This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In the Matter of the Children of: N.M., Parent.
Hennepin County District Court
File No. J801067743
Leonardo Castro, Fourth District Public Defender, David P. Murrin, Assistant State Public Defender, 317 2nd Avenue South, Suite 200, Minneapolis, MN 55401 (for appellants)
Amy J. Klobuchar, Hennepin County Attorney, Mary M. Lynch, Todd M. Fellman, Assistant Hennepin County Attorneys, 1200 Health Services Building, 525 Portland Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55415 (for respondent Hennepin County Department of Children and Family Services)
Jonathan G. Steinberg, 1155 Grain Exchange – East Building, 412 South Fourth Street, P.O. Box 15085, Minneapolis, MN 55415 (for respondent guardian ad litem)
Considered and decided by Shumaker, Presiding Judge, Anderson, Judge, and Wright, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
GORDON W. SHUMAKER, Judge
Appellants challenge the district court’s order terminating their parental rights, claiming that (1) the county failed to make sufficient efforts to reunite N.M. with her children and there was insufficient evidence that she was a palpably unfit parent, and (2) there was no basis to terminate the parental rights of E.M.’s father because he was never provided a case plan and there was insufficient evidence that he was a palpably unfit parent. Because we conclude that the district court’s extensive and detailed findings address the statutory criteria, are supported by substantial evidence, and are not clearly erroneous, we affirm the district court’s determination to terminate the parental rights of N.M. to all three children and the parental rights of E.M.’s father.
Appellant N.M., born March 14, 1979, is a single mother of three young children: D.M., born March 11, 1998; A.M., born January 5, 2000; and E.M., born December 18, 2000. D.M. is a special-needs child with developmental delays. N.M. never married and lives in a household with her grandmother, a cousin, her cousin’s three children under the age of four, her cousin’s boyfriend, and an uncle who stays there occasionally. N.M. has an IQ of 62-67, and she agrees that she needs help parenting her children. She left high school before graduation and is currently attempting to obtain her GED. She also displays symptoms of depression and has irregular sleep patterns, whereby she sleeps 10-14 hours during the day and is awake through the night.
The district court adjudged appellant K.S. to be E.M.’s father in January 2002. K.S. has been in prison since January 2001 for criminal sexual conduct involving minor children and will remain in prison until at least April 2003. K.S. has a lengthy criminal history, including convictions for two separate crimes of criminal sexual conduct. He has seen E.M. once just after E.M.’s birth. N.M. knows only the first name of D.M.’s father and that he lives in Chicago, and she has not seen A.M.’s father since her relationship with him ended.
In March 2001, respondent Hennepin County Department of Children and Family Services (the county) filed a petition for children in need of protective services (CHIPS). Based on reports from medical providers and social workers, the county alleged that N.M. medically neglected her three young children and failed to provide them with proper parental care. In response to the CHIPS petition, N.M. admitted that her children were in need of protective services and that ongoing case-planning services were in her children’s best interests. Accordingly, the district court placed the children together in foster care and appointed a guardian ad litem.
After the county filed the CHIPS petition, N.M. enrolled in a parenting program at Reuben Lindh Family Services. In April 2001, N.M. was also referred to work with a social worker in the Hennepin County Children, Family and Adult Services Department Parent Support Project (PSP) for a parenting assessment. Initially, the PSP also provided recommendations and assisted her in obtaining further medical and psychological evaluations.
In July 2001, the district court adjudged the children to be in need of protective services, transferred legal custody of the children to the county, and ordered that they remain in out-of-home placement. In addition, the court adopted the county’s case plan and ordered N.M. to fully comply with it. The case plan required N.M. to complete a Rule 25 chemical health assessment and follow all recommendations; cooperate with Developmental Delay services and follow all recommendations; cooperate with the Parenting Support Project and follow all recommendations; complete the Reuben Lindh parenting program and follow all recommendations; work on changing her sleep habits; obtain and maintain safe and suitable housing; and cooperate with the assigned social worker.
After the CHIPS adjudication, N.M. continued to receive services from Reuben Lindh. She also requested and received individual therapy through the Reuben Lindh’s Therapy Program and received informal tutoring on parenting from the foster parents. In August 2001, N.M. was referred to PSP for parenting services because she continued to need parenting assistance.
At trial in March 2002, the court heard testimony from the guardian ad litem, the Reuben Lindh parenting teacher, the child protection permanency social worker, N.M., and K.S. The court also received exhibits, which included a series of Reuben Lindh parenting reports and observation notes, PSP reports, a psychological evaluation, a psychiatric evaluation, documents regarding K.S.’s criminal convictions, and Hennepin County Medical Center pediatric records. In April 2002, the district court terminated N.M.’s parental rights as to all three children and K.S.’s parental rights as to E.M. The district court denied motions for amended findings, and N.M. and K.S. filed their notice of joint appeal in June 2002.
On review in a termination of parental rights proceeding, we determine whether the district court’s findings address the statutory criteria, are supported by substantial evidence, and are not clearly erroneous. In re Welfare of D.D.G., 558 N.W.2d 481, 484 (Minn. 1997). Although we defer to the district court’s findings, we exercise great caution in proceedings to terminate parental rights. In re Welfare of A.J.C., 556 N.W.2d 616, 622 (Minn. App. 1996), review denied (Minn. Mar. 18, 1997).
A district 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). If one or more of nine statutory criteria support termination, the district court may terminate an individual’s parental rights. Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1 (2002). However, the district court must make clear and specific findings that “conform to the statutory requirements for termination adjudications.” In re Welfare of Chosa, 290 N.W.2d 766, 769 (Minn. 1980) (citation omitted).
In this case, the district court concluded that clear and convincing evidence supported termination of N.M.’s parental rights on four statutory grounds: (1) under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(2), N.M. failed to comply with her parental duties and the county’s reasonable efforts have failed to correct the conditions that formed the basis of the petition; (2) under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4), N.M. is a palpably unfit parent; (3) under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(5), that after the children’s placement out of the home, reasonable efforts, under the court’s direction, have failed to correct the conditions leading to the children’s placement; (4) and under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(8), the children were neglected and in foster care.
On appeal, N.M. does not challenge the neglected-and-in-foster care basis for termination under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(8). Therefore, we can affirm the termination of her parental rights. See Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b) (stating termination can occur if “one or more” statutory bases for termination exist). In re Welfare of P.R.L., 622 N.W.2d 538, 545 (Minn. 2001). Notwithstanding this fact, we choose to examine certain aspects of N.M.’s arguments made on appeal.
Of the three bases for termination that N.M. challenges on appeal, two (Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subds. 1(b)(2), (5)) involve, among other things, whether the county made reasonable efforts to support reunification of the family. See id. In her challenges to those two bases for termination, the only allegations N.M. makes on appeal are that the county’s efforts to reunify the family were inadequate.
N.M. argues primarily that the county failed to make reasonable efforts to support reunification because she did not receive sufficient or timely services to address her depression and sleep issues. Additionally, N.M. argues that there is no evidence to suggest that she is palpably unfit to be a parent.
Each case concerning termination of parental rights must turn on its own peculiar facts and circumstances. In re Welfare of H.M.P.W., 281 N.W.2d 188, 190 (Minn. 1979). Whether efforts are reasonable “requires consideration of the length of time the county has been involved with the family as well as the quality of effort given.” In re Welfare of M.G., 407 N.W.2d 118, 122 (Minn. App. 1987) (citation omitted). The nature of the services that the county provides depends on the problem in each particular case. In re Welfare of S.Z., 547 N.W.2d 886, 892 (Minn. 1996).
Here, the district court made extensive findings to support its conclusion that the county made reasonable efforts to reunify N.M. with her children. See Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(2) (requiring county to make reasonable efforts to correct the conditions that formed the basis of the petition). The court detailed the various services that the county provided from the time the CHIPS petition was filed until trial, including mental-health referrals and psychological and psychiatric assessments, parenting instruction at Reuben Lindh, chemical dependency assessment, PSP assistance, informal parenting assistance with foster parents, liberal supervised visitation in the foster home, case management services, foster care services, kinship search, and early childhood special education services. Based on our review of the record, we find that the district court’s findings are supported by sufficient evidence.
The record reveals that the county was involved in providing services for N.M. or referring her to services for almost one full year from the time the CHIPS petition was filed to the TPR trial. Because N.M. required assistance in learning appropriate parenting skills and on resolving her depression and sleep issues, the county provided numerous, appropriate services after the CHIPS petition was filed.
N.M. began attending parenting classes at Reuben Lindh several times a week beginning less than one week after the county filed the CHIPS petition in March 2001. The parenting program at Reuben Lindh is specifically designed for individuals with lower-functioning intelligence levels and, in this case, assisted N.M. in learning parenting techniques and provided her with recommendations. Despite the program’s efforts, the progress reports from this program consistently noted continuing concerns that N.M. had attendance problems, had difficulty working with more than one child, had difficulty putting the children’s needs above her own, and had depressive symptoms and aberrant sleep patterns that interfered with her ability to parent.
In April 2001, the county also referred N.M. to work with a social worker in the Hennepin County Children, Family and Adult Services Department Parent Support Project (PSP) for a parenting assessment. The parenting assessment noted, among other concerns, that she had depressive symptoms, had limited problem-solving ability, may be depressed, had sleep habits that interfered with routinely attending to her children’s basic needs, and appeared to be overwhelmed with motherhood. The assessment recommended that N.M. receive services for learning independent living skills, housing services for help in locating her own residence, public health services, and in-home services to help her learn about following through on her needs and those of her children. The PSP also provided recommendations and assisted her in obtaining further medical and psychological evaluations.
In April, the PSP social worker referred N.M. for a psychological evaluation, and N.M. met with the psychologist four times over the next several months. N.M. was also referred to the adult mental-health clinic, where she was not diagnosed with depression but was referred to a sleep disorders clinic. A medical provider at Hennepin County Medical Center recommended that N.M. try an anti-depressant to help her regulate her sleep pattern for a more normal night’s sleep and to assist with any depression symptoms.
In August 2001, N.M. was referred to PSP for parenting services because she needed even further parenting assistance. N.M. received referrals from the PSP program for both a sleep disorder assessment and a depression assessment because the PSP staff believed that mental-health concerns such as depression and sleep issues were contributing to her parenting difficulty.
In February 2002, N.M. received a psychiatric evaluation. The psychiatrist diagnosed N.M. with depression and prescribed medication for her, but she stopped taking the medication. As a result of the depression diagnosis, N.M. did not further pursue a sleep disorder assessment.
Based on the record, which shows the county’s extensive involvement with N.M. and assistance in providing relevant services, we cannot conclude that the county failed to provide N.M. with reasonable services to address her mental-health issues. The county referred her to the appropriate mental-health professionals who determined the course of action. On this matter, the district court’s findings are detailed and extensive and address the statutory criteria under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(2) requiring N.M. to comply with parental duties and the county to make reasonable efforts to correct the conditions that formed the basis of the petition. Based on our review of the record, we conclude that the district court’s findings that N.M. did not comply with her parental duties and that the county’s reasonable efforts failed to correct the conditions that formed the basis for the petition are supported by the evidence. See In re Welfare of A.H., 402 N.W.2d 598, 604 (Minn. App. 1987) (upholding termination of parental rights where the quantity and quality of assistance provided established the reasonableness of county’s efforts). Therefore, the district court did not err in terminating N.M.’s parental rights under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(2).
Under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(5), the district court must also determine whether the county made reasonable efforts under the court’s direction but failed to correct the conditions leading to the child’s out-of-home placement. Reasonable efforts under this statutory provision are presumed to have failed if the child has been out of the home for twelve cumulative months, the court has approved the out-of-home placement plan, the conditions leading to the out-of-home placement have not been corrected, and the county made reasonable efforts to reunite the family. In this case, because all of these factors exist, it is presumed that the county’s reasonable efforts have failed. Accordingly, the district court did not err in terminating N.M.’s parental rights under this statutory provision.
N.M. argues that there is no evidence in the record to support the district court’s finding that she is palpably unfit to be a parent. We disagree. The record indicates, among other concerns, that N.M. has low-functioning intelligence, has difficulty putting the children’s needs before her needs, has difficulty remembering and following through on mental-health recommendations, has difficulty implementing learned parenting techniques, and is unable to appropriately interact with more than one child at a time. N.M.’s pattern of conduct makes her unable to appropriately parent her three children within the foreseeable future.
Findings as to Each Child
N.M. also argues that the court failed to make findings on each child. A child-welfare decision must be made with regard to each child in the proceeding, In re Welfare of A.V., 593 N.W.2d 720, 723 (Minn. App. 1999). However, absent a reason to distinguish factually and legally between each child, Minnesota law does not require explicit findings relating to each child. See In re Welfare of M.P., 542 N.W.2d 71, 73, 76 (Minn. App. 1996) (remanding for trial court to address each child’s best interests where oldest child was distinguishable from younger children because she was 15 years old, did not want parental rights terminated, and the district court failed to give oldest child’s preference sufficient weight). Here, most of the findings relate to N.M.’s fitness to parent any child. Because there is no reason to distinguish between each child here, it is not necessary to repeat the same findings as to each child when the findings would clearly pertain to all.
K.S. argues that the district court had no basis upon which to terminate his parental rights as to E.M. Although a parent’s incarceration alone is not enough to warrant a termination of parental rights, the court may also consider that fact with the other evidence offered in support of the petition for termination. See In re Welfare of A.Y.J., 558 N.W.2d 757, 761 (Minn. App. 1997), review denied (Minn. Apr. 15, 1997). And criminal sexual conduct does not per se establish unfitness as a parent. In re Welfare of H.M.P.W., 281 N.W.2d 188, 190 (Minn. 1979).
In this case, the county did not attempt to provide K.S. with services. The county social worker testified that, in light of the circumstances, any such services would not have been effective to support reunification within an appropriate time.
The district court found that K.S.’s criminal history, including the two convictions for criminal sexual conduct with a minor, and current incarceration have interfered with his ability to provide E.M. with parental care. K.S. has seen E.M. only once shortly after the child’s birth, and K.S.’s continued incarceration would make it impossible to reunify him with E.M. He has never provided care or support for E.M. The district court found that K.S. was an untreated sex offender, that K.S.’s overall criminal behavior would be detrimental to E.M., and that reasonable efforts to rehabilitate K.S. and reunite him with E.M. would have been futile, and therefore, unreasonable under the circumstances. See In re Welfare of S.Z., 547 N.W.2d 886, 892 (Minn. 1996) (stating that the court must make a determination of reasonableness and that if any provision of services would be futile, provision of such services would be unreasonable).
The district court’s findings that a case plan would have been futile and unreasonable are supported by the facts and support the county’s decision not to provide services. Because the issue with regard to K.S. is not only his incarceration and history of criminal sexual conduct with a minor, but a review of all the facts leading to termination, the district court findings are not erroneous. Likewise, the evidence indicates that K.S. is palpably unfit to parent E.M. in the reasonably foreseeable future in light of the circumstances. See, e.g., In re Welfare of H.M.P.W., 281 N.W.2d at 191 (stating that criminal sexual behavior need not have directly affected children before parent can be found unfit, only that the parent’s behavior is likely to be detrimental to the children’s physical or mental health or morals).