and reported that she could not cope with taking care of her daughter.† As a result, T.C. was placed on a 72-hour police hold and placed in a foster home.† Mother was to meet with Petersen on March 8 to discuss options for T.C., but she instead left clothing for T.C. along with a note saying that she would be out of town for five days.† On March 10, 2000, a child in need of protection or services petition was initiated, and on March 16, mother admitted the need for the petition.†

In a March 23, 2000, disposition order and a June 21, 2000, supplemental disposition order, the court adopted a treatment plan to correct the conditions that led to the finding that T.C. was in need of protection or services.† The treatment plan required that mother: (1) attend individual counseling and continue with medical appointments; (2) attend all scheduled visitations; (3) continue on her medication for depression and continue with therapy and follow all recommendations; (4) remain employed; (5) comply with all requirements of her probation; (6) remain sober and continue with the treatment program requirements; (7) maintain appropriate housing for her and her children and obtain phone service in her home; (8) keep all scheduled appointments with service providers and assigned social workers; and (9) sign all necessary release-of-information forms.†

In a December 22, 2000, order, the district court terminated motherís parental rights.† The district court concluded that there was clear and convincing evidence that: (1) mother is palpably unfit to be a party to the parent and child relationship; (2) following a determination of the childís need for protection or services, reasonable efforts, under the direction of the court, failed to correct the conditions leading to the determination; (3) the conditions that lead to the adjudication had not changed; and (4) it is in the best interests of the child that motherís parental rights be terminated.

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).†

The appellate court must determine whether the trial courtís findings address the statutory criteria, whether those findings are supported by substantial evidence, and whether those findings are clearly erroneous.† The childís best interests, however, remain the paramount consideration in every termination case.

 

Id.(citations omitted).

Although some deference is given to the district courtís findings, a reviewing court exercises great caution and closely inquires into the sufficiency of the evidence when determining whether it is clear and convincing.† In re Welfare of A.H., 402 N.W.2d 598, 603 (Minn. App. 1987).†

I.††††††††† Statutory Requirements

The legislature has established grounds for involuntary termination of parental rights.† See Minn. Stat. ß 260C.301, subd. 1(b) (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).† Also, 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).†

††††††††††† Mother argues that the county did not prove by clear and convincing evidence that she was palpably unfit to have a parental relationship with T.C.† One is palpably unfit to be a party to the parent and child relationship where there is

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); see, e.g., In re Welfare of S.R.A., 527 N.W.2d 835, 838 (Minn. App. 1995) (parent who was unable to conquer chemical addiction and had a history of domestic abuse was palpably unfit), review denied (Minn. Mar. 29, 1995); In re Welfare of J.D.L., 522 N.W.2d 364, 367-69 (Minn. App. 1994) (parent who canceled visitation, showed inadequate parenting skills, and failed to offer plans to change behavior was palpably unfit); In re Welfare of R.T.B., 492 N.W.2d 1, 3 (Minn. App. 1992) (parentís alcohol and drug abuse, incarceration, and failure to maintain a relationship with the child rendered parent palpably unfit); and In re Welfare of E.L.H., 356 N.W.2d 795, 797 (Minn. App. 1984) (parent who rejected countyís efforts to help overcome drinking, who quit going to chemical dependency counseling, and who never established a home suitable for the child or contributed to the childís support was palpably unfit).

The district court found that mother was mildly mentally retarded with chemical-dependency issues.† Mental illness, by itself, is not a sufficient basis for terminating parental rights; in each case, the actual conduct of the parent is evaluated to determine the parentís fitness to maintain a parental relationship with the child in question so as not to be detrimental to the child.† Matter of Welfare of S.Z., 547 N.W.2d 886, 893-94 (Minn. 1996).† If the impact of such problems on the parent-child relationship renders a parent unable to care for the childís ongoing physical, mental, or emotional needs for the foreseeable future, the statutory requirement may be met. Welfare of Kidd, 261 N.W.2d 833, 836 (Minn. 1978); In re Welfare of D.I., 413 N.W.2d 560, 565 (Minn. App. 1987).

Social workers and psychologists testified that T.C.ís needs are so great that motherís limitations prevent her from ever being able to care for T.C. without significant assistance.† Dr. Vernon Lewis, a psychologist who completed a parenting assessment of mother, testified that a person with the same diagnoses as mother could parent on a basic level, but mother did not demonstrate the competence to independently parent a child with T.C.ís emotional and behavioral problems.

††††††††††† We conclude that the record contains clear and convincing evidence that mother is unable to learn effective parenting skills and is unable to provide proper care for T.C. now and into the reasonably foreseeable future.† The record supports the district courtís conclusion that mother is palpably unfit to be a party to the parent-child relationship.

Mother argues that because she was not given enough time to correct all the issues identified in the treatment plan, reasonable efforts were not made to reunify the family.† A district court may involuntarily terminate all rights of a parent to a child if it finds:

††††††††††† that following the childís placement out of the home, reasonable efforts, under the direction of the court, have failed to correct the conditions leading to the childís placement.† It is presumed that reasonable efforts under this clause have failed upon a showing that:

††††††††††† * * * *

(iii)†††† * * * the parent or parents have not substantially complied with the courtís 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).

 

††††††††††† The June 21, 2000, disposition order required mother to attend all scheduled visitations; continue on her medications and continue therapy and follow all recommendations; remain employed; comply with the requirements of her probation; remain sober and continue with the treatment program requirements; obtain phone service; maintain appropriate housing; keep all appointments with service providers and social workers; sign all release-of-information forms; and participate in family counseling. The district court found that mother ďattempted but failed to comply with elements of the court-ordered treatment plan.Ē

There was testimony that mother failed to comply with several elements of the treatment plan.† T.C.ís foster mother testified that mother missed scheduled visitations.† Judith Popp-Anderson, motherís therapist, testified that mother had not kept an appointment since August 2000.† Mother admitted that she went off her medication as recently as the week before trial, that she was unemployed, that she was evicted from her apartment in Albert Lea and was residing with her mother in Austin, Minnesota, and that she never obtained telephone services as required.† Mother also admitted to drinking for a couple weeks in September in violation of conditions of her probation.† Mother testified that she completed inpatient treatment, but did not continue with the aftercare.

It is evident from the district courtís order that the decision to terminate motherís parental rights was not based on a determination that mother had not corrected every issue identified in her treatment plan; it was based on a determination that she had not corrected most of the identified issues.† Mother had 160 days to comply with the disposition order.† During that time, she made progress toward complying with only a couple of the identified issues.† Given this limited progress during the more than five months that the treatment plan was in place, the failure to give mother additional time does not demonstrate that the efforts made to reunify the family were not reasonable.

II.†††††††† Best Interests of the Child

††††††††††† The district courtís findings must address whether termination is in the childís best interests and explain the courtís rationale.† In re Welfare of M.P., 542 N.W.2d 71, 75 (Minn. App. 1996).

††††††††††† Mother argues that the district courtís findings do not support its conclusion that termination of her parental rights is in the childís best interests.† She contends that because T.C. requires nurturing and love, and because there was evidence that she behaved in a caring way, termination is not in the childís best interests.

As evidence that termination is in the childís best interests the district court cited increases in T.C.ís self-destructive behavior after visitation with mother while in foster care and the significant deterioration in T.C.ís behavior upon returning from visitation in motherís home.† The court also relied on testimony by T.C.ís therapists, who believed that it would be in the best interests of the child to terminate the relationship with mother because of motherís inability to learn the parenting skills necessary to meet T.C.ís significant needs.

The district courtís findings are not clearly erroneous, and they support the conclusion that termination is in the best interests of the child.

III.†††††† Qualified Expert Testimony

††††††††††† Mother argues for the first time on appeal that the district court relied on testimony of various psychologists and social workers who were not properly qualified as experts. Mother did not object to the qualifications of the experts during the trial, and her motion for a new trial did not address the expertsí qualifications.† Because this issue was not addressed by the district court, we will not address it on appeal.† See Thiele v. Stich, 425 N.W.2d 580, 582 (Minn. 1988) (appellate court addresses only claims presented to and decided by district court); see In re Welfare of D.D.G., 558 N.W.2d 481, 485 (Minn. 1997) (noting gravity of termination proceedings insufficient reason to abandon established rules of appellate practice).

††††††††††† Affirmed.

 



[1] Cornelia de Lange Syndrome is a genetic condition that causes mental subnormality, hyperactivity, and destructive behavior.