This opinion will be unpublished and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
In the Matter of the Welfare of: N.R.S., Child.
Kevin H. Siefken, Christian & Peterson, P.A., 314 South Broadway, Albert Lea, MN 56007 (for appellant)
Craig S. Nelson, Freeborn County Attorney, 411 South Broadway, Albert Lea, MN 56007 (for respondent)
Nancy Hockenberry, 1442 Martin Road, Albert Lea, MN 56007 (guardian ad litem)
††††††††††† Considered and decided by Schumacher, Presiding Judge, Harten, Judge, and Shumaker, Judge.
GORDON W. SHUMAKER, Judge
Appellant challenges the district courtís decision to terminate her parental rights, claiming that the record does not support the district courtís findings that appellant is palpably unfit to participate in the parent-and-child relationship, that reasonable efforts at the direction of the court have not corrected the conditions leading to the out-of-home placement of the child, and that termination of parental rights is in the childís best interests.† Because we find substantial evidence in the record supports the courtís finding that the appellant is palpably unfit to participate in the parent-and-child relationship, we affirm.
N.R.S., appellant Judy Taylorís six-year-old son, has a history of aggressive and violent behavior, characterized by kicking, screaming, swearing, and biting others.† Because Taylor was having difficulty caring for and controlling N.R.S., she asked the Freeborn County Department of Human Services for help in June 1999.
On September 14, 2000, Taylor acknowledged in a ďCHIPSĒ petition that N.R.S. was a child in need of protection or services within the purview of Minn. Stat. ß 260C.007, subd. 4(9) (2000).† Taylor tendered the petition to the district court on November 30, 2000.† The court found N.R.S. to be a child in need of protection or services on December 1, 2000, and ordered a treatment plan.† Thereafter, Taylor voluntarily placed N.R.S. in therapeutic foster care, and the court issued three supplemental dispositional orders regarding N.R.S.ís care and Taylorís obligations.† On July 24, 2001, the court ordered that the Freeborn County Department of Human Services take custody of N.R.S.† The child has remained in out-of-home placement since that time.
Although N.R.S.ís behavior continued to be problematic during his foster care, the county sought to return N.R.S. to Taylor in late October 2001.† Taylor contacted the supervising social worker on October 22, 2001, and said her mother had had a heart attack and that Taylor needed to go to Indiana to see her and did not know when she would return.† The social worker told Taylor that she would cancel an extended home visitation between Taylor and N.R.S. and that Taylorís decision to leave would jeopardize the immediate return of N.R.S. to her custody.
The supervising social worker later learned that Taylor did not go to Indiana to see her mother but rather went on a personal vacation with a man she had met.† Furthermore, Taylor, who was on probation for an arson conviction, left without her probation officerís permission.
When Taylor returned on November 1, 2001, she was arrested for a probation violation.† Additionally, reunification plans were suspended because Taylor had not fulfilled her treatment plan, which was the primary basis for the anticipated reunification.† Specifically, Taylor demonstrated that she was untruthful, lacked insight into and neglected N.R.S.ís needs, put her own desires ahead of the childís special needs, and was inconsistent in her parenting efforts.
After an evidentiary hearing on January 14-15, 2002, the district court concluded, among other things, that Taylor is palpably unfit to continue in a parent-and-child relationship with N.R.S. and that it is in N.R.S.ís best interests that Taylorís parental rights be terminated.† In its order dated February 7, 2002, the court terminated those rights.† Taylor appealed.
On appeal from a district courtís decision to terminate parental rights, the appellate court is limited to determining whether the 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); In re Welfare of Clausen, 289 N.W.2d 153, 156 (Minn. 1980).† On review, considerable deference is given to the district courtís decisions because it is in the best position to assess witness credibility.† In re Welfare of L.A.F., 554 N.W.2d 393, 396 (Minn. 1996).
However, ďparental rights are terminated only for grave and weighty reasons.Ē† In re Welfare of M.D.O., 462 N.W.2d 370, 375 (Minn. 1990) (citation omitted).† The best interests of the child remain the paramount consideration in every termination case.† Id.† The court presumes that the natural parents are suitable to be entrusted with the care of their children and that being in the natural parentsí care is in the best interests of the child.† Clausen, 289 N.W.2d at 156.† We exercise great caution in termination proceedings and terminate parental rights only when the evidence clearly requires that result.† In re Welfare of S.Z., 547 N.W.2d 886, 893 (Minn. 1996).
The juvenile court may terminate parental rights if it finds that any of the statutory conditions exists.† Minn. Stat. ß 260C.301, subd. 1 (Supp. 2001).† In this case, the court found that Taylor is palpably unfit to continue as a parent to N.R.S. because Taylorís behavior exhibits a pattern in which she puts her needs before those of her child and that she is inconsistent in her care and discipline of N.R.S.† See Minn. Stat. ß 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4) (stating that parental rights may be terminated if a parent exhibits a consistent pattern of conduct before the child rendering the parent unable to care appropriately for the child).† The court also found that, following reasonable efforts at the direction of the court, the conditions that led to N.R.S.ís out-of-home placement were not corrected.† See Minn. Stat. ß 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(5) (stating that parental rights may be terminated if ďreasonable efforts, under the direction of the court, have failed to correct the conditions leading to the childís placementĒ), and that termination was in N.R.S.ís best interests.
Minn. Stat. ß 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4), provides that
a parent is palpably unfit to be a party to the parent and child relationship because of 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.†
The evidence supporting termination
must relate to conditions that exist at the time of termination and it must appear that the conditions giving rise to the termination will continue for a prolonged, indeterminate period.
In re Welfare of P.L.R., 622 N.W.2d 538, 543 (Minn. 2001) (citation omitted).
The record reflects that Taylor has limited intellectual abilities and exhibits narcissistic and histrionic behavior.† She has difficulty identifying N.R.S.ís needs and often puts her own needs before those of N.R.S., and therefore fails to provide the stable environment that N.R.S. needs.
Katherine Harries Muellner worked with N.R.S. in therapy and observed Taylor during visitation.† She noted that Taylor consistently misreads or ignores signs and signals from N.R.S., fails to understand her sonís needs, and often places her needs before those of N.R.S.†
Child-protection social worker Jeannie Jackson testified that she visited Taylor and N.R.S. at home.† Jackson observed that Taylor does things spontaneously regardless of N.R.S.ís needs and that Taylor is often unaware of N.R.S.ís needs or fails to respond when N.R.S. gets into things.
Family-based county provider Carol Aukes testified that, although it appears that N.R.S. and Taylor love each other, when she watches them playing it is not like a mother and child playing but more like two children playing, and it appears that N.R.S. does not trust Taylor to put his needs before hers.† Aukes testified that, although Taylor completed STEP parenting classes, she observed Taylorís continued inconsistency regarding discipline and a failure to teach N.R.S. that there are consequences for his bad behavior.
Despite the fact that reunification was scheduled, Taylor lied to her social worker, probation officer, and N.R.S.ís guardian ad litem.† This lie demonstrates Taylorís continued spontaneous decision-making with little regard for N.R.S.ís needs, despite months of work with social services toward reunification.
Additionally, although the experts agreed that Taylor and N.R.S. seem to love each other and share a strong bond, telephone calls and visits with Taylor continued to cause N.R.S. to act out.† N.R.S.ís foster mother testified that N.R.S. behaves better when not around his mother and that he behaved particularly badly after visits with his mother.† For example, after talking with his mother on the phone, he ran over and pushed another foster child down.
Taylor relies on the testimony of licensed psychologist Kenneth L. Dennis, who completed a parenting assessment of Taylor and did not favor termination.† Dennis testified that, although Taylor has very low cognitive abilities, she can learn to parent N.R.S. at this stage if taught concrete behavior modifications and if provided with continuing in-home behavioral therapy.† Dennis noted that parenting N.R.S. may require additional skills in the future and that it cannot be determined whether Taylor will be able to acquire such skills as they may become necessary.† However, Dennis also testified that Taylor has poor impulse control and she makes decisions based on what is happening at the time rather than based on what the future consequences of her actions might be.†
Clinical psychologist Jeanne Allen provided a second assessment of Taylorís parenting ability.† Allen questioned Taylorís ability to parent, noting that Taylor had difficulty addressing N.R.S.ís emotional needs.† It was Allenís belief that due to Taylorís limitations, the demands of parenting, which require Taylor to put her childís needs above her own, were ďlikely to be overwhelmingĒ for Taylor.
The evidence establishes a pattern of conduct by appellant that renders her unable to appropriately care for N.R.S. for the foreseeable future.† Therefore, the district courtís conclusion that Taylor is palpably unfit to continue in the parent-and-child relationship is supported by substantial evidence.
Because the record supports the district courtís findings regarding palpable unfitness, and because only one statutory criterion is required for termination, we need not reach the issues of whether or not reasonable efforts made at the direction of the court or whether the conditions that led to the out-of-home placement were sufficiently corrected.