This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. ß 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).

 

 

STATE OF MINNESOTA

IN COURT OF APPEALS

A03-247, A03-275

 

In the Matter of the Children of
Bernice Clara Whelan, a/k/a Berniece Clara Whelan,
James Erick Brown, Robert Gonzales, and Robert Laden,
Parents.

 

Filed December 16, 2003

Affirmed

Wright, Judge

 

Yellow Medicine County District Court

File Nos. J2-02-50026, J4-02-50027, J6-02-50028, J8-02-50029

 

 

John E. Mack, Mack & Daby, P.A., 26 Main Street, P.O. Box 302, New London, MN† 56273 (for appellant Robert Laden)

 

Ramona C. Lackore, 432 Southwest Litchfield Avenue, P.O. Box 1529, Willmar, MN† 56201 (for appellant Bernice Whelan)

 

Kim Christians, 2070 Southeast County Road 15, Granite Falls, MN† 56241 (Guardian ad Litem)

 

Thomas G. Kramer, Yellow Medicine County Attorney, Amanda C. Sieling, Assistant County Attorney, P.O. Box 128, Granite Falls, MN 56241 (for respondent State)

 

 

††††††††††† Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge, Presiding; Minge, Judge; and Wright, Judge.

 

U N P U B L I S H E D †O P I N I O N

 

WRIGHT, Judge

 

In this consolidated termination-of-parental-rights appeal, appellant-mother argues that (1) reasonable efforts were not made to reunite her with her four children and (2) the district courtís findings that she failed to abide by the duties of the parent-child relationship and that she is palpably unfit to be a party to the parent-child relationship are not supported by the record.† Appellant-father argues that (1) the district court ignored the statutory requirement that the relevant conduct occur ďbefore the childĒ and (2) the district courtís findings of fact are not supported by the record and do not warrant termination of his parental rights. We affirm.†

FACTS

 

On February 21, 2002, Yellow Medicine County Family Services (YMCFS) filed a petition alleging that J.W.G., age 10; J.E.B., age 7; J.M.B., age 6; and L.D.L., age 4 months, were in need of protection or services pursuant to Minn. Stat. ß 260C.007,† subds. 4(3), 4(8), 4(9) (2002).† Bernice Whelan, the mother of the four children, and Robert Laden, the father of L.D.L., admitted that their respective children were in need of protection or services under section 260C.007, subdivision 4(9), which provides that the childís behavior, condition, or environment is ďinjurious or dangerous to the child or others.Ē† The district court ordered YMCFS to develop a case plan requiring both parents to complete parenting services and providing therapeutic services to the children.† In November 2002, YMCFS filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of mother and father pursuant to Minn. Stat. ß 260C.301, subds. 1(b)(2) (refusal or neglect to comply with the duties imposed by the parent-child relationship), 1(b)(4) (palpable unfitness to be a party to the parent-child relationship), and 1(b)(5) (failure of reasonable efforts to correct the conditions leading to out-of-home placement) (2002).† After a seven-day trial, the district court terminated the parental rights of mother and father.† These appeals, which were consolidated, followed.

D E C I S I O N

 

Because parental rights may be terminated only for grave and weighty reasons,we exercise great caution in reviewing termination proceedings and will conclude that termination is proper only when the evidence clearly mandates such a result.† In re Welfare of S.Z., 547 N.W.2d 886, 893 (Minn. 1996); In re Welfare of M.D.O., 462 N.W.2d 370, 375 (Minn. 1990).† The district court may terminate parental rights only if clear and convincing evidence establishes that at least one statutory ground for termination exists and that termination is in the best interests of the child.† See Minn. Stat. ß 260C.317, subd. 1 (2002); In re Welfare of A.L.F., 579 N.W.2d 152, 154 (Minn. App. 1998); see also Minn. Stat. ß 260C.301, subd. 1(b) (2002), (enumerating statutory grounds for termination).† We review a termination of parental rights to determine ďwhether the district courtís findings address the statutory criteria and whether those findings are supported by substantial evidence and are not clearly erroneous.Ē† In re Welfare of P.R.L., 622 N.W.2d 538, 543 (Minn. 2001).† In doing so, we examine the record ďto determine whether the evidence is clear and convincing.Ē† Id. (citing In re Welfare of Clausen, 289 N.W.2d 153, 156 (Minn. 1980)).† The evidence 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.† Id.† In a termination-of-parental-rights proceeding, the best interests of the child are paramount.† Minn. Stat. ß 260C.301, subd. 7 (2002).†

The district court based its decision to terminate motherís and fatherís parental rights on the following statutory grounds:† first, reasonable efforts under the direction of the district court have failed to correct the conditions leading to the out-of-home placement, see id., subd. 1(b)(5); second, mother and father substantially, continuously, and repeatedly neglected or refused to comply with the duties imposed on them by the parent-child relationship because they failed to provide their children with the care and control necessary for their mental and emotional health and development, see id., subd. 1(b)(2); and third, both parents are palpably unfit to be a party to the parent-child relationship because they were consistently unable to care for the ongoing physical, mental, and emotional needs of their children, see Minn. Stat. ß 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4).† The district court also found that termination of motherís and fatherís parental rights is in the best interests of each child.† We, therefore, consider whether the district courtís findings are supported by clear and convincing evidence.† See P.R.L., 622 N.W.2d at 543.†

I.

††††††††††† The district court found that reasonable efforts had been made by YMCFS, under the direction of the court, to rehabilitate mother and father and to reunite them with the children.† But these efforts failed to correct the conditions leading to the childrenís out-of-home placement.†

ďReasonable effortsĒ is defined as the exercise of due diligence by the responsible social services agency, upon removal of the child from the childís family, to use appropriate and available services to meet the needs of the child and the childís family in order to eliminate the need for removal and to reunite the family.† See Minn. Stat.†††††††††††††††††† ß 260.012(b) (2002).† The services provided ďmust go beyond mere matters of form so as to include real, genuine assistance.Ē† In re Welfare of H.K., 455 N.W.2d 529, 532 (Minn. App. 1990) (citing In re Welfare of J.A., 377 N.W.2d 69, 73 (Minn. App. 1985), review denied (Minn. Jan. 23, 1986)), review denied (Minn. July 6, 1990).† The efforts of the social services agency must be directed at alleviating the conditions that gave rise to the children-in-need-of-protection-or-services (CHIPS) adjudication.† Id. (citing In re Welfare of M.A., 408 N.W.2d 227, 235-36 (Minn. App. 1987), review denied (Minn. Sept. 18, 1987)).† Whether the social services agency has complied with its duty of making reasonable efforts requires consideration of the length of time the agency was involved and the quality of services made available to the parent.† Id.

A.†††††††† Reasonable Efforts to Reunite Mother With Children

Mother argues that YMCFS did not make reasonable efforts to correct the conditions leading to the out-of-home placement because services were either inadequately provided or not provided at all.† We disagree.

††††††††††† With the goal of reuniting mother with her children, YMCFS provided mother services to facilitate her progress toward correcting the conditions, including individual therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), parenting education, supervised visitation with the children, a parenting evaluation, transportation, and reimbursement for transportation costs.† A review of the record establishes that the services YMCFS offered mother comply with the district courtís order mandating YMCFS to develop a case plan providing parenting services for mother and father and therapeutic services to the children. †

As an example of the inadequacy of the services provided, mother notes that her individual therapist was the same as fatherís.† This fact is undisputed.† But, at the time, there were only two other individual therapists available in Yellow Medicine County.† One therapist was assigned to work with J.E.B. and J.M.B. and the other dissolved his caseload in the county during this period.† Thus, under the circumstances, the assignment of a single therapist to provide individual counseling to both parents was the most appropriate use of the available resources and falls well within the statutory requirement to use appropriate and available services.

B.†††††††† Reasonable Efforts to Reunite Father With L.D.L.

Without conceding that he refused or neglected to comply with the duties of the parent-child relationship, father argues that YMCFS failed to make reasonable efforts to correct the conditions forming the basis for the petition.† The record establishes that YMCFS provided father services aimed at reuniting him with L.D.L., including individual therapy, parenting education, supervised visitation, an opportunity for supervised one-on-one visits with L.D.L., a parenting evaluation, financial counseling, and transportation.†

From February 2002 through January 2003, when the trial began, YMCFS provided services for mother, father, and the children.† When YMCFS determined that certain services were no longer producing progress toward reunification, alternate service providers were substituted.† Our careful review of the record establishes that the district court did not err in concluding that YMCFS made reasonable efforts to rehabilitate mother and father and to reunite them with their children.†

We next consider whether, in light of YMCFSís reasonable efforts, the district court clearly erred in concluding that these efforts failed to correct the conditions leading to the childrenís out-of-home placement.†

It is presumed that reasonable efforts . . . have failed upon a showing that:

(i)† a child has resided out of the parental home under court order . . . for six months [within the preceding 22 months] unless the parent has maintained regular contact with the child and the parent is complying with the out-of-home placement plan;[[1]]†

(ii)† the court has approved the out-of-home placement plan††† . . . ;

(iii)† conditions leading to the out-of-home placement have not been corrected[;] . . . and

(iv)† reasonable efforts have been made by the social services agency to rehabilitate the parent and reunite the family.

 

Minn. Stat. ß 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(5).† The parties do not dispute that the requirements of paragraphs (i) and (ii) have been met.† Rather, they contest paragraphs (iii) and (iv), which, for clarity, we will discuss in reverse order.† As to paragraph (iv), we have concluded that the district court properly determined that YMCFS has made reasonable efforts to correct the conditions and reunite mother with her children and father with his child.† Thus, the remainder of our inquiry focuses on paragraph (iii) to determine whether the conditions leading to the out-of-home placement have been corrected.† The termination-of-parental-rights statute presumes that such conditions have not been corrected ďupon a showing that the parent or parents have not substantially complied with the courtís orders and a reasonable case plan[.]Ē† Minn. Stat. ß 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(5)(iii).

The record demonstrates that mother did not substantially comply with her case plan.† Mother refused to work with any of the parent educators and at times became verbally abusive toward them.† At trial, mother admitted telling parent educators that she did not need parenting education and was only participating because she was ordered by the court to do so.† She refused to engage in positive parenting skills even when prompted to do so by service providers.† Mother also refused to participate in inpatient DBT as recommended by her therapist.† As to mother, the district court concluded that the ďphysical, sexual, mental and emotional abuse that permeates [mother] and her family, together with the fact that she is unable or unwilling to separate herself from that situation despite the extensive efforts of [YMCFS] to rehabilitate themĒ warrants termination.

Father refused to participate in the financial counseling. †He stopped attending individual therapy in October 2002.† Like mother, father maintained that he did not need parenting education and often failed to complete assignments given by the parenting educators.† When YMCFS offered father one-on-one visits with L.D.L., he refused to make himself available for them.† As to fatherís failure to comply, the district court concluded that, ďwhile perfectly capable of parenting with the help of therapy, [father] has selfishly chosen to latch on to [motherís] family and would subject his infant daughter to the almost certain abuse that [her] siblings have already been subjected.Ē

††††††††††† In light of the district courtís findings as to this statutory factor for each parent, which our review establishes are supported by the record, the statutory presumption has been met and has not been rebutted as to J.E.B., J.M.B., and L.D.L.† As to J.W.G., in the absence of the presumption, the record contains clear and convincing evidence that the conditions leading to his out-of-home placement were not corrected.† Accordingly, the district court did not err in its determination as to each parent that reasonable efforts have failed to correct the conditions leading to the out-of-home placement of each child.

II.

††††††††††† The district court may terminate parental rights if it finds that the parent has substantially, continuously, or repeatedly refused or neglected to comply with the duties of the parent-child relationship.† Minn. Stat. ß 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(2); see also In re Child of Simon, 662 N.W.2d 155, 163 (Minn. App. 2003) (holding that parentís failure to complete key components of the court-ordered case plan, failure to provide parenting to the child, and failure to demonstrate parenting knowledge or skill was ample evidence that the parent failed to comply with the duties and responsibilities of the parent-child relationship).†

A.†††††††† Motherís Ability to Comply With Duties Imposed by Parent-Child Relationship

The district court found that mother substantially, continuously, and repeatedly refused to comply with the duties imposed by the parent-child relationship because she failed to provide her children with the care and control necessary for the childrenís mental and emotional health and development.†

In support of her argument that the district courtís finding is erroneous, mother asserts that she (1) provided her children with appropriate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care; (2) testified that she will not subject the children to abusive individuals; and (3) has made significant strides in increasing her positive parenting skills.† But the evidence presented at trial contradicts motherís assertions and supports the district courtís determination.†

1.†††††††† J.W.G.

The district court found that motherís lack of parenting ability is ďpoignantly displayedĒ in her relationship with J.W.G.† Specifically, the district court determined that motherís emotional instability has led J.W.G. to reverse roles with his mother; J.W.G. has been over stimulated sexually, causing him to act aggressively toward his sisters and classmates; and, because J.W.G. requires special care, he should live separately from his sisters.† The record supports each of these findings.

Several service providers testified that mother does not parent J.W.G.† Rather, mother expects 10-year-old J.W.G. to be a parental figure to herself and his sisters.† This role reversal has led to motherís failure to establish appropriate parent-child boundaries with J.W.G. and has resulted in her use of manipulative behavior with J.W.G.† For example, mother frequently threatened to commit suicide as a form of manipulation.† As a result, J.W.G. has begun to use threats of suicide manipulatively.† Parent educators also testified that mother encouraged J.W.G. to act inappropriately by ďcuingĒ his behavior.†

As to the district courtís findings that J.W.G. is sexually over stimulated and in need of special care, the record establishes that mother neither protected J.W.G. from sexual abuse nor stopped him from sexually abusing his sisters.† J.W.G. was sexually abused by a former babysitter, J.W.G. was present when his cousin sexually abused J.M.B., and J.W.G. sexually abused J.E.B.† Service providers testified that J.W.G. will need to participate in intensive therapy and a sex-offender treatment program in order to help him stop sexually abusing other children in the future.

Evidence in the record of the circumstances necessitating that J.W.G. live separately from his sisters includes J.W.G.ís sexual abuse of his sister J.E.B., his attempts to force his sister J.M.B. to share his bed, and his verbally abusive behavior directed at both girls.† While in foster care, J.W.G. used his sisters as ďmaidsĒ and asserted himself as a parental figure over them.[2]† J.W.G.ís inappropriate behavior toward his sisters was not disciplined or addressed in any way by mother in the presence of service providers.† There is ample evidence in the record that, if J.W.G. lived with his sisters, their risk of further sexual and verbal abuse would be great.†

The record also demonstrates that motherís inability to set and maintain appropriate parent-child boundaries with J.W.G. has detrimentally affected J.W.G.† We conclude from our review of the record that the district courtís finding that mother has continually and substantially failed to comply with the duties of the parent-child relationship with J.W.G. is well supported.†

2.†††††††† J.E.B.

In support of its finding that mother has failed to comply with the duties of the parent-child relationship, the district court determined that, if the children were returned to mother, she would continue to subject them to people who would abuse them physically, sexually, and emotionally.† This finding is most clearly supported by the evidence addressing motherís relationship with J.E.B.† Recognizing that nearly a year of therapy has not been able to change motherís distorted perception of J.E.B., the district court found that mother is unable to act in a nurturing manner toward J.E.B.† The district court noted that motherís treatment of J.E.B. is different from that of the other children; namely, J.E.B. is considered the ďbad child.Ē†

The record establishes that mother failed to protect J.E.B. from physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.† Several service providers testified that mother made J.E.B. the ďscapegoatĒ of the family and held J.E.B. responsible for all of the familyís problems.† For example, when J.E.B. reported to school officials that she was not being fed, mother sent J.E.B. to live in Minneapolis with J.E.B.ís aunt.† When mother later learned that J.E.B. was living with J.E.B.ís maternal grandfather, who physically abused mother as a child, mother failed to take any measures to protect J.E.B.† J.E.B. subsequently reported that her grandfather physically abused her while she was living in his home.

Further, there is clear and convincing evidence that, while living with her grandfather, J.E.B. was sexually abused by her uncle during his visits to the home.† Mother testified that, although she knew her brother was a convicted sex offender, she did not know that he had sexually abused J.E.B. until February 2002.† Of greater significance to the issues before us is motherís testimony that, because she is close to her brother, she likely would continue to have a relationship with him if the children were returned.† She merely would not permit him to be in the home when the children are present.† But two months after learning of the sexual assault, at motherís invitation, her brother attended a family gathering where J.E.B. was present.†

There is ample evidence in the record that clearly supports the district courtís finding that mother substantially and continually neglected to comply with the duties imposed upon her by the parent-child relationship with J.E.B.†

3.†††††††† J.M.B.

The district court found that, if returned to mother, J.M.B. would have to face the individual who sexually abused her and would be at risk of experiencing more sexual abuse.† The record establishes that mother failed to protect J.M.B. from sexual abuse and failed to recognize the traumatic effect of such abuse on J.M.B.† J.M.B. was sexually abused by her 15-year-old cousin.† Mother testified that she would not believe that J.M.B. had been sexually abused until J.M.B.ís cousin was criminally convicted of the offense.† Mother plans to maintain contact with J.M.B.ís cousin and asked him to be L.D.L.ís godfather.† When J.M.B. reacted emotionally to the news that her cousin would be attending L.D.L.ís baptism, mother did not comfort J.M.B.† Rather, mother insisted that the children be present for the baptism against the advice of several service providers who unsuccessfully attempted to convince mother that the cousinís role as L.D.L.ís godfather and his presence with J.M.B. at the baptism were detrimental to J.M.B.

The district court also found that it was ďhighly doubtfulĒ that mother is capable of caring for J.M.B.ís routine and special physical needs.† J.M.B.ís teachers testified that, prior to entering foster care, J.M.B. routinely came to school inappropriately dressed for the weather and smelling of urine.† J.M.B. has physical impairments that require an adult to perform daily leg exercises with her.† Mother was advised of the need to perform these exercises over weekends and extended holidays when school was not in session.† J.M.B.ís special education teachers noted dramatic improvement in J.M.B.ís mobility after being placed in foster care, suggesting that J.M.B. was not consistently undergoing the requisite exercises when she was in her motherís care.† Likewise, J.M.B.ís speech and hygiene improved significantly after being removed from motherís care.†

The record before us amply supports the district courtís findings that mother has continually and substantially failed to comply with the duties of the parent-child relationship with J.M.B.

4.†††††††† L.D.L.

While there are no allegations that L.D.L., an infant, has been physically, emotionally, or sexually abused, the record supports the district courtís finding that there is a high risk of L.D.L. developing special emotional needs similar to those of her siblings if she remains in motherís care.† Motherís and fatherís selection for L.D.L.ís godfather, despite allegations that he sexually abused J.M.B., places L.D.L. at risk for future abuse.† This evidence, taken in conjunction with the strong evidence supporting termination of motherís parental rights to L.D.L.ís older siblings, adequately supports the district courtís decision to terminate motherís parental rights to L.D.L.† See In re Welfare of T.M.D., 374 N.W.2d 206, 212 (Minn. App. 1985), (upholding termination of parental rights where three eldest siblings were abused to the point of having special needs but no evidence suggested the youngest child had been subjected to the same conditions).

B.†††††††† Fatherís Ability to Comply With Duties Imposed by Parent-Child Relationship

The district court found that father substantially, continuously, and repeatedly refused and neglected to comply with the duties imposed upon him by the parent-child relationship, including, but not limited to, providing L.D.L. with necessary food, clothing, shelter, education, and other care and control necessary for the childís physical, mental, or emotional health and development.

Father argues that the district courtís findings are unsupported when applied to his relationship with L.D.L. and insufficient to warrant termination of his parental rights.† We disagree.† The record supports the district courtís conclusion that, rather than fulfilling his parenting responsibilities, father heavily relies on motherís parenting skills, which, as previously discussed, create detrimental conditions that warrant termination of her parental rights to her four children.† Father also failed to identify a myriad of safety risks for L.D.L.† The record demonstrates that, although father has the potential to learn appropriate parenting skills, he failed to exhibit any effort to parent L.D.L. on his own.†

Furthermore, father testified that he intends to maintain contact with people who have abused or neglected motherís children, including L.D.L.ís maternal grandmother, maternal uncle, cousin, and mother.† Yet father failed to demonstrate any means to safeguard L.D.L. from potential abuse.† The record establishes by clear and convincing evidence that, although father may be capable of complying with the duties imposed by the parent-child relationship, he has substantially, continuously, and repeatedly neglected to do so.†

III.

Parental rights may be terminated on the ground of palpable unfitness where there is ďa consistent pattern of specific conduct before the child or of specific conditions directly relating to the parent and child relationship,Ē which are ďof 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.Ē† Minn. Stat. ß 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4) (emphasis added); S.Z., 547 N.W.2d at 893.† The district court must make clear and specific findings conforming to the statutory requirements, and the evidence must address conditions that exist at the time of the hearing.† In re Welfare of Chosa, 290 N.W.2d 766, 769 (Minn. 1980).† When considering termination of parental rights, the district court should rely ďnot primarily on past history, but Ďto a great extent upon the projected permanency of the parentís inability to care for his or her child.íĒ† S.Z., 547 N.W.2d at 893, (citing In re Welfare of A.D., 535 N.W.2d 643, 649 (Minn. 1995)).† Where clear and convincing evidence of statutory grounds for termination exists and the prognosis for change of the conditions is poor, termination is proper.† T.M.D., 374 N.W.2d at 211; see also Clausen, 289 N.W.2d at 155.† But if the evidence indicates that, within a foreseeable time, the parent will be able to care for the child, then the district court should decline to terminate parental rights and establish a supervised plan to give custody to the parent with whatever counseling and assistance is appropriate.† S.Z., 547 N.W.2d at 892.† We have upheld the termination of parental rights due to palpable unfitness where the testimony of numerous service providers established that it is in the best interests of a young child to terminate parental rights before the parent severely harms the child physically or psychologically.† T.M.D., 374 N.W.2d at 212.

A.†††††††† Motherís Fitness to be a Party to the Parent-Child Relationship

The district court found that mother was palpably unfit to be a party to the parent-child relationship with each of her children because (1) she continually exposed them to people who have physically, sexually, mentally, and emotionally abused them; (2) she consistently failed to provide her children with proper nurturing; and (3) while motherís borderline personality disorder hinders her to some extent, her lack of effort, lack of self- discipline, and deflection of responsibility for her actions prevent her from caring for her children.† Accordingly, the district court determined that mother is unable, for the reasonably foreseeable future, to care appropriately for the ongoing physical, mental, and emotional needs of the children.†

While mental illness, per se, is not a sufficient basis for terminating parental rights, S.Z., 547 N.W.2d at 892, the effect of a mental disability may preclude a parent from providing proper parental care, In re Welfare of J.J.B., 390 N.W.2d 274, 281 (Minn. 1986).† ď[I]n each case, the actual conduct of the parent is to be evaluated to determine his or her fitness to maintain the parental relationship with the child in question so as to not be detrimental to the child.Ē† S.Z., 547 N.W.2d at 892.†

The record establishes, contrary to motherís assertions, that she has not been able to address the needs of the three eldest children.† Further, service providers testified that, if L.D.L. were to remain in motherís care, L.D.L. faces a significant risk of developing mental-health problems and suffering physical and sexual abuse similar to that of her older siblings.† The record demonstrates that motherís borderline personality symptoms require intensive DBT for approximately four to six years to produce the type of significant improvement needed to enable her to parent her children.† Service providers cautioned, however, that the nature of motherís borderline personality disorder creates an increased likelihood that her participation in therapeutic services will be inconsistent, especially if the children were returned to the home.† The record, as discussed above, clearly establishes that mother is palpably unfit to be a party to the parent-child relationship, and the district court properly concluded that mother will not be able to parent the children within a reasonably foreseeable time frame.†

B.†††††††† Fatherís Fitness to be a Party to the Parent-Child Relationship

The district court found that father is palpably unfit to be a party to the parent-child relationship because he demonstrated a lack of understanding of the emotional needs of children; an absence of a desire to learn; a strong reliance upon the parenting skills of mother; a repeated failure to respond independently to a variety of dangers to his daughter; and an unwillingness to terminate his relationship with individuals who have abused motherís children.†

Father argues that the district courtís findings are erroneous for two reasons.† First, at the time of the termination proceedings, no conditions existed that warranted terminating his parental rights.† Second, there is a dearth of specific conduct by father in the presence of L.D.L. that demonstrates he was unfit to care for her needs.† We disagree.† Unfitness may be established by a parentís inability to protect the child from abuse and the parentís general inability to parent the child due to the parentís mental health.† In re Welfare of B.M., 383 N.W.2d 704, 708 (Minn. App. 1986) (upholding termination where district court found that father was unable to protect children from abuse at the hands of mother and older brother due to his personality disorder), review denied (Minn. May 22, 1986).†

Fatherís psychological evaluator testified that, due to fatherís co-dependent personality, L.D.L. likely would experience at an early age a parent-child role reversal with father that would be detrimental to her well-being.† Additionally, fatherís therapist testified that it is unlikely that father would intervene to protect L.D.L. from motherís emotional abuse and neglect.†

The record also contradicts fatherís argument that there is no evidence that he could not care for L.D.L.† Despite receiving specific instructions to correct safety hazards, father maintained an insufficient awareness of the risks to L.D.L.ís physical safety and emotional well-being.† In addition, father failed to initiate action to protect L.D.L. from danger or meet the childís needs.† Similarly, father consistently failed to demonstrate his understanding of the danger of his daughter maintaining a relationship with sex offenders.†

The record supports the district courtís finding that father is palpably unfit to be a party to the parent-child relationship with clear and convincing evidence and demonstrates no evidence that this unfitness will end in the foreseeable future.

IV.

Having determined that there is clear and convincing evidence supporting the statutory grounds for termination, we next consider the district courtís finding that termination is in the best interests of the child.† In a termination-of-parental-rights proceeding, the best interests of the child are paramount.† Minn. Stat. ß 260C.301, subd. 7.† Here, the district court found that termination of motherís and fatherís parental rights is in the best interests of each child.† The district court reasoned that each of the children ďdeserve[s] a chance to grow up in a safe, healthy, and nurturing environment.Ē† Compelled to ďbreak the cycle of abuse,Ē the district court concluded that it is ďcontrary to the best interests of any child to be in [motherís] or [fatherís] care.Ē† Likewise, the district court found that establishing permanence as soon as practicable is in the best interests of the children, who, with the exception of L.D.L., have extensive special needs as a result of living in motherís and fatherís care.† The district court made thorough and detailed findings as to each parentís conduct and ability to parent.† Motherís lack of parenting skills, mental health, and other substantial personal issues, which are vividly illustrated in the record before us, lead us to conclude that the district court correctly determined that termination of motherís parental rights is in the best interests of the children.† For the same reasons, the district court properly concluded that it is in L.D.L.ís best interests to terminate fatherís parental rights.

V.

Mother asserts that the district court exhibited bias in admitting excludable evidence and proceeding without a continuance after the guardian ad litem discharged her attorney.† We find the assertions of bias to be without merit.† Absent an erroneous interpretation of the law, a district courtís evidentiary rulings rest within the sound discretion of the trial court and will be reversed only for a clear abuse of that discretion.† In re Welfare of D.L., 486 N.W.2d 375, 382 (Minn. 1992), (upholding trial courtís evidentiary rulings where no apparent abuse of discretion could be ascertained).† We have closely examined the record in light of motherís arguments and conclude that the parents were treated fairly and that the record does not support allegations of bias in the district courtís handling of the case.

Affirmed.†

 

 



[1]† This standard applies to termination of motherís parental rights to J.E.B., J.M.B., and L.D.L., who were under the age of eight at the time of the CHIPS petition.† The presumption does not apply to J.W.G., who was 10 years old at the time of the CHIPS petition because, for a child over eight years old, the presumption arises when that child ďhas resided out of the parental home under court order for a cumulative period of 12 months within the preceding 22 months.Ē† Minn. Stat. ß 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(5)(i).†

[2] J.W.G. eventually was removed from the foster home he shared with his sisters.