This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In the Matter of
the Welfare of the Child of: W.S.
Filed October 9, 2001
Marshall County District Court
File No. J0-00-50097, J8-99-50020
Donna K. Dixon, 116 North Main Street, P. O. Box F, Warroad, MN 56763 (for appellant mother)
Michael D. Williams, Marshall County Attorney, P. O. Box 159, Warren, MN 56762 (for respondent Marshall County Social Services)
Considered and decided by Toussaint, Presiding Chief Judge, Randall, Judge, and Kalitowski, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
R. A. RANDALL, Judge
Appellant-mother challenges the district court's order that permanently placed her child with a foster family. Appellant alleges that (1) the county failed to make reasonable efforts to reunite her and her child, and (2) it was not in the child's best interests to be placed with the foster family. We affirm.
B.A., the child of appellant W.S., was born in 1991. Throughout her life, B.A. has been sexually molested by several men. In 1994, Roseau County became involved with the family due to allegations that B.A.'s father had molested her. B.A.'s father was later convicted of criminal sexual conduct. B.A. and W.S. entered counseling, and W.S. agreed to a parenting and placement plan. While B.A.'s father was in prison, W.S. began living with another man. In January 1995, the other man admitted he had touched B.A. between her legs. Later that year, the district court granted Roseau County protective supervision of B.A. for one year, ordered that the father only be granted supervised visits with B.A., and required W.S. to continue counseling. Between 1994 and 1996, W.S., failed to show up for over half of her individual counseling sessions. In 1997, W.S. allowed an unsupervised visit between B.A. and B.A.'s father. B.A.'s father was drunk at the time and, during the visit, B.A. was also molested by her step-grandfather, who was later charged and convicted for his acts. In November 1997, W.S. agreed to a child protection services plan with Roseau County. She received in-home counseling, but this counseling was discontinued because the counselor moved from the area.
In October 1998, W.S. moved to the Red Lake Indian Reservation where she began living with her boyfriend, G.M., and voluntarily placed B.A. with relatives. Because of this voluntary placement, the case was transferred to respondent Marshall County Social Services (the county). In late 1999, the relatives requested removal of B.A. from their home because she had acted out sexually with another child living in the home. The district court transferred custody of B.A. to the county, and she was placed with her current foster family, who are also related to B.A. W.S. entered into two out-of-home placement plan agreements with the county in an attempt to reunify mother and child. W.S. was required to take steps to ensure she could provide B.A. with a safe, nurturing home that was free from violence and substance abuse. During the time B.A. was out of the home, W.S. visited B.A. only intermittently and took few steps to meet the goals of the placement plan agreements.
In November 2000, the county petitioned the district court to place B.A. permanently with her relatives. The court granted the county's request, finding that it was in B.A.'s best interests. The court later amended its order and granted permanent legal and physical custody of B.A. to her relatives family. This appeal follows.
D E C I S I O N
The district court must conduct a hearing to determine a child's permanent status no later than 12 months after the child is placed out of the parent's home. Minn. Stat. § 260C.201, subd. 11(a) (2000). If a county does not recommend reunification, it must petition the court to order permanent placement of the child. Minn. Stat. § 260C.201, subd. 11(b) (2000). If the court decides not to return the child home, it must order one of the dispositions listed in the governing statute, which includes permanently placing the child in the custody of a relative if that decision is in the child's best interests. Minn. Stat. § 260C.201, subd. 11(e)(1). "[T]he county must prove the allegations of the petition for permanent placement by clear and convincing evidence." In re Welfare of A.R.G.-B., 551 N.W.2d 256, 261 (Minn. App. 1996) (citation omitted). To determine the appropriate permanent placement option, the court
must be governed by the best interests of the child, including a review of the relationship between the child and relatives and the child and other important persons with whom the child has resided or had significant contact.
Minn. Stat. § 260C.201, subd. 11(f).
On appeal, a reviewing court must determine whether the district court's "findings address the statutory criteria and are supported by substantial evidence, or whether they are clearly erroneous." A.R.G.-B., 551 N.W.2d at 261 (quotation omitted). A reviewing court must view the evidence and its reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the prevailing party. Id.
W.S. argues that the county failed in its statutorily mandated responsibility to make reasonable efforts to reunify B.A. with her, by failing to provide services that would help her meet the goals of the out-of-home placement plans. We disagree.
Once a child has been removed from the home, "reasonable efforts" means the county must exercise due diligence
to use appropriate and available services to meet the needs of the child and the child's family in order to * * * eliminate the need for removal and reunite the family.
Minn. Stat. § 260.012(b) (2000). When determining whether the county made reasonable efforts, the district 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).
The second out-of-home placement plan, effective June 2000 through December 2000, outlined four goals for providing B.A. with a safe and permanent home environment:
1. B.A. will be maintained in a stable safe environment,
2. B.A. will not engage in any sexual activity,
3. B.A. will maintain regular school attendance, and
4. W.S. must be in a stable, safe environment.
These goals were essentially the same as the first placement plan. Because B.A. was living with her current foster family at the time, goals two and three were not within W.S.'s control. Goals one and four addressed the type of environment W.S. should provide for B.A. and herself when B.A. visited W.S. in her home, and, ultimately, if B.A. was returned to W.S.'s home permanently. Specifically, the county was concerned about W.S.'s history of getting involved with abusive men, including her current fiancé, G.M.; the effect of seeing W.S. abused by men had on B.A.; G.M.'s use of chemicals around B.A.; and the importance of ensuring that B.A. would not be abused sexually by W.S.'s future partners. In addition to these goals, W.S. was to visit B.A. twice each month.
To help W.S. meet these goals, the county asked W.S. to participate in services from a violence intervention project (VIP) agency to help W.S. recognize what constitutes a healthy, non-abusive relationship and to build her self-esteem. The county provided W.S. with the name and address of a VIP agency in Roseau County, but W.S. did not follow through with the information. The county also provided a safe place for W.S. to visit B.A. after it determined that W.S.'s home was no longer safe for B.A. The county made this determination after the county discovered that G.M. was smoking marijuana on one visit and had consumed alcohol, abused W.S., and hit B.A. with a plastic bat on another visit. But W.S. only visited B.A. approximately once per month since the second placement plan took effect. The county also met with W.S. once per month to discuss her progress toward meeting the placement plan goals. Further, the record shows that Roseau County had offered W.S. in-home services and individual counseling, yet she failed to follow through with over half of these individual sessions.
Given these facts, the district court properly found that the county made reasonable efforts to help reunify mother and child. The county requested that W.S. participate in a VIP agency program and followed through with that request by providing the name of an agency and continually asking if W.S. had contacted the agency, provided a safe place for W.S. to visit B.A., met with W.S. once per month to review her progress, and ensure that B.A. received individual counseling to help her deal with her past sexual abuse. The district court's findings on this issue are supported by the evidence.
II. B.A.'s Best Interests
W.S. argues that the conditions that led to the out-of-home placement had been corrected so the district court erred by finding that it was in B.A.'s best interests to be placed permanently with her relatives.
In making a permanent placement decision, 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 * * * efforts and ability to use services to correct the conditions which led to the out-of-home placement; and
(4) whether the conditions which led to the out-of-home placement have been corrected so that the child can return home.
Minn. Stat. § 260C.201, subd. 11(h).
The record reflects that B.A.'s problems have significantly improved since living with relatives. She no longer hoards food or wets the bed, she is happy and well adjusted, and is successful in school. On the other hand, W.S. has a history of choosing partners that have subjected B.A. to sexual and physical abuse, and B.A. has witnessed W.S. being abused. Currently, W.S. is aware that B.A. is afraid of G.M. and does not wish to see him, yet the record does not demonstrate that W.S. has taken any action to alleviate B.A.'s concerns. There is no indication that G.M.'s substance abuse has subsided or that he has dealt with his tendency toward abusive conduct, yet W.S. continues to reside with him and claims an intent to marry him. The record reflects that, since social services became involved with the family in 1994, W.S. has made little effort to take advantage of the services of either Roseau or Marshall County.
We conclude that the record supports the district court's decision to transfer permanent legal and physical custody of B.A. to her relatives and that doing so is in B.A's best interests.