This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In the Matter of the Children of
A.M.W. and T.R.
Filed February 3, 2004
Anoka County District Court
File No. J6-02-53645
Sherri D. Hawley, 1398 Myrtle Street North, St. Paul, MN 55119 (for appellant A.W.)
Robert M.A. Johnson, Anoka County Attorney, M. Katherine Doty, Assistant County Attorney, Anoka County Government Center, 2100 Third Avenue, 7th Floor, Anoka, MN 55303 (for respondent Anoka County Social Services)
Considered and decided by Wright, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Minge, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
In this termination-of-parental-rights proceeding, the mother of T.R. and G.T. challenges the adequacy of the evidence to support the three grounds on which the district court terminated her parental rights: failure to correct conditions leading to out-of-home placement, the children are neglected and in foster care, and palpable unfitness to parent the children in the reasonably foreseeable future. Because the facts in the record provide a sufficient basis for the district court to find by clear and convincing evidence that the county made reasonable efforts to rehabilitate and reunite the family, that three statutory grounds for termination exist, and that termination is in the best interests of the children, we affirm.
F A C T S
Anoka County Social Services began supervision of A.W. and her two children in June 2001, after G.T. tested positive for methamphetamine at birth on May 23, 2001. A.W. also tested positive for methamphetamine in addition to marijuana. A.W. had previously been under supervision in Benton County for neglect of her older child, T.R., born March 13, 1997, but the supervision was concluded after three months.
A.W. admitted that she used marijuana and had used methamphetamines once or twice a month during her pregnancy with G.T. She agreed to voluntary urinalyses (UA) and completed a chemical assessment. Under a caseworker’s supervision, A.W. began UA in September 2001. In October 2001 she tested positive for methamphetamine and marijuana; the following month she tested positive for methamphetamine. From October 2001 through January 2002, she repeatedly failed to provide UA specimens. As a result, the chemical-assessment recommendation was revised to include outpatient chemical-dependency treatment.
From January until March 2002, A.W. failed to keep in contact with her supervising caseworker. In March A.W. began an outpatient treatment program but was expelled in the first two weeks for failure to attend. Following expulsion from the program, she again failed to provide UA specimens.
On March 25, 2002, Isanti County placed T.R. in protective foster care after finding her in her grandmother’s care in an unkempt condition. Police went to the grandmother’s home on an unrelated matter and observed unsafe conditions caused by a remodeling project, construction tools, scarce food, and a glass pipe containing white residue. Several times during 2002, A.W. refused to provide a UA specimen.
Anoka County filed a CHIPS (Child in Need of Protection or Services) petition in April 2002. Pending the hearing, A.W. consulted with a psychiatrist who diagnosed her as bipolar with a methamphetamine addiction. A.W. did not follow the psychiatrist’s recommendation for medication and, despite direction to return to the clinic in one month, did not.
At the June 14, 2002 CHIPS hearing, A.W. admitted that T.R. and G.T. were without proper parental care and in need of protection or services because of her condition and circumstances. The children were placed in foster care with A.W.’s aunt, and the county developed a court-ordered case plan.
The case plan required A.W. to complete evaluations, comply with recommendations generated by the evaluations, complete a chemical-dependency program and aftercare, submit to random UAs administered through a daily call-in system, and attend AA or NA meetings. The case plan provided for supervised visitation contingent on the UAs showing no drug use. A.W.’s UA on the day of the CHIPS hearing tested positive for methamphetamine.
On October 8, 2002, A.W. entered an inpatient chemical-dependency program. During the program, she had two UAs that were positive for marijuana. Against the advice of the staff, A.W. left treatment after thirty days. She rejected the staff recommendation for halfway-house placement with her children and did not participate in an aftercare program. At the end of the thirty days, she went briefly to Duluth for a vacation and then returned to Anoka County. She wrote a letter to her caseworker inquiring about visitation but did not contact the caseworker to make arrangements.
Anoka County filed a petition on November 14, 2002, to terminate A.W.’s parental rights. On November 19, 2002, she was arrested on an Anoka County felony charge for forgery. Within the previous year she had been charged and convicted in Isanti County on a separate forgery felony.
At the contested termination hearing on March 4-5, 2003, the county presented testimony from A.W.’s current Anoka County child-protection social worker and the children’s guardian ad litem. A.W.’s caseworker testified that A.W.’s parental rights should be terminated because she failed to achieve or maintain sobriety, failed to comply with her case plan, and failed to use the services the county had made available. The guardian ad litem testified that it was in T.R.’s and G.T.’s best interests to terminate A.W.’s parental rights because the children needed stability and permanency, they had not had contact with A.W. for almost a year, and A.W.’s life continued to be surrounded with drugs, instability, and criminal activity.
Following the hearing, the district court issued findings of fact and conclusions of law. The court found that the evidence clearly and convincingly established that A.W. had substantial chemical-dependency and mental-health problems, that she had failed substantially to complete the requirements of her case plan, that she had not addressed her problems in a manner that would permit her to parent either child in the foreseeable future, and that it was in the best interests of the children to terminate A.W.’s parental rights. The court concluded that the county had proved three statutory bases for termination: failure to correct conditions leading to out-of-home placement, the children are neglected and in foster care, and palpable unfitness to parent the children in the reasonably foreseeable future.
D E C I S I O N
A district court may terminate parental rights only if it is proved by clear and convincing evidence that a statutory ground for termination exists. In re Welfare of J.M., 574 N.W.2d 717, 724 (Minn. 1998); Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b) (2002) (setting forth statutory grounds for termination). On review we closely inquire into the sufficiency of evidence, taking into account the clear-and-convincing standard and also taking into account that it is the district court that assesses the credibility of witnesses. In re Welfare of L.A.F., 554 N.W.2d 393, 396 (Minn. 1996). In termination-of-parental-rights proceedings, the paramount dispositive consideration is the best interests of the child. Minn. Stat. § 260C.001, subd. 3 (2002).
The district court found that clear and convincing evidence established that reasonable efforts under the direction of the court had failed to correct the conditions leading to T.R.’s and G.T.’s out-of-home placement within the meaning of Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(5). A.W. does not challenge the findings that the conditions leading to the children’s out-of-home placement remain uncorrected. The record demonstrates that A.W. is currently unable to provide a home for the children, has not successfully addressed her methamphetamine addiction, and has probation-violation hearings pending. Instead, A.W. disputes that Anoka County made reasonable efforts to rehabilitate and reunify the family. See Minn. Stat. § 260.012(a), (c), (2002) (imposing reasonable-effort requirements for rehabilitation and reunification).
When determining whether reasonable efforts have been made, courts must consider whether services to the child and family were relevant to the child’s safety and protection, adequate to meet the child’s and family’s needs, culturally appropriate, available, consistent, timely, and realistic under the circumstances. Minn. Stat. § 260.012(c). The court should also consider the length and quality of the services. In re Welfare of J.J.B., 390 N.W.2d 274, 281 (Minn. 1986). Whether the provided services constitute reasonable efforts depends on the problems that prevent reunification. In re Welfare of S.Z., 547 N.W.2d 886, 892 (Minn. 1996).
The district court found that Anoka County made reasonable reunification and rehabilitation efforts that included case-management services, chemical-dependency assessment and treatment, and psychological services. The court further found that it was A.W.’s failure to use the services and to complete treatment that prevented reunification.
The record supports the district court’s finding that A.W. failed to use the services provided by the county. The county developed a case plan immediately after the CHIPS determination in June 2001. Despite the case plan requirement that A.W. contact her caseworker two times a month, A.W. failed to keep in contact with either her first or second caseworker. The central goal of the case plan was to address A.W.’s methamphetamine addiction. After being expelled from an outpatient program while under Anoka County’s supervision, A.W. failed to successfully complete a chemical-dependency program on an inpatient basis. Against staff advice, A.W. left the inpatient program after thirty days, rejected the staff’s recommendation that she enter a halfway house with her children, and did not participate in the required aftercare.
A.W. also failed to follow up on the case plan’s provision for psychological services. When referred to a psychologist she did not appear for the appointment. When her caseworker arranged for a second appointment, A.W. attended but she did not comply with the recommendations. She also failed to follow up on the psychologist’s recommendation for a psychiatric consultation.
The county provided chemical-health assessments, chemical-dependency treatment, urinalysis, psychological assessments, individual therapy, foster care, and supervised visitation. The evidence indicates that these services were relevant, realistic, available, accessible, adequate, appropriate, consistent, and timely. A.W.’s unimproved condition is not attributable to the county’s lack of reasonable efforts, but to A.W.’s failure to accept the services made available to her. The district court did not err in finding that the county made reasonable efforts to reunite the family.
The district court found that clear and convincing evidence established that T.R. and G.T. are neglected and in foster care. See Minn. Stat. § 260C.007, subd. 24 (2002) (listing “neglected and in foster care” as basis for termination of parental rights). A child is “neglected and in foster care” if that child has been placed in foster care by court order; the parents’ circumstances, condition, or conduct prevent return to the family; and the parents, despite the availability of needed rehabilitative services, have failed to make reasonable efforts to address the problems preventing return. Id.
To determine whether parental rights should be terminated because a child is neglected and in foster care, courts look at the length of time the child has been in foster care; the effort the parent has made to adjust circumstances, conduct, or conditions to allow return to the home; the parent’s contact with the children preceding the petition; the parent’s contact with the responsible agency; the adequacy of services; the availability of relevant services; and the social service agency’s efforts to rehabilitate and reunite. Minn. Stat. § 260C.163, subd. 9 (2002).
The district court’s findings addressed the statutory factors. The children were in foster care from June 14, 2002, to the March hearing—approximately nine months. A.W. had not complied with the case plan and had failed to solidly address her chemical-dependency and mental-health problems. A.W. had not had an in-person visit since May 23, 2002, and had infrequently asked for visitation. She also failed to attain sobriety that would allow visitation. She acknowledged that she had little contact with her social workers, and the record confirms that the numerous services offered to A.W. were tailored to her specific problems. A.W. failed to follow through on the services, failed to complete her case plan, and has not demonstrated any reason to believe that she will change her approach in the foreseeable future. Finally, as we concluded in section I, the county made reasonable efforts to rehabilitate and reunite the family. The district court did not err in finding that T.R. and G.T. are neglected and in foster care.
The district court found that A.W. is palpably unfit to parent T.R. and G.T. in the foreseeable future. See Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4) (defining palpable unfitness). To find that a parent is palpably unfit, the district court must find by clear and convincing evidence, a pattern of specific conduct or specific conditions that make the parent unable, in the reasonably foreseeable future, to care for her children’s ongoing physical, mental, or emotional needs. The court must also find that the county made reasonable efforts to rehabilitate the parent and reunite the family. S.Z., 547 N.W.2d at 892. “Mental illness, in and of itself, is not sufficient basis for the termination of parental rights.” Id. But a mental disability may preclude a parent from providing proper parental care. J.J.B., 390 N.W.2d at 281.
The district court specifically found that A.W. had not demonstrated any significant change in her chemical dependency, her mental health, or her stability. The court found that A.W. was challenged in providing even for her own personal needs. At the termination hearing, A.W. acknowledged that she has had a methamphetamine addiction for seven to eight years. She admitted the continued use of methamphetamines since leaving treatment. She has also failed to follow up on psychological and psychiatric treatment. As addressed in section I, Anoka County made reasonable efforts to rehabilitate A.W. and reunite the family.
The record provides no evidence that A.W. will be able, in the reasonably foreseeable future, to care for T.R. and G.T. She does not have stable employment, she is facing legal challenges on her criminal convictions, and she has not maintained a period of sobriety to be able to show that she would be able to care for the children. She currently lives with the parents of her methamphetamine provider and is unable to provide a home for T.R. and G.T. Although the children are making good progress in foster care, they require long-term stability and permanence. Despite the numerous services provided by the county, A.W. failed to show changes in her chemical dependency, or mental health, or stability in her living situation. The record supports the district court’s findings by clear and convincing evidence that A.W. is palpably unfit to parent T.R. and G.T. in the foreseeable future.
The district court also made specific findings that termination of A.W.’s parental rights is in the best interests of T.R. and G.T. because the children need permanency and there is no substantial likelihood that they will be reunited with their mother in the foreseeable future. The record supports these findings on the children’s best interests.