This opinion will be unpublished and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
Filed May 18, 2004
Robert H. Schumacher, Judge
Michelle A. Dietrich, Redwood County Attorney, Post Office Box 130, Redwood Falls, MN 56283 (for respondent Redwood County)
Kevin E. Passe, Post Office Box 127, Redwood Falls, MN 56283 (for respondents children)
Paulette Koch, 90 US Highway 14, Walnut Grove, MN 56180 (guardian ad litem)
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
ROBERT H. SCHUMACHER, Judge
Appellant-mother L.D. challenges the district court's order terminating her parental rights to minor children M.R. and H.R. Mother argues she is not a palpably unfit parent and the county did not provide reasonable efforts to reunify her with M.R. and H.R. We affirm.
Appellant is the mother of M.R., age six, and H.R., age four. From April 2001 to October 2001, three child protection assessments were filed by Nicollet County Social Services regarding mother and the children. The assessments documented the children's witnessing of physical abuse of mother by her boyfriend, mother's attempted suicide, an incident where her boyfriend drove an automobile while intoxicated with mother and the children as passengers, and an incident where mother's boyfriend kidnapped M.R. and H.R. and kept them from mother. Reports also documented physical abuse of M.R. and H.R. by mother. In October 2001, mother moved to Redwood County. At the time of the move, mother was aware that Nicollet County Social Services was preparing a child-in-need-of-protection-or-services (CHIPS) petition on behalf of M.R. and H.R.
Shortly after mother moved, Redwood County received information from Nicollet County regarding mother, M.R., and H.R. Social worker Rebecca Foss began services to aid mother and the children including case management, respite care, support through an intensive in-home worker, financial assistance including an emergency assistance grant, enrollment in Headstart, and a prescription for medication to treat mother's anxiety and depression.
While Redwood County was providing services to mother, there were two reports describing H.R.'s disclosure that mother had burned her. Foss testified to H.R.'s June 2002 disclosure that she "was burned in her private area by her mother." Darlene Rohlik, the person who had provided respite care in Redwood County, testified to seeing fluid-filled blisters on the inside of H.R.'s labia during this same time. In October 2002, three days after the second report was received by Redwood County, mother moved to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, without informing social services.
In November 2002, mother contacted Rohlik, and asked her to come to Sioux Falls and take the children. Upon arriving, Rohlik observed the children sitting outside wearing only underwear. Mother told Rohlik the children did not have any clean clothes and had not eaten lunch because they did not have any food. Rohlik took H.R. to a physician to whom H.R. disclosed that her mother had burned her. The physician found H.R. to have sustained a second-degree burn on her right labia majora.
Other disclosures of abuse occurred later, including M.R.'s admission to the Rohliks that when they lived with mother a "big hairy man" had been on top of H.R. in the basement and was hurting her. M.R. reported that he tried to pull the man off H.R., but the man pushed him up against a wall. Later, M.R. told the Rohliks that mother "eats on [his] privates and sticks her finger in [his] bottom."
In November 2002, Redwood County filed a CHIPS petition on behalf of M.R. and H.R. The children were taken into immediate custody and placed with the Rohliks. Services pursuant to an out-of-home placement plan began including case management, individual counseling for mother and both children, a parenting assessment, supervised visits, foster care, lists of resources in Sioux Falls for mother, a phone card and toll-free numbers to aid mother in contacting both children, and access to a battered women's support group in Sioux Falls.
In December 2002, M.R. and H.R. were placed in the care of their grandparents. Between December 18 and February 5, the only restriction on mother's visitation was that she call the grandparents prior to any visit. According to Foss's testimony, under this arrangement mother attempted to visit the children three times. Only two visits actually occurred during which mother visited for 30 to 45 minutes. In March, due to medical problems, the grandparents requested the children be placed in foster care. M.R. and H.R. were then placed with the Rohliks.
While coordinating services in this matter, Foss recognized that mother's residence in Sioux Falls was having a detrimental effect on her ability to reunify with M.R. and H.R. Foss attempted to persuade mother to establish a residence in Minnesota. In April 2003, mother agreed to move back to Minnesota. A letter from Lutheran Social Services in Sioux Falls dated June 18, 2003, shows mother completed an initial counseling session but chose not to set up a second appointment, explaining that she would be moving back to Minnesota. The counselor from Lutheran Social Services told mother that she should attend counseling once per week.
Mother lived in Minnesota from May 2003 through approximately July 2003. Services to support mother in relocating included first-month's rent and portions of various deposits, June rent, payment of a utility bill, lists of parenting and job resources, and access to battered women's support group. According to mother's testimony, she attended four sessions of individual counseling during her three-month stay in Minnesota.
In July 2003, mother returned to South Dakota. After mother moved, Foss sent a letter to the South Dakota address provided by mother explaining that individualized parenting classes could be arranged for her in Sioux Falls. Mother did not respond.
Pursuant to the out-of-home-placement plan, Dr. Susan Siegfried completed a parenting assessment of mother. Psychological testing administered by Dr. Siegfried characterized mother as dependent, narcissistic, immature, and self-indulgent. Testing showed mother was not as attached to her children as the average parent and experienced parenting as a burden. Dr. Siegfried further found mother had not provided a safe and stable environment for the children. Finally, Dr. Siegfried reported mother showed very little interest in the parenting assessment and only completed testing when a social worker demanded she finish.
Dr. Angela Peterson testified that she has been meeting with H.R. and M.R. once per week since June 2003. Her assessments show both H.R. and M.R. suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, physical and sexual abuse, and symptoms of reactive attachment disorder. Both children were described as suffering from a history of pathogenic care in which their caregiver had persistent disregard for their basic emotional and physical needs. Mother was informed of the post traumatic stress disorder diagnosis and was provided information regarding this disorder. Mother did not pursue opportunities to speak with Dr. Peterson to learn more.
After a two-day hearing, the district court entered an order terminating mother's parental rights. The district court concluded that there was clear and convincing evidence mother continues and will continue to be a palpably unfit parent, reasonable efforts had been made by social services to rehabilitate mother and reunite her with M.R. and H.R., and it was in the best interests of M.R. and H.R. that mother's parental rights be terminated.
1. On appeal in 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). A reviewing court "exercises great caution in termination proceedings, finding such action proper only when the evidence clearly mandates such a result." In re Welfare of S.Z., 547 N.W.2d 886, 893 (Minn. 1996).
Here, the district court found mother was palpably unfit to parent and, accordingly, terminated her parental rights. Parental rights may be terminated when
a parent is palpably unfit to be a party to the parent and child relationship because of . . . specific conditions directly relating to the parent and child relationship . . . 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) (2002). The burden of proving a parent "palpably unfit" is onerous. In re Welfare of M.D.O., 462 N.W.2d 370, 376 (Minn. 1990). The petitioning party must prove a consistent pattern of specific conduct or specific conditions that exist at the time of the hearing that will continue for a prolonged, indefinite period and that are permanently detrimental to the welfare of the child. Id. at 377.
Mother argues the district court impermissibly based its conclusion that she is a palpably unfit parent on the fact that she failed to protect her children from abuse by her boyfriend when she has since moved away from him. Mother also argues the district court erred in basing its conclusion that she is palpably unfit to parent on past history of abuse rather than the projected permanency of her inability to care for her children.
Here, the record indicates, among other concerns, the pattern of abuse experienced by H.R. and M.R. only ceased when social services removed them from mother's care. Beyond this, the record shows Dr. Siegfried diagnosed mother as having a narcissistic profile, a history of being in and continuing abusive relationships, an unwillingness to place M.R. and H.R.'s best interests before her own, and a view that M.R. and H.R. hold her back from the lifestyle she would like. With regard to mother, a counselor at Lutheran Social Services wrote: "My general impression of [mother] was that she lacked insight regarding the impact her behavior has had on her children. . . . Her ability to accept responsibility for their difficulties was limited. She was predominantly concerned with how her choices had impacted herself." Moreover, mother failed to consistently attend individual counseling and failed to follow through on opportunities for individual parenting classes. She did not pursue opportunities to speak with professionals about the emotional disorders of her children, minimally visited with her children when given the opportunity, and minimally participated in the parenting assessment.
These facts were noted in the district court's memorandum as the basis for concluding that mother is a palpably unfit parent. These facts focus on patterns of conduct at the time of the hearing, particularly mother's unwillingness to learn to care for her children who have special needs due to their emotional disorders. The district court appropriately focused on the projected permanency of mother's inability to care for M.R. and H.R and did not place an impermissible emphasis on abuse by an adult with whom mother no longer resides or on stale evidence of abuse by mother.
2. Counties are required to make reasonable efforts to correct the conditions that formed the basis of the petition to terminate parental rights. Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(5) (2002). "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) (citing In re Welfare of J.J.B., 390 N.W.2d 274, 281 (Minn. 1986)). The nature of services that the county is required to provide depends on the problems in each particular case. Welfare of S.Z., 547 N.W.2d at 892.
Mother contends she could not access services located in Redwood County while she resided in Sioux Falls, services provided in Sioux Falls were inadequate, and her children should have been moved to a location closer to her to promote reunification. For these reasons, mother argues the county failed to make reasonable efforts at reunification.
The record shows the county provided services to mother and the children from November 2001 through July 2003. Services included, among other things, case management, respite care, support through an intensive in-home worker, financial assistance grants, individual counseling, a parenting assessment, supervised visits, foster care, and information on the mental health diagnoses of both children. While mother lived in South Dakota, she had access to individual counseling, a battered women's support group, and phone cards and toll-free numbers to aid her in contacting the children. She was also provided with financial assistance to help her reestablish a home in Minnesota.
Despite these efforts, mother refused to participate in any meaningful way. She minimally participated in the parenting assessment. She consistently failed to attend counseling sessions, even though she knew she should attend sessions once per week and knew counselors were available to her in both South Dakota and Minnesota. She failed to respond to the county's attempt to establish individual parenting courses for her in South Dakota. Although she had been provided information on the mental health diagnoses of the children, she did not pursue the opportunity to learn more by talking to Dr. Peterson.
This record supports the district court's findings that the county offered reasonable services while mother lived in both Minnesota and South Dakota to rehabilitate and reunite her with M.R. and H.R. Mother, however, failed to take advantage of the services offered to her. See In re Welfare of J.H.D., 416 N.W.2d 194, 198-99 (Minn. App. 1987) (holding parent's failure to take advantage of agency's services supports finding that reasonable efforts have failed to correct conditions relating to termination), review denied (Minn. Feb. 12, 1988).