This opinion will be unpublished and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:
C.L.K. and C.M.A., Parents.
Filed April 13, 2004
Anoka County District Court
File No. J5-03-51248
Kathryn J. Cima, 1007 West 53rd Street, Minneapolis, MN 55419 (for appellant C.L.K.)
Robert M.A. Johnson, Anoka County Attorney, Robert D. Goodell, M. Katherine Doty, Assistant County Attorneys, Anoka County Government Center, 2100 Third Avenue, 7th Floor, Anoka, MN 55303 (for respondent)
Judi Albrecht, P.O. Box 832, South St. Paul, MN 55075 (guardian ad litem)
Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge; Schumacher, Judge; and Wright, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant challenges the termination of her parental rights, arguing that (1) the record does not support the determination that she is palpably unfit to be a party to the parent-and-child relationship for the reasonably foreseeable future; (2) the county did not make reasonable efforts to rehabilitate her and reunite her with her child; (3) the record does not show that terminating her parental rights is in the child’s best interests; and (4) the district court abused its discretion by not granting a continuance to allow her to complete her chemical-dependency treatment before the court reached its decision on whether to terminate her parental rights. Because the district court’s findings address the statutory criteria, are not clearly erroneous, and are supported by substantial evidence, we affirm.
Appellant C.L.K. (mother) and C.M.A. (father) are the parents of B.A.A., born October 7, 2000. The parents were never married, and father had de facto custody of B.A.A. beginning in March 2001, when his relationship with mother ended. On November 19, 2002, the Anoka County Department of Community Social Services and Mental Health (the county) filed a petition alleging that B.A.A. was a child in need of protection or services (CHIPS). The petition followed an incident the previous week in which Columbia Heights police officers observed mother walking along the street without shoes and making erratic movements. Further investigation led the officers to the home of the father’s parents, where they discovered B.A.A. living in filthy conditions. The officers also found illegal drugs and a large amount of cash at the residence.
At an emergency protective-care hearing held on November 19, mother admitted the CHIPS petition, and the court determined that B.A.A. was a child in need of protection or services as to her. Father contested the petition, but on December 2, the district court determined that B.A.A. was in need of protection and services as to father as well. The county prepared a separate case plan for each parent.
Mother’s case plan required her to (1) submit to random drug testing at the direction of the county; (2) complete psychological and chemical-dependency evaluations and follow any recommendations made as a result of those evaluations; (3) contact her caseworker at least once a week; (4) maintain appropriate housing for six months; (5) notify her caseworker of any change in housing; (6) remain law-abiding; and (7) abstain from alcohol and non-prescription drugs. Additionally, the district court ordered that any visitation of B.A.A. by mother was contingent on mother providing two consecutive clean drug tests.
Mother’s compliance with her case plan was poor. Her contacts with her caseworker were infrequent. She consistently failed to comply with the county’s drug-testing plan and when she did comply, she often tested positive for illegal-drug use. As a result of her failure to comply with the drug-testing requirements, mother has not been allowed visitation with B.A.A. since January 8, 2003. She failed to complete a psychological evaluation arranged by her caseworker. She did not obtain suitable treatment for her chemical dependency. She changed residences without notifying her caseworker and spent part of her time homeless or living in a shelter. Mother also continued to use alcohol and illegal drugs and was arrested at a Brooklyn Center motel when police found marijuana and methamphetamine in the room that she was occupying with father.
In April 2003, the county filed a petition to terminate mother’s and father’s parental rights to B.A.A., alleging that (1) they are palpably unfit to be parties to the parent-and-child relationship; (2) following B.A.A.’s placement out of the home, reasonable efforts had failed to correct the conditions leading to the out-of-home placement; and (3) B.A.A. was neglected and in foster care. See Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4), (5) and (8) (2002). Mother and father each denied the petition, and trial was set for June 17.
On May 13, mother was admitted to Abbott-Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis and a representative of the hospital initiated a pre-petition screening for mother’s commitment as chemically dependent. Mother testified at the termination-of-parental-rights trial that she had voluntarily initiated the commitment process because commitment was the only way she could receive the treatment necessary to retain her parental rights. On May 27, the Hennepin County District Court committed mother to the Anoka Regional Treatment Center as chemically dependent but stayed the commitment, contingent upon mother completing inpatient chemical-dependency treatment at Meadow Creek and cooperating with all case plans and treatment directives relating to that treatment. The order also required that, before entering inpatient treatment, mother complete a pending 90-day sentence in the Anoka County Jail for a disorderly conduct conviction.
At the start of the trial on June 17, 2003, mother requested a continuance so that she could complete her chemical-dependency treatment before the district court ruled on the termination petition. Mother argued that it would be impossible for the district court to tell if she could be fit to be a party to the parent-and-child relationship in the reasonably foreseeable future until the success or failure of her treatment had been established. The district court denied the request, and mother filed a petition to voluntarily terminate her parental rights. The court conditionally accepted the voluntary petition, pending the outcome of the trial as to father’s parental rights. At the end of the June 17 proceedings, father asked the court to delay the announcement of its decision for 30 days to give father the opportunity to complete chemical-dependency treatment. The court granted the request and continued the matter until August 1.
On August 1, mother moved the court to allow her to withdraw her voluntary-termination petition and the court granted the motion. Father failed to appear at the August 1 hearing and the matter was continued until August 12. After a three-day trial, the district court terminated both mother’s and father’s parental rights to B.A.A., concluding that the statutory grounds alleged by the county in its petition had been proved by clear and convincing evidence and that the termination of parental rights is in B.A.A.’s best interests. This appeal follows.
D E C I S I O N
Mother argues that the district court erred by terminating her parental rights to B.A.A. because the record does not support the court’s determinations that (1) she is palpably unfit to be a party to the parent-and-child relationship; (2) the county’s efforts at reunification were reasonable; and (3) termination of mother’s parental rights is in B.A.A.’s best interests.
A district court may terminate parental rights if the petitioning party proves by clear and convincing evidence that at least one statutory ground for termination exists. In re Welfare of D.D.K., 376 N.W.2d 717, 720 (Minn. App. 1985); Minn. Stat. § 260C.317, subd. 1 (2002). The court must also find that termination of parental rights would be in the child’s best interests. Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 7 (2002); In re Welfare of S.Z., 547 N.W.2d 886, 893 (Minn. 1996). On appeal from a termination proceeding, “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 closely inquires into the sufficiency of the evidence to determine whether the evidence is clear and convincing. S.Z., 547 N.W.2d at 893. “Considerable deference is due to the district court’s decision because a district court is in a superior position to assess the credibility of witnesses.” In re Welfare of L.A.F., 554 N.W.2d 393, 396 (Minn. 1996) (citation omitted).
Motherargues that the district court’s determination that she is palpably unfit to be a party to the parent-and-child relationship is not supported by clear and convincing evidence because, at the time of trial, she had been sober for more than three months and was involved in a treatment program that addressed all of the requirements of her case plan. She contends that her participation in the treatment program shows that she could be fit to be a party to the parent-and-child relationship in the foreseeable future.
The district court may terminate parental rights if it finds 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.
Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4).
The district court concluded that mother’s chemical dependency rendered her palpably unfit to be a party to the parent-and-child relationship for the reasonably foreseeable future. The district court based its conclusion on its undisputed findings that mother’s previous participation in treatment had not resolved her chemical-dependency problems; that she continued to use illegal drugs between November 2002 and May 2003, even though such drug use resulted in her being prohibited from visiting B.A.A.; that she did not comply with the drug-testing requirement of her case plan; that she had been unable to abstain from drug use except when she was incarcerated or in an inpatient treatment environment; and that, by her own admission, the longest period that she had remained sober since B.A.A.’s birth was five months. Given the severity of mother’s substance-abuse problems and the failure of previous treatment programs to resolve those problems, the court did not clearly err by finding that mother’s chemical dependency renders her palpably unfit to be a party to the parent-and-child relationship for the reasonably foreseeable future.
To terminate parental rights under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(5) and (8), the district court must find that the relevant social-services agency has made reasonable efforts to correct the conditions leading to the out-of-home placement of the child and that those efforts have failed. Mother argues that the county failed to provide reasonable services to facilitate her reunification with B.A.A. and that, therefore, the district court erred by terminating her parental rights on these statutory grounds. We disagree.
Under subdivision 1(b)(5), a district court may terminate parental rights if it finds that “following the child’s placement out of the home, reasonable efforts, under the direction of the court, have failed to correct the conditions leading to the child’s placement.” Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(5) (2002). When a child is less than eight years old, it is presumed that reasonable efforts have failed upon a showing that:
(i) [the] child has resided out of the parental home under court order for a cumulative period of . . . six months unless the parent has maintained regular contact with the child and the parent is complying with the out-of-home placement plan;
(ii) the court has approved the out-of-home placement plan required under section 260C.212 and filed with the court under section 260C.178;
(iii) conditions leading to the out-of-home placement have not been corrected. It is presumed that conditions leading to [the] child’s out-of-home placement have not been corrected upon a showing that the parent or parents have not substantially complied with the court’s orders and a reasonable case plan; and
(iv) reasonable efforts have been made by the social services agency to rehabilitate the parent and reunite the family.
Id. Mother does not dispute that the evidence satisfied the first three statutory requirements but argues that termination of her parental rights was improper because the county failed to make reasonable efforts to rehabilitate her and reunite her with B.A.A. “Reasonable efforts” at rehabilitation are services that “go beyond mere matters of form so as to include real, genuine assistance.” In re Welfare of H.K., 455 N.W.2d 529, 532 (Minn. App. 1990) (citation omitted), review denied (Minn. July 6, 1990). The length and quality of the county’s involvement is also relevant. In re Welfare of M.G., 407 N.W.2d 118, 122 (Minn. App. 1987). Mother contends that the county’s efforts were insufficient because the county “did virtually nothing to assist [her] in the primary responsibilities of the case plan, getting into treatment.”
The district court found that “[mother’s] position that [the county] has not made reasonable efforts to assist her in dealing with her chemical-dependency issues is contradicted by the overwhelming weight of the evidence.” The record supports this finding. The testimony of mother’s caseworker indicated that the county provided a referral to a rule 25 chemical-dependency evaluator, provided bus passes so that mother could get to the hospital for required drug tests, and provided a referral to and arrangements for a psychological evaluation. The caseworker also was diligent in attempting to maintain contact with mother and advise her on the ongoing requirements of the case plan through letters, telephone calls, and meetings, but mother was often difficult or impossible to reach.
Moreover, the record also shows that mother did little to cooperate with the county’s efforts in helping her meet the requirements of her case plan. She relocated without notifying her caseworker. She rarely initiated contact with her caseworker despite the fact that her case plan required her to contact the caseworker weekly. She failed to complete the psychological evaluation arranged by her caseworker. She gave incomplete information to her caseworker regarding the chemical-dependency treatment she was seeking, and she twice failed to attend scheduled intake interviews for treatment. Mother did little to take advantage of the services offered by the county, and the district court did not err by finding that the county made reasonable efforts to assist her in complying with her case plan and that termination of parental rights was warranted under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(5). See In re Welfare of J.S., 470 N.W.2d 697, 702 (Minn. App. 1991) (stating that “petition for termination is supported by clear and convincing evidence where the parents have failed to work with the welfare agency”), review denied (Minn. July 24, 1991).
The district court’s finding that the county provided reasonable services also supports the conclusion that termination of mother’s parental rights to B.A.A. was warranted by the fact that B.A.A. is “neglected and in foster care” within the meaning of Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(8). As used in the statute, “neglected and in foster care” describes a child
(a) Who has been placed in foster care by court order; and
(b) Whose parents’ circumstances, condition, or conduct are such that the child cannot be returned to them; and
(c) Whose parents, despite the availability of needed rehabilitative services, have failed to make reasonable efforts to adjust their circumstances, condition or conduct, or have willfully failed to meet reasonable expectations with regard to visiting the child or providing financial support for the child.
Minn. Stat. § 260C.007, subd. 24 (2002). To determine whether parental rights should be terminated because a child is neglected and in foster care, courts consider the length of time that the child has been in foster care; the efforts the parent has made to correct the circumstances that led to the out-of-home placement; whether the parent has visited the child in the three months preceding the filing of the termination petition; the regularity of the parent’s contact with the responsible social-services agency; the adequacy of services provided by the social-services agency; whether additional services would be useful; and the nature of the social-service agency’s efforts to rehabilitate and reunite. Minn. Stat. § 260C.163, subd. 9 (2002).
Here, the district court’s findings did not specifically address all of the factors in section 260C.163, subdivision 9. But we can affirm the district court’s determination that a child is neglected and in foster care if the court’s findings of fact “demonstrate the existence of many of the factors outlined in the statute, and provide clear and convincing evidence of the standard for termination articulated in [Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(8)].” In re Welfare of A.D., 535 N.W.2d 643, 648-49 (Minn. 1995). The district court’s findings show that it considered most of the factors listed in the statute, including the efforts made by the county to facilitate reunification of mother and B.A.A., and that the statutory criteria for termination of parental rights under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(8), were met. The district court did not err by concluding that the county made reasonable efforts to rehabilitate mother and to reunite her with B.A.A.
Mother also argues that the record does not support the district court’s finding that termination of her parental rights is in B.A.A.’s best interests. “The paramount consideration in all proceedings for the termination of parental rights is the best interests of the child.” Minn. Stat. § 260C.001, subd. 3 (2002). “In analyzing the best interests of the child, the court must balance three factors: (1) the child’s interest in preserving the parent-and-child relationship; (2) the parent’s interest in preserving the parent-and-child relationship; and (3) any competing interest of the child.” In re Welfare of R.T.B., 492 N.W.2d 1, 4 (Minn. App. 1992) (citing In re Welfare of M.G., 407 N.W.2d 118, 121 (Minn. App. 1987)). Competing interests include considerations such as a stable environment for the child and the child’s health. M.G., 407 N.W.2d at 121. “Where the interests of parent and child conflict, the interests of the child are paramount.” Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 7.
The record supports the district court’s finding that termination of mother’s parental rights is in B.A.A.’s best interests. In addition to the evidence that mother has been unable to maintain a sober lifestyle outside of incarceration or inpatient treatment, B.A.A.’s guardian ad litem testified that, in her opinion, termination is in the child’s best interests because B.A.A. should not be kept waiting for a stable life. Based on the evidence, the court found that “[t]o ‘wait and see’ whether [mother] can attain and/or maintain sobriety for any extended length of time is inconsistent with [B.A.A.’s] needs and best interests” and concluded that “[t]o allow the relationship to continue . . . is inconsistent with the child’s right to live in an environment that offers a safe permanent relationship with nurturing parents or caretakers and with the right to have the opportunity to establish lifelong relationships.” The district court did not clearly err by concluding that B.A.A.’s best interests are served by terminating mother’s parental rights. See In re Welfare of J.R., Jr., 655 N.W.2d 1, 5 (Minn. 2003) (stating that “[e]ach delay in the termination of a parent’s rights equates to a delay in a child’s opportunity to have a permanent home and can seriously affect a child’s chance for permanent placement”).
Finally, mother contends that the district court abused its discretion by denying her request for a continuance to give her time to complete her chemical-dependency treatment before the court decided whether to terminate her parental rights to B.A.A. “The granting of a continuance is a matter within the discretion of the trial court and its ruling will not be reversed absent a showing of clear abuse of discretion.” Dunshee v. Douglas, 255 N.W.2d 42, 45 (Minn. 1977). The district court stated that it denied mother’s request for a continuance because mother had consistently failed to comply with the case plan and because B.A.A. “needs permanency and some kind of stability.” Mother argues that the court abused its discretion because there was no immediacy to the case and the court granted a similar continuance request by father.
When mother requested her continuance, the record showed that father had not previously been through chemical-dependency treatment but that he was scheduled to complete a treatment program approximately three weeks after the hearing date. Based on this record, the district court granted a six-week continuance to see if father’s treatment program would resolve his chemical-dependency issues. By contrast, the record with regard to mother showed that (1) she had continued to abuse illegal drugs after previously completing a chemical-dependency treatment program; and (2) a continuance allowing mother to complete the treatment program that she was enrolled in would have required delaying the resolution of the case for at least 90 days because of the length of the program and the fact that mother had to complete her jail term in Anoka County before beginning the treatment. Furthermore, the county and B.A.A.’s guardian ad litem each opposed mother’s requested continuance on the grounds that it was important to provide B.A.A. with a stable environment as soon as possible. “The best interests of a child are not served by delay that precludes the establishment of parental bonds with the child by either the natural parent or adoptive parents within the foreseeable future.” S.Z., 547 N.W.2d at 893 (citing In re Welfare of Kidd, 261 N.W.2d 833, 836 (Minn. 1978)).
Additionally, because the district court delayed its decision on the termination of mother’s parental rights until the date that the issue of the termination of father’s parental rights was to be decided and allowed mother to withdraw her voluntary-termination petition, mother received a de facto continuance of the same length as the continuance granted to father. Given mother’s previous failure in chemical-dependency treatment, the length of the delay in placing B.A.A. in a stable home that mother’s requested continuance would cause, and because mother in fact received a substantial continuance, the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying mother’s requested continuance.
 A rule 25 assessment establishes the appropriate level of chemical-dependency treatment. See Minn. R. 9530.6600-.6655 (2003).
 In A.D., the court stated this proposition with regard to Minn. Stat. § 260.155, subd. 7 (1994). The juvenile-protection statutes were amended in 1999 and section 260.155, subdivision 7, was recodified as Minn. Stat. § 260C.163, subd. 9, without substantially changing the language.