This opinion will be unpublished and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.C., T.C., and T.C., Children.
Jackson County District Court
Robert A. Docherty, Somsen, Schade & Franta, PLC, 106 1/2 North Minnesota Street, P.O. Box 38, New Ulm, MN 56073-0038 (for appellant S.C.)
Mark T. Steffan, Jackson County Attorney, 405 Fourth Street, Suite 2D, Jackson, MN 56143-1588 (for respondent state)
Louis B. Kuchera, Office of Public Defender, 1008 Fredrich Avenue, P.O. Box 696, Worthington, MN 56187-0696 (for respondents T.C. and T.C.)
Hans K. Carlson, Muir, Costello & Carlson, LLP, 603 Second Street, Jackson, MN 56143-1645 (for respondent guardian ad litem)
Considered and decided by Anderson, Presiding Judge, Peterson, Judge, and Forsberg, Judge.
Appellant-mother challenges the out-of-home placement of her children, alleging the conditions that led to the children’s out-of-home placement have been corrected and the children’s best interests favor returning the children to her. We affirm.
S.C. is the mother of three children: Timothy C., Terry C., and Tony C. Her husband, the children’s father, committed suicide on May 12, 1995. In August 1998, the Jackson County Department of Human Services (DHS) was first contacted when S.C. requested medication and a place to stay. During October and November 1998, S.C. was hospitalized several times. In November 1998, S.C. was assigned a DHS case manager, Janelda Olson.
In December 1998, S.C.’s daughter called Olson to request help because her mother was not acting right. Olson went to S.C.’s home and found S.C. swaying, speaking incoherently, and having difficulty putting on her shoes. S.C. agreed to go to the hospital, where it was determined that a thorough work-up should be performed. Subsequently, she was hospitalized and treated by William Fuller, M.D., eight times in 1999 for mental-health problems.
S.C. acknowledges that she is mentally ill and requires treatment. She suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder arising out of abuse she suffered as a teenaged girl. She also suffers from panic disorder with agoraphobia and depression, and has histrionic personality traits and a seizure disorder.
Based on a petition for removal (CHIPS petition) filed three days earlier, the district court, on November 15, 1999, ordered the children removed from their mother’s custody and placed in the temporary custody and control of the DHS. At a February 24, 2000, hearing, S.C. admitted that her children needed the petitioned services and that, because of her mental-health issues, she was unable to properly care for her children. The district court ordered a disposition hearing as well as a pre-disposition investigation and evaluation.
At the March 8, 2000, disposition hearing, the district court found that S.C. had been hospitalized eight times since October 1998 for her mental disorders. Since October 1999, her flashbacks, panic attacks, and nightmares had increased. S.C. also kept a hatchet over her bed and knives in her purse. At one point, Tony reported a nightmare of being stabbed in the chest by a woman whose description matched his mother’s appearance. Prior to placement, home-based service providers reported that the home was filthy with animal feces on the floor and contained overflowing trash cans, several days’ worth of old dirty dishes in the sink, and dirty clothing. On several occasions, the providers reported no food in the house and obtained food from charity. On one occasion, Timothy’s feet were so dirty with athlete’s foot and dirty socks that his socks stuck to his feet. Before placement, S.C. threatened to move to Iowa where she “could not be found.”
The district court also found that Timothy, then 13 years old, saw himself as the parent to his mother and younger brothers. He suffers from adjustment disorder with mixed disturbances of emotions and conduct. The district court found that his best interests would be served by providing structure in his daily life. Terry, then an 11 year old, also suffered from adjustment disorder with mixed disturbances of emotions and conduct. He had little adult authority in his life and needed a long-term safe and secure environment to grow up in. Tony, then a nine year old, also suffered from adjustment disorder with mixed disturbances of emotions and conduct. He was at high risk for developing an aggressive conduct disorder. He needed to be placed in a treatment environment where he could learn to deal with peers and adults.
After the hearing, the district court transferred custody of the children to the DHS for temporary placement of Timothy and Terry in a licensed facility and Tony in specialized licensed foster care. S.C. was given supervised visitation rights. Under her service plan, S.C. was directed to undergo individual therapy with a DHS-approved therapist of her choice, to comply with the specific treatment plans that had been set, develop and follow a safety plan, and to monitor her medication. Her children were also directed to undergo therapy with a counselor of their choice, and S.C. was ordered to participate in her children’s therapy sessions as needed. The children were to attend school with no unauthorized absences. S.C. was also directed to maintain a clean house with adequate food, and to remove all hatchets, hunting knives, and dangerous and lethal weapons from her property. In order for the children to be returned to her care, the plan provided that S.C. would maintain stable mental health from November 1, 1999, to November 1, 2000.
During 2000, S.C. participated in many services designed to help her with day-to-day life and her mental illness. She continued to undergo psychiatric treatment with Dr. Fuller and psychotherapy with Patricia Hart. On approximately September 4, 2000, S.C. began working with Anna Beecroft, a parent mentor employed by the DHS, to prepare for the children’s return. Beecroft was charged with helping S.C. attain necessary living skills such as establishing routines and rules to take care of her children.
After a September 6, 2000, hearing, the district court ordered the staggered return of Timothy and Terry to their mother’s custody later that month. Beecroft regularly visited S.C. at her home to prepare S.C. for the children’s return and to assist her in developing the skills necessary to care for them. Soon after the children’s return to S.C.’s household, Beecroft noticed that the children missed appointments, were not doing homework on time, and spent increased time upstairs away from their mother. S.C. appeared to be becoming increasingly more stressed. On one occasion in October, when Beecroft arrived in the morning, S.C. had not noticed or had forgotten that Timothy was still at home, although he was supposed to be going to school shortly. Prior to the children’s return, S.C. had been maintaining her appearance, but she began to become increasingly unkempt after the children’s arrival.
On October 9, 2000, Beecroft arrived at S.C.’s home in the morning. Beecroft described it as a normal morning and that S.C. was upbeat. When Beecroft returned to S.C.’s residence at about 3:40 p.m., she noticed a change in S.C.’s mood from the morning. S.C. appeared to be more agitated and “almost depressed, but hyper.” She insisted on having a cigarette, even though she did not smoke. S.C. then put dinner on the stove and was going to peel potatoes, but decided not to. She told Beecroft: “my life sucks” and began to pace and chant her youngest son’s name. While pacing, S.C. was carrying a kitchen knife and had it behind her back. Beecroft asked S.C. why she was pacing with a knife behind her back, and S.C. replied that, “I’m going to murder somebody, I just don’t know who.” At this time Timothy was at the dining room table with Beecroft, and Terry was in the kitchen. Beecroft attempted to divert S.C.’s attention by suggesting that they trim a plant. S.C. put the knife down and served dinner.
During dinner, S.C. seemed to Beecroft to be quite tired. Terry had just received his mid-term grades which included a B and an F, and S.C. berated him as “thickheaded.” After dinner, Beecroft left with Timothy to get ice cream, while S.C. remained with Terry. When Beecroft and Timothy returned at 6:45 p.m., S.C. was wearing her nightclothes and lying on the couch. Beecroft and the two boys played a game and watched television. Beecroft left at approximately 8:30 to 8:45 p.m.
During the morning of October 10, 2000, Beecroft called Roslyn Luers, a Jackson County child-protection social worker. Luers contacted Olson and met with Luers’s supervisor and Anita Handevidt, a nurse involved in the case. After meeting, the four professionals decided that the children should be removed from S.C.’s home. Because the children were in school at the time, Beecroft agreed to take the children into her home for foster care.
After a hearing on October 30, 2000, the district court ordered and set the children’s temporary placement out of S.C.’s home. The court based its order on its findings that because of Timothy and Terry’s return, S.C.’s stress level had increased, S.C. began to resist the professionals trying to help her, and she became more confused. Furthermore, during the period after the children returned, S.C. became increasingly unkempt, in her case an indicator of increasing mental-health problems. The district court also found that the October 9, 2000, incident had occurred as Beecroft related. Additionally, although the plan for the children’s return called for reducing Beecroft’s time spent with the family, S.C.’s parenting practices did not stabilize sufficiently for that to happen.
After a trial on permanent placement, the district court ordered that all three children be removed from their mother’s custody. The district court adopted its relevant earlier findings. The district court based its decision on its findings that the children were all not well-adjusted and that they needed therapy and a stable home environment that S.C. could not provide. All three children expressed their desire to live with S.C.
At trial, the opinions of the testifying experts conflicted. But no expert stated that S.C. is able to parent without substantial support. None of the experts who felt she was able to parent was aware of the special needs of her children. The district court found that “no credible and acceptable opinion supports a finding that S.C. is able to adequately parent her three special-needs sons.” The court relied on the opinion of Timothy Tinnius, Ph.D., who, based on his examination and review of her medical records, opined that she had memory problems and a fluctuating attention span that did not allow her to manage the normal routine of caring for children. He also testified that S.C. had no awareness of her limitations. Fuller, S.C.’s treating psychiatrist, testified that S.C. could parent her children with adequate supervision and in-home therapy. But the court discredited this conclusion because Fuller admitted he did not have any detailed knowledge of the children’s problems or how S.C. had specifically handled her children in the past. He had no opinion on whether she could parent her three children specifically. Likewise, Pat Hart, S.C.’s psychologist, admitted that she did not know about S.C.’s children’s special needs, although she opined that S.C. could parent in the general sense.
The district court concluded that the conditions that led to the out-of-home placement had not been corrected and therefore the children could not be permanently returned to their home. The district court’s conclusion was based on its findings that S.C.’s mental health was fragile and that she was vulnerable to minor stressors. The court noted that the stresses of having the children back in the home caused her gains in mental stability since the children had been placed outside the home to unravel in the 14 days that both children were back in the home.
The district court also concluded that the DHS made reasonable efforts to reunify the children with their mother. The DHS provided extensive mental-health treatment to S.C. and the children as well as in-home care when the children were returned.
The district court next concluded that the children’s best interests were served by permanent placement outside S.C.’s home. The district court based its conclusions on the evidence that S.C. is not capable of caring for the children’s special needs and that the children need a stable environment because Timothy and Terry were tending toward conduct disorders. No relatives were willing to accept Timothy and Terry into their homes. The district court found that Tony had made substantial progress with his mental-health problems with his foster parents.
Finally, the district court concluded that there was no substantial probability that the children would be able to return home in the six months following the hearing. That conclusion was based on S.C.’s serious and persistent mental illness and its exacerbation when stress levels in her life were more than low-level. The court noted that the children’s mental health issues will take longer than six months to resolve.
Timothy and Terry were placed in long-term therapeutic care, and their custody was placed in the DHS for placement in long-term foster care. Tony was placed in the permanent legal and physical custody of his foster parents. S.C.’s visits are to be supervised. This appeal followed.
A county may petition a district court to establish a basis for the court to order permanent placement of a child. Minn. Stat. § 260C.201, subd. 11(b) (2000). If the court decides not to return the child home, it may permanently place the child in long-term foster care. Minn. Stat. § 260C.201, subd. 11(e)(3) (2000). The allegations of the petition for permanent placement must be proven by clear and convincing evidence. In re Welfare of A.R.G.-B., 551 N.W.2d 256, 261 (Minn. App. 1996). On appeal, we determine whether the district court’s “findings address the statutory criteria and are supported by substantial evidence or whether they are clearly erroneous.” Id. (citation and quotation omitted). We view the evidence and its reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the prevailing party. Id.
When it makes a permanent placement decision, the district court must provide detailed findings about
(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) (2000).
Although S.C. does not contend that the DHS failed to make reasonable efforts at reunifying the family, she contends that the remaining criteria favor the return of the children. But the district court’s findings were based on the testimony at trial, and we are convinced that the district court carefully examined the facts and relevant statutory factors.
First, the district court found that the best interests of the children were furthered by permanent placement outside S.C.’s home. That finding is based on the examination of testimony about the children’s psychological problems and their future outlook. The testimony demonstrated that all three children suffered from adjustment disorder with mixed disturbances of emotions and conduct, and that the two oldest children were in danger of developing conduct disorders. The district court found that S.C. was unable to provide the proper care to raise her three children so that their psychological problems would improve, especially in light of the testimony that her condition had become worse once Timothy and Terry were returned to S.C.’s care.
Second, S.C. argues that she has made a great effort to use the services provided to her and that she was committed to working with the appropriate agencies to maintain an appropriate environment for her children. But Minn. Stat. § 260C.201, subd. 11(h)(3), provides that the court must examine “the parent’s * * * efforts and ability to use services to correct the conditions which led to the out-of-home placement.” (Emphasis added.) Here, the district court found that given her psychological problems, S.C. did not have the ability to properly care for her children. This finding is supported by the testimony of Dr. Tinnius and S.C.’s therapist, Pat Hart, indicating that S.C. did not recognize her limitations and did not ask for assistance when she was having problems. Furthermore, although Beecroft’s services were supposed to be reduced after Timothy and Terry were returned to S.C.’s care, the DHS did not do so because S.C. was not showing signs that she was developing the necessary ability to care for her children as time passed.
Third, S.C. argues that the conditions that led to the out-of-home placement have been corrected. She criticizes the district court’s finding that her mental illness, combined with the stresses of caring for two of her children after they returned in September 2000, left her in an unstable state and unable to adequately care for the children. But we cannot say that the district court’s findings and conclusions are clearly erroneous. One expert opined that because of her illness, S.C. could not manage the normal routine of caring for children, especially in light of their psychological problems. Furthermore, Beecroft testified that following Timothy and Terry’s return in September 2000, the children missed appointments, were not doing homework on time, and spent increasing amounts of time upstairs away from S.C. Beecroft testified that S.C. appeared to suffer from increasing amounts of stress and became progressively more unkempt. S.C. also suffered from a dissociative episode when she chanted her youngest son’s name, was pacing with a knife, and referred to her desire to kill. Thus, the district court’s findings and conclusions are supported by substantial evidence.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.