This opinion will be unpublished and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 Welfare of the Children of
Susan Howe, Mother; Donald Carlson, Father;
and Jorge Domingo, Father.
Wright County District Court
File No. J80251012
Sherrie D. Hawley, 1398 Myrtle Street North, St. Paul, MN 55119 (for appellant Susan Howe)
Thomas N. Kelly, Wright County Attorney, Anne L. Mohaupt, Assistant County Attorney, 10 Second Street N.W., Room 150, Buffalo, MN 55313 (for respondent Wright County)
Carol H. Lostetter, Lostetter Law Office, 24 East Division Street, P.O. Box 236, Buffalo, MN 55313 (for respondent children)
Karim El-Ghazzawy, El-Ghazzawy Law Offices, LLC, 701 Fourth Avenue South, Suite 300, Minneapolis, MN 55415 (for respondent guardian ad litem)
Considered and decided by Harten, Presiding Judge, Stoneburner, Judge, and Parker, Judge.
Appellant challenges the district court termination of her parental rights. Because appellant is unable to parent her children due to her cognitive disability, and because the county made reasonable but unsuccessful efforts to improve appellant’s parenting skills, we affirm the district court’s decision to terminate appellant’s parental rights.
The district court terminated the parental rights of this developmentally disabled mother. The fathers of appellant’s children have already relinquished their parental rights, assuming that appellant’s parental rights would be terminated. We address two issues: (1) Was there clear and convincing evidence to support the termination of appellant’s parental rights? (2) Was the district court correct in the determination that sufficiently reasonable efforts had been made to prevent a termination of appellant’s parental rights?
“Parental rights are terminated only for grave and weighty reasons.” In re Welfare of M.D.O., 462 N.W.2d 370, 375 (Minn. 1990) (citation omitted). A trial 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). “When a trial court’s findings in a termination case are challenged, appellate courts are 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) (citation omitted). This court, “while giving deference to the findings of the trial court, will exercise great caution in termination proceedings.” Chosa, 290 N.W.2d at 769 (citations omitted).
A natural parent is presumed to be the best person to be entrusted with care of his or her child and it is presumed that it is in the child’s best interests to be in the natural parent’s care. In re Welfare of Clausen, 289 N.W.2d 153, 156 (Minn. 1980). In every termination of parental rights case, the child’s best interests are the paramount consideration. Minn. Stat. § 260C.001, subd. 3(2) (2002); see also M.D.O., 462 N.W.2d at 375 (noting that while the reviewing court must determine whether the trial court’s findings address the statutory criteria, are supported by substantial evidence, and are not clearly erroneous, the child’s best interests remain the paramount consideration) (citations omitted).
Our legislature has established nine criteria to be used to determine if parental rights should be terminated. Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1 (2002). The party petitioning for termination must prove one or more of these nine criteria in order to successfully terminate parental rights. In re Welfare of J.S., 470 N.W.2d 697, 701 (Minn. App. 1991), review denied (Minn. July 24, 1991).
One of the criteria that may be shown as a ground for termination of parental rights is that the parent is palpably unfit to parent the child(ren). Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4). Here, the district court concluded that appellant is “palpably unfit to be a party to the parent and child relationship with each of her children.” A parent is palpably unfit if there is
a consistent pattern of specific conduct * * * or of specific conditions * * * 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.
Id. The district court listened to 16 witnesses and took great care in listing 93 separate findings detailing appellant’s deficiencies as a parent.
Appellant’s oldest child, L.H., was born August 10, 1989. Until October 2000, appellant did not have primary responsibility for parenting this child or her second child, J.H., born March 11, 1999. Appellant lived with her parents in a Minneapolis home condemned as a garbage house on October 20, 2000. Until that point, appellant’s mother was the children’s primary caretaker. Appellant’s father, an untreated sex offender, also lived on the property.
When the home was condemned, appellant’s mother moved to a senior-citizen housing complex and appellant and her children were left without permanent housing. Appellant attempted to live with each of her two brothers, with her mother in the senior-citizen facility, and at a Salvation Army shelter. At one point, appellant and her children entered an independent-living facility in St. Cloud. Residents are usually allowed to stay at the facility for 120 days, but appellant was asked to leave after only three weeks because she could not control her children, did not know how to discipline them, and was not looking for permanent housing as required by the facility.
On July 16, 2001, appellant and her children were placed in full-family foster care, where they stayed for 13 months. The foster parents, social workers, parent-support agencies, and psychologists worked with appellant to improve her parenting and life skills. Because appellant’s father had sexually abused her, and because there was concern that L.H. may also have been abused, psychological support was provided. Despite the support given appellant, neither her parenting skills nor her life skills significantly improved. Appellant disciplined her children by yelling, throwing objects at them, or repeatedly asking them to do things they were refusing to do. In addition, appellant has been unable to pass a driver’s test; she failed to obtain a GED degree because she could not do the math portion of the exam; she has poor money-management skills, and efforts to teach her those skills have failed; and personal hygiene, such as brushing teeth or wearing clean clothes, has been difficult for appellant to maintain. At the time of the January 2003 order, appellant had not had a job for two years. She attempted to do piecework while living in the foster home, but she was unable to complete a satisfactory amount of work on a daily basis. One assessor of appellant’s abilities stated:
Most often a person with an IQ of 65 isn’t living independently on their own, unless they have a very involved family who’s taking them shopping, helping them with their money.
The basic issue here is whether appellant has the skills to care for her children. The statute requires that appellant be able to provide for the ongoing physical, mental, or emotional needs of her children. Appellant’s children have special needs. L.H. is developmentally disabled with an I.Q. of 44 and exhibits autistic characteristics. While J.H. is not developmentally disabled, he has been described as willful and aggressive, frequently ignoring his mother’s requests and hitting her.
The statute also asks for a determination of whether a parent will be able to care for the needs of the children in the foreseeable future. Appellant contends that with two more years of full-family foster care, she will be able to parent on her own. But evidence presented to the court indicates that, based on appellant’s slight or insignificant improvements while in the foster home, an expectation of improvements if given additional time is unrealistic.
The paramount consideration in the termination of parental rights is the best interests of the children. Despite appellant’s love for her children, the record supports the district court’s determination that she is unable to care for their needs and will not be able to do so in the future. We therefore uphold the district court’s decision to terminate appellant’s parental rights.
Appellant contends that the county did not make reasonable efforts to keep appellant and her children together. In determining what are reasonable efforts, the health and safety of the children are the primary concerns. Minn. Stat. 260.012(a) (2002). Reasonable efforts are defined as “the exercise of due diligence by the responsible social service agency to use appropriate and available services to meet the needs of the child and the child’s family.” Minn. Stat. § 260.012(b) (2002). This court has determined that an analysis of the reasonableness of the county’s efforts includes a consideration of the length of time the county has been involved and the quality of the effort. In re Welfare of M.G., 407 N.W.2d 118, 122 (Minn. App. 1987), review denied (Minn. July 15, 1987). At the same time, it is not necessary to “exhaust every possible, unrealistic alternative to termination” when a parent does not have a capacity to parent or an ability to learn a capacity to parent. In re Welfare of A.V., 593 N.W.2d 720, 721-22 (Minn. App. 1999).
Appellant was provided with extensive services by the county for more than 13 months. The services included family foster care for appellant and her children, including: housing, food, and medical care; access to social workers; evaluations by psychologists for herself and her children; early-childhood-family-education classes and church parenting classes; counseling services; and financial services for appellant. Appellant contends that further accommodations in recognition of her developmental disabilities were necessary and that extended time is required for her to learn and practice the parenting skills.
Because the county already has provided significant services for more than 13 months, and because the services provided have made little or no improvement in appellant’s skills, the district court correctly determined that reasonable efforts had already been made and no further efforts were likely to succeed in the reasonably foreseeable future.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.