This opinion will be unpublished and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 Adoption of:
D. Z. S., D. E. S., and J. K. C.
Filed September 14, 2004
Ramsey County District Court
File Nos. FX-03-55165, J3-01-554305, J5-02-550119
Gary A. Debele, Marian E. Saksena, Walling, Berg & Debele, P.A., 121 South 8th Street, Suite 1100, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for appellants Talangea and Reginald Robinson)
Susan Gaertner, Ramsey County Attorney, Ann Ploetz, Assistant County Attorney, 50 Kellogg Boulevard West, Suite 560, St. Paul, MN 55102 (for respondent Ramsey County Community Human Services Department)
Paul W. Bergstrom, 25 West 7th Street, St. Paul, MN 55102 (for respondent Guardian ad Litem)
Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge, Anderson, Judge, and Halbrooks, Judge.
On appeal from denial of their adoption petition, appellants argue that (1) the guardian ad litem lacks standing to contest this appeal; (2) the district court erred in denying their petition before the Commissioner of Human Services consented to, or withheld consent from, the proposed adoption; (3) they were denied due process of law; (4) the district court failed to properly address the children’s best interests; and (5) the district court abused its discretion in withholding certain documents. Because the district court acted within its discretion and did not err, we affirm.
In June 2001, authorities removed D.Z.S., D.E.S, and J.K.C. from the home of their mother, Lacretia Stewart, after determining they had suffered severe neglect and emotional and physical abuse. That same month, Ramsey County Community Human Services Department (RCCHSD) contacted the children’s maternal aunt and uncle, appellants Talangea and Reginald Robinson, about possible placement of the children with them. According to RCCHSD’s written documentation, appellants stated that they were unwilling to accept the children at that time. In July 2001, the children were placed in foster care with Lorna Freer. The parties agree that Freer has provided a loving, stable environment that has been extremely beneficial to the children. Respondent Edward Cassidy is the children’s court-appointed guardian ad litem (GAL).
In May 2002, following a CHIPS review hearing, the district court found that RCCHSD had made special efforts to recruit a foster family from among the children’s relatives, as required by Minn. Stat. § 260C.215 (2002). The district court made a similar finding in June 2002, following another CHIPS review hearing. At that time, the district court specifically ordered that Stewart have no contact with the children. The parties did not file a motion to vacate the findings in the May 2002 and June 2002 orders.
In October 2002, following a hearing, Stewart voluntarily terminated her parental rights, and the district court transferred custody of the children to RCCHSD’s Guardianship Unit. In December 2002, Mary Joan Murray, the child-protection worker assigned to the case prior to the transfer, submitted a post-TPR report indicating that it would not be appropriate to place the children in Illinois with appellants. Murray’s opinion was based on her belief that appellants would not protect the children from future contact with Stewart.
In January 2003, Jenni Buskirk, an experienced social worker, began a thorough investigation and search for an appropriate adoptive family. Buskirk reviewed the record, met with the children, and spoke with the children’s teachers, their foster mother, and D.Z.S.’s therapist. Buskirk subsequently selected a Minnesota couple to be the children’s prospective adoptive parents. Buskirk’s summary for the district court noted that a kinship search had been completed and that there were no appropriate relatives to adopt the children.
But before the children could be transitioned into the prospective adoptive couple’s home, Buskirk received a call from an Illinois relative who expressed interest in adopting the children. Consequently, the adoption was put on hold and interstate-compact adoption studies were conducted concerning Mary Ann Woods, the children’s maternal grandmother, and appellants, all of whom reside in Illinois. Appellants’ adoption study reported that they had cared for D.Z.S. during the first year of her life, but that they had not seen the children in approximately three years. According to appellants, they did not learn that the children were in foster care until October 2002, or they would have pursued placement earlier. When asked about the amount of future contact the children would have with their mother, appellants responded, “None.” Talangea Robinson went on to say that she was very angry with her sister “right now” and did not intend to allow contact between the children and their mother “any time soon.” Appellants indicated that if they could no longer care for the children, Woods would provide all child-rearing responsibilities. The study recommended placement of the children with appellants, which was later approved. But placement with Woods was denied.
After considering the recommendations in the adoption studies, Buskirk submitted a report stating that she could not support moving the children to Illinois. According to Buskirk, the adoption studies had not adequately addressed her concerns about potential contact between the children and their mother. Buskirk was also concerned that counseling for the children had not been arranged in Illinois. Furthermore, Buskirk reported that while appellants claimed they were not aware of the children’s whereabouts until October 2002, the record indicated otherwise because Murray had spoken to Talangea Robinson on April 1, 2002, and discussed with her the fact that the children were in foster care and invited her to attend an upcoming hearing. Although there were at least two hearings between April 2002 and October 2002, none of the maternal relatives attended those hearings. Buskirk was also concerned that Stewart had transferred her probation to Illinois and had given Woods’s address to her probation officer. Although Buskirk could not verify that Stewart was in contact with Woods or appellants, from her experience, there is often contact with biological parents when children are placed with relatives, especially when the children are placed in the same community where the parent resides. Buskirk noted that it was only after Stewart stopped visiting the children that they began to flourish in their foster home. Buskirk was also concerned that after the children saw photos of the Illinois relatives, D.Z.S. identified Talangea Robinson as someone who had previously hit her with a belt, and the children began exhibiting signs of “fear and anxiety.” Buskirk recommended pursuing a non-relative adoptive home and allowing the children to continue residing in foster care with Freer until permanent placement could be resolved.
But Buskirk’s supervisor, Carolyn Reynolds, disagreed with Buskirk’s recommendation. According to Reynolds, a proper kinship search was never conducted by RCCHSD. Reynolds also opined that D.Z.S.’s reaction to the photos of the Illinois relatives was racially motivated. Although Reynolds was aware of written documentation verifying that RCCHSD had contacted appellants in June 2001 about possible placement of the children with them and that appellants were unwilling to accept them at that time, Reynolds was persuaded by appellants’ statement that they could not remember being contacted by RCCHSD. Reynolds also found Talangea Robinson’s denial of ever hitting D.Z.S. with a belt credible. Reynolds opined that it was in the children’s best interests to be placed with an African-American family.
On August 5, 2003, the GAL moved the district court to order RCCHSD to proceed with finalizing the adoption of the children by the Minnesota couple previously identified by Buskirk. This motion was preceded by a thorough, independent investigation by the GAL, as well as by his submission of several reports, which the court found had “accurately set forth the facts he ha[d] gathered, his concerns for the children, and his recommendations in their best interests.” The district court also noted that the GAL’s testimony was “highly credible and reliable.”
In his supporting affidavits, the GAL testified that the maternal relatives had shown a “pattern of disinterest and neglect” that rendered their recent interest in the children “highly suspect.” The GAL stated that he was unaware of any attempt by appellants to locate the children between June 2001 and October 2002, and that they had made no attempt to contact or visit the children during their October 2002 visit to Minnesota. According to the GAL, appellants did not express an interest in adopting the children until April 2003, about the same time that Woods expressed a similar interest. In the GAL’s opinion, it is inconceivable that family members with the stated level of interest they now claim to have would not have made efforts to locate the children for so long. The GAL also remained concerned about whether the children would have contact with their mother, given Stewart’s probation transfer to Illinois and her relatives’ apparent lack of appreciation for what the children went through while in Stewart’s care. The GAL recommended that it would be in the children’s best interests to be adopted by the Minnesota couple selected by Buskirk without further delay, giving the children the opportunity to remain close with Freer and her family, which the GAL felt was vital.
The GAL also testified that Freer contacted him after the children reacted negatively to seeing photographs of appellants and Woods. According to Freer, D.Z.S. had immediately identified Talangea Robinson as the person who had hit her with a belt, and D.Z.S. told Freer that she wanted to “be dead . . . that God is dead . . . I want to be like God.” Freer also stated that after viewing the photos, D.Z.S. became agitated, cried over simple things, and resumed her care-taking behavior toward her younger siblings. J.K.C. also became very negative, acted abnormally clingy toward Freer, and started hitting his sisters and pulling their hair. Furthermore, Leah Kleven, D.Z.S.’s therapist, reported that the children seemed sad, upset, anxious, and stressed after seeing the photos and that D.Z.S. had again stated that Talangea Robinson had hit her with a belt. The GAL also observed similar behavior in August 2003. In his opinion, the children are afraid of being moved to Illinois. In a supplemental affidavit, the GAL testified that he remained concerned that the children would live with Woods, where Stewart also lives, if appellants could no longer care for them. The GAL also stated that the adoption studies did not adequately address the important relationship the children had developed with Freer and her family in Minnesota.
On September 11, 2003, the district court held an evidentiary hearing to address the GAL’s motion and to consider whether it would be appropriate to place the children with either appellants or Woods. Both appellants and Woods attended the hearing, and the district court specifically found that they were given a full opportunity to address the court. Nonetheless, the district court found that none of them acknowledged the degree of harm caused by Stewart, offered any unequivocal statement that they would protect the children from her in the future, or explained why they had failed to show any interest in the children until April 2003. Although the children had a 30-minute meeting with the relatives after the hearing that was generally positive, the GAL stated that the children reacted to the relatives as though they were complete strangers.
Approximately one week later, RCCHSD submitted a revised recommendation, seeking a further continuance of an adoptive placement to allow therapeutic interventions and a 60-day period to make efforts to resume contact between the children and appellants. On September 29, 2003, appellants filed a formal petition to adopt the children. In October 2003, the prospective adoptive couple in Minnesota withdrew from pursuing adoption of the children. Consequently, the GAL submitted an amended motion, requesting the district court to order RCCHSD to locate another “suitable adoptive family in the Twin Cities area,” rather than pursuing adoption by appellants.
By order filed December 23, 2003, the district court found that RCCHSD’s revised recommendation was in conflict with Buskirk’s and the GAL’s recommendations, and that it was simply an attempt to resolve an “intra-agency dispute” between Buskirk and Reynolds. The court noted that the GAL was “adamantly opposed” to the revised recommendation and believed it was contrary to the children’s best interests. The district court then concluded that “[a]s of April 30, 2002, RCCHSD had fully complied with the requirement to conduct a relative search” pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 260C.212, subd. 5 (2002), and “had made special efforts to recruit a foster family from among the children’s relatives” pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 260C.215. The court also noted that RCCHSD had renewed special efforts to place the children with Woods or appellants, even though it was not required to do so.
Furthermore, the district court concluded that the interstate compact adoption studies of Woods and appellants were “insufficient to show that an adoptive placement in either of their homes would protect the children’s best interests or to ensure that those interests are met within the meaning of [Minn. Stat. §§ 259.29 and 260C.139 (2002)].” The court was concerned that the studies did not (1) address the children’s special needs or the relatives’ knowledge of (or their ability to meet) those needs; (2) demonstrate that the relatives had any understanding of the children’s present behaviors or level of functioning, interests, talents, or background; (3) document any understanding by the relatives of the children’s present connection to their community or to Freer and her extended family or express the relatives’ desire to maintain those relationships; or (4) provide evidence that would allow the court to conclude that the relatives appreciated the nature and extent of the neglect and abuse endured by the children or that they would unequivocally prevent any contact between the children and their mother in the future.
Additionally, the court stated that “[t]o the extent that [it was] being urged to base its adoptive placement decision on the basis of race, the Court specifically declines to do so as not being in the children’s best interests and in violation of public policy and state law.” See Minn. Stat. § 259.57, subd. 2(c) (2002) (stating that adoptive placements of children cannot be delayed or denied based on race, color, or national origin of the adoptive parent or child). The court then concluded that it was not in the children’s best interests for RCCHSD to pursue pre-adoptive placement with, or adoption by, appellants or Woods. Consequently, it ordered RCCHSD to pursue new adoption prospects in Minnesota with a “particular focus on addressing the children’s best interests, their special needs and their secure attachments to Ms. Freer and her family.” The court also specifically ordered RCCHSD to “immediately cease all efforts to plan for or assist in a pre-adoptive placement of the children” with Woods or appellants, including the plans set forth in RCCHSD’s revised recommendation.
On February 2, 2004, the district court issued a ward-review order, repeating several of its previous findings and stating that RCCHSD must “continue to make appropriate efforts to secure an adoptive home for the children, which is in their best interests.” The district court also filed an amended order on February 10, 2004, which is virtually identical to its December 23 order. Once again, the district court directed RCCHSD “to pursue new adoption requests or prospects for the children in the State of Minnesota.”
On February 11, 2004, the district court formally denied appellants’ petition for adoption. The district court specifically incorporated its December 23 and February 2 orders, stating that it was “specifically including the findings which address serious concerns regarding the best interests and well-being of the children and the court’s determination that adoption by [appellants] is contrary to the best interests of the children.” This appeal follows.
Appellants argue that the district court abused its discretion and deprived them of due process in denying their adoption petition. We review a district court’s decision granting or denying an adoption petition under an abuse-of-discretion standard, In re Welfare of D.L., 479 N.W.2d 408, 413 (Minn. App. 1991), aff’d, 486 N.W.2d 375 (Minn. 1992), and will not disturb the court’s factual findings unless they are clearly erroneous. In re Adoption of C.H. and A.H., 554 N.W.2d 737, 743 (Minn. 1996). We review the district court’s interpretation of the adoption statutes and the procedural due process afforded to the parties de novo. Id. at 742; Zellman ex rel. M.Z. v. Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 2758, 594 N.W.2d 216, 220 (Minn. App. 1999), review denied (Minn. July 28, 1999).
At oral argument, appellants asserted for the first time that the GAL lacks standing to challenge their appeal because he was appointed as GAL only in the juvenile court proceedings and was not re-appointed in the adoption proceeding. Generally, this court will not consider matters not argued and considered in the district court. Thiele v. Stich, 425 N.W.2d 580, 582 (Minn. 1988). But the question of standing cannot be waived and may be raised at anytime. In re Horton, 668 N.W.2d 208, 212 (Minn. App. 2003).
Minn. R. Juv. Protect. P. 62.03 addresses the term of service for a GAL and provides:
Unless otherwise ordered by the court, upon appointment to a juvenile protection matter the guardian ad litem shall serve as follows:
. . . .
(c) When the permanency plan for the child is termination of parental rights leading to adoption, the guardian ad litem shall continue to serve for the purpose of monitoring progress toward adoption, and shall provide the foster parent and child, if of suitable age, with the address and phone number of the guardian ad litem so that they may contact the guardian ad litem if necessary.
Additionally, Minn. Stat. § 260C.317, subd. 3(b) (2002), states that where the intended permanent-placement disposition is adoption, the “guardian ad litem . . . for the child shall continue on the case until an adoption decree is entered.” Accordingly, we reject appellants’ standing argument and conclude that the GAL appropriately continued his service throughout the adoption proceeding.
Appellants next argue that the district court erred by denying their adoption petition before the Commissioner of Human Services (the commissioner) had the opportunity to consent to, or withhold consent from, the proposed adoption. Appellants argue that because the commissioner has the “exclusive right” to consent to the adoption, see Minn. Stat. § 259.24, subd. 1(e) (2002), the district court could not grant or deny their adoption petition until after the commissioner rendered its decision. We disagree.
Minn. Stat. § 259.24, subd. 1(e), provides that “[t]he commissioner or agency having authority to place a child for adoption pursuant to section 259.25, subdivision 1, shall have the exclusive right to consent to the adoption of such child.” (Emphasis added.) Thus, the commissioner has the exclusive right to consent to a child’s adoption only if Minn. Stat. § 259.25, subd. 1 (2002), applies. That section states:
The parents and guardian, if there be one, of a child may enter into a written agreement with the commissioner of human services or an agency, giving the commissioner or such agency authority to place the child for adoption. . . . The agreement and consent shall be in the form prescribed by the commissioner and shall contain notice to the parent of the substance of subdivision 2a providing for the right to revoke the agreement.
Minn. Stat. § 259.25, subd. 1.
But here, Stewart’s parental rights were terminated. Therefore, we conclude that Minn. Stat. § 259.25, subd. 1, is not applicable and the commissioner did not have the “exclusive right” to consent to the children’s adoption under Minn. Stat. § 259.24, subd. 1(e). Instead, the exceptions to the requirement of a parent’s or guardian’s consent contained in Minn. Stat. § 259.24, subd. 1(d) (2002), state that, “If there be no parent or guardian qualified to consent to the adoption, the consent may be given by the commissioner.” The term “may” is permissive. See Minn. Stat. § 645.44, subd. 15 (2002). Consequently, we conclude that the commissioner’s consent was not mandatory under these facts, and, therefore, the district court did not err in denying appellants’ adoption petition prior to obtaining the commissioner’s consent.
Appellants also contend that the court abused its discretion and denied them procedural due process by denying their adoption petition “sua sponte, without any court hearing on the matter.” Appellants argue that because adoption proceedings are distinctly separate from post-TPR proceedings, the post-TPR hearings conducted to determine the best interests of the children were insufficient to satisfy the requirements of due process on their adoption petition. We disagree.
Although adoption proceedings and juvenile proceedings are separate to some extent, Minn. Stat. § 484.78 (Supp. 2003) explicitly provides that the second judicial district “may assign related family, probate, and juvenile court matters . . . to a single judge or referee.” Minn. Stat. § 259.23, subd. 1 (2002), also provides that “[e]xcept as provided in section 260C.101, subdivision 2, the juvenile court shall have original jurisdiction in all adoption proceedings.” And the juvenile court’s jurisdiction in adoption proceedings is further clarified by Minn. Stat. § 260C.317, subd. 3(b), which provides:
The court shall retain jurisdiction in a case where adoption is the intended permanent placement disposition until the child’s adoption is finalized, the child is 18 years of age, or the child is otherwise ordered discharged from the jurisdiction of the court. The guardian ad litem and counsel for the child shall continue on the case until an adoption decree is entered. A hearing must be held every 90 days following termination of parental rights for the court to review progress toward an adoptive placement and the specific recruitment efforts the agency has taken to find an adoptive family or other placement living arrangement for the child and to finalize the adoption or other permanency plan.
Thus, there is ample evidence that the legislature intended some overlap between juvenile court proceedings and adoption proceedings in certain circumstances.
Our interpretation of the adoption statutes is guided by the fundamental purpose of protecting the best interests of the children. See In re S.T. and N.T., 512 N.W.2d 894, 898 (Minn. 1994) (recognizing that the role of this court is “to guard the welfare of children who are wards of the state after parental termination” and that the “cardinal principle in adoption matters is to regard the benefit of the infant as paramount”) (quotations and citations omitted). Here, the district court complied with these statutes by retaining jurisdiction in the adoption proceeding and by holding hearings every 90 days to review progress toward a permanent adoptive placement for the children. Additionally, the court held an evidentiary hearing on September 11, 2003, to specifically address whether the best interests of the children would be met through adoptive placement with appellants. The court explicitly found that appellants “were present at the September 11, 2003 court hearing and were given a full opportunity to address the Court.” But after considering all the evidence presented, the court remained concerned that neither Woods nor appellants had “acknowledged the degree of harm that Ms. Stewart had caused the children, offered any unequivocal statement that they would protect the children from future contact with Ms. Stewart, or offered any explanation as to why they failed to show any interest in the children until April 2003.” Because appellants failed to provide this court with a transcript, they cannot succeed in challenging these findings. See Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 110.02, subd. 1 (appellant has responsibility to order the trial transcript for the appellate court); Setter v. Mauritz, 351 N.W.2d 396, 398 (Minn. App. 1984) (“Appellants also failed to provide an adequate record for proper review of an issue raised in their appeal. . . . Appellants did not provide the court with a transcript.”). Because the record indicates that appellants attended the September 11 hearing and were given a full opportunity to address the court regarding prospective adoptive placement in their home, we conclude that appellants received adequate due process prior to denial of their adoption petition.
Appellants also argue that they were denied due process when they were excluded from the December 23, 2003 and March 16, 2004 post-TPR review hearings. Effective July 1, 2002, Minn. R. Juv. Protect. P. 63.01 was amended to read:
Absent exceptional circumstances, hearings in juvenile protection matters are presumed to be accessible to the public. Hearings, or portions of hearings, may be closed to the public by the court only in exceptional circumstances. The closure of any hearing shall be noted on the record and the reasons for the closure given. Closure of all or part of a hearing shall not prevent the court from proceeding with the hearing or issuing a decision. Minnesota Statutes § 260C.163, subd. 1(c), is superseded insofar as it applies to public access to hearings in juvenile protection matters.
Here, appellants argue that their presence did not constitute “exceptional circumstances” warranting the closure of the hearings and further argue that because they were “participants” to the juvenile-protection matter, see Minn. R. Juv. Protect. P. 58.01 (defining participants) and 58.02 (outlining rights of participants), they “had the right to attend the post-TPR court hearings unless their attendance was not in the children’s best interests or they were disrupting the hearing.” See Minn. R. Juv. Protect. P. 63.02 (stating that notwithstanding the closure of a hearing, any participant who is entitled to notice pursuant to rule 69.03, or any person who is summoned or given notice, shall have the right to attend the hearing unless excluded pursuant to rule 63.04); Minn. R. Juv. Protect. P. 63.04 (stating that the court may exclude a party or a participant from the hearing “only if it is in the best interests of the child to do so or the person engages in conduct that disrupts the court”). Appellants also argue that because they are relatives of the children, they have “even greater statutory right to request to be heard in the juvenile protection proceeding[s].” See Minn. Stat. § 260C.152, subd. 5 (2002) (stating that relatives may request, “and must be granted,” a notice and the opportunity to be heard in any review hearing).
But without a transcript, there is nothing in the record to allow meaningful review of the issues presented by appellants. Even if we presume that appellants were “participants” in the post-TPR review proceedings, we are unable to determine, without a transcript, whether the district court’s decision excluding appellants was based on either “exceptional circumstances” or a finding that their presence would not be in the children’s best interests. Therefore, we decline to address the merits of this argument.
Appellants next argue that the district court violated due process and erred in denying their adoption petition without properly determining the children’s best interests. Appellants also contend that in this case, the statutory preference for placement with relatives is congruent with the children’s best interests. See Minn. Stat. § 259.57, subd. 2(c) (2002).
Minn. Stat. § 259.57, subd. 1(b) (2002), provides that
if the court is not satisfied that the proposed adoption is in the best interests of the child, the court shall deny the petition, and shall order the child returned to the custody of the person or agency legally vested with permanent custody or certify the case for appropriate action and disposition to the court having jurisdiction to determine the custody and guardianship of the child.
Minn. Stat. § 259.57, subd. 2(b) (2002), further provides that “[a]mong the factors the court shall consider in determining the needs of the child are those specified under section 260C.193, subdivision 3, paragraph (b).” That provision states that “[t]he court shall review whether the responsible social services agency made efforts as required under section 260C.212, subdivision 5, and made an individualized determination as required under section 260C.212, subdivision 2.” Minn. Stat. § 260C.193, subd. 3(b) (2002).
Here, the district court specifically found that “[a]s of April 30, 2002, RCCHSD had fully complied with the requirement to conduct a relative search” pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 260C.212, subd. 5 (2002), and “had made special efforts to recruit a foster family from among the children’s relatives” pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 260C.215 (2002). The court also noted that RCCHSD had renewed special efforts to place the children with appellants, even though it was not required to do so. The court recognized that while Minn. Stat. § 259.77 (2002) requires that RCCHSD make special efforts to recruit relatives for an adoptive placement of children, the statute contains a specific exemption in those situations where special efforts were previously made to recruit relatives when children are first placed in foster care. See id.
These findings are not clearly erroneous. The record indicates that a child-protection worker contacted appellants in June 2001 to determine whether the children could be placed with them, but appellants were unwilling to accept the children at that time. And while there was conflicting evidence on this point, the record also indicates that RCCHSD completed a kinship search prior to its attempt to locate a non-relative adoptive placement, but there were no appropriate relatives to adopt the children. Even though RCCHSD was not required to make any subsequent attempts to place the children with appellants, see Minn. Stat. § 259.77, it nevertheless made efforts to do so. In April 2002, a child-protection worker advised appellants that the children were in foster care and invited them to attend an upcoming review hearing, and in August 2003, it put a prospective adoption on hold to fully investigate whether appellants would be an appropriate adoptive placement for the children. Therefore, the district court correctly determined that Minn. Stat. § 260C.193, subd. 3(b), was satisfied here.
Additionally, in determining an appropriate adoptive placement, the district court must consider, consistent with the children’s best interests, placement “with (1) a relative or relatives of the child, or (2) an important friend with whom the child has resided or had significant contact.” Minn. Stat. § 259.57, subd. 2(c). But while earlier versions of the statute may have created a stronger preference for adoptive placement with relatives, more recent caselaw requires that the best interests of the child take priority over any other statutory considerations. See In re T.L.A., 677 N.W.2d 428, 431-32 (Minn. App. 2004); see also In re Adoption of C.H., 554 N.W.2d at 742 (“[T]he [relative] preference is not to be applied so as to override the overall best interests of the child”); In re S.T. and N.T., 512 N.W.2d at 898 (holding that the relative preference “is only a preference. It is not a commandment to be followed blindly or mechanically irrespective of the particular needs of individual children”). Thus, any preference for placement with relatives is clearly lost if the district court determines that such placement is contrary to the best interests of the children. In re T.L.A., 677 N.W.2d at 432.
Minn. Stat. § 260C.193, subd. 3(a) (2002), states that in determining the best interests of children in foster care, the district court must make “individualized determinations under section 260C.212, subdivision 2, paragraph (b), of the needs of the child[ren] . . . .” Among the factors the agency shall consider in determining the needs of the child are the following:
(1) the child’s current functioning and behaviors;
(2) the medical, educational, and developmental needs of the child;
(3) the child’s history and past experience;
(4) the child’s religious and cultural needs;
(5) the child’s connection with a community, school, and church;
(6) the child’s interests and talents;
(7) the child’s relationship to current caretakers, parents, siblings, and relatives; and
(8) the reasonable preference of the child, if the court, or the child-placing agency in the case of a voluntary placement, deems the child to be of sufficient age to express preferences.
Minn. Stat. § 260C.212, subd. 2(b) (2002).
Here, the district court issued a 29-page order containing detailed findings of fact and conclusions of law, explicitly finding that the interstate-compact adoption studies were “insufficient to show that an adoptive placement in [appellants’] home would protect the children’s best interests . . . .” Specifically, the court was concerned that the studies (1) did not address the children’s special needs or the relatives’ knowledge of (or their ability to meet) those needs; (2) did not demonstrate that the relatives had any understanding of the children’s present behaviors or level of functioning, interests, talents, or background; (3) did not document any understanding by the relatives of the children’s present connection to their community or to Freer and her extended family, or express the relatives’ desire to maintain those relationships; and (4) did not provide evidence that would allow the court to conclude that the relatives appreciated the nature and extent of the neglect and abuse endured by the children, or that they would unequivocally prevent any contact between the children and their mother in the future.
The court also made additional findings pertaining to the children’s best interests, including that (1) an experienced child-protection worker had opined that appellants were not an appropriate placement option because they would not protect the children from their mother; (2) the children had developed important relationships with their foster mother and her large, extended family; (3) the children began to grow and heal only after their mother stopped visiting them and that it is critical that the children not have future contact with her; (4) because the children’s mother had transferred her probation to Illinois and had given Woods’s address to her probation officer, it was more likely that the children would have future contact with her if they were living in Illinois, especially given that appellants planned for Woods to care for the children if they were no longer able to do so; (5) the children reacted very negatively after viewing photos of appellants and Woods, and subsequently became upset, anxious, and fearful; (6) an experienced social worker had opined that she “could not support moving the children to Illinois” and that there was “adequate factual basis in support of her recommendation”; and (7) the GAL, who was “highly credible and reliable,” believed that appellants have demonstrated a “pattern of disinterest and neglect which renders their recent interest in the children highly suspect” and that appellants are “unacceptable adoptive parents.” Ultimately, based on its consideration of the totality of these factors, the court concluded that it was not in the children’s best interests for RCCHSD to pursue pre-adoptive placement with, or adoption by, appellants. We conclude that the district court properly considered the statutory best-interests factors in denying appellants’ adoption petition.
Finally, appellants assert that the juvenile-protection file records were “not accessible.” See Minn. R. Juv. Protect. P. 44.01 (stating that juvenile-protection case records are “presumed to be accessible to any member of the public for inspection, copying or release”). But then appellants admit that after “multiple visits to the courthouse, coupled with telephone calls, correspondence, and written permission from the assigned Judge,” court administration ultimately “made the relevant files available for review.” While appellants argue that “certain records, exhibits, exhibit lists, and other submissions, such as the GAL’s proposed findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order,” were not included in the files, the district court has already resolved this issue. By order filed June 7, 2004, the district court concluded:
The documents marked Exhibits 1 through 14 have inadvertently been omitted from the juvenile court record in this matter and the guardian ad litem’s affidavit of July 29, 2003, part of Exhibit 12, may have been omitted as well. Exhibits 1 through 14, in their entirety, should be made part of the record pursuant to Minnesota Rules of Juvenile Protection Procedure 46.01 and Minnesota Rules of Civil Appellate Procedure 110.05, except that Exhibits 3, 4, 5, 9 and 10 shall be submitted under seal. At the hearing on June 4, 2004, the court added Exhibit 15 and that Exhibit 16 is the correct revised Exhibit list.
Pursuant to the court’s order, the entire juvenile and adoption files have also been transmitted to this court. Therefore, this issue is moot, and we decline to address it. See In re Inspection of Minn. Auto Specialties, Inc., 346 N.W.2d 657, 658 (Minn. 1984) (stating that an appeal of an issue will be dismissed as moot if the harm has been alleviated or it is impossible to award relief).
 Reynolds gave two theories as to why D.Z.S. reacted adversely to the photos of the Illinois relatives. D.Z.S., D.E.S., and J.K.C. are African American. On the one hand, Reynolds believes that D.Z.S.’s reaction relates to the trauma she experienced while living with her mother in the inner city where she was in frequent contact with African Americans and where they were exposed to severe neglect and trauma. On the other hand, Reynolds believes that whenever African-American children are removed from their communities of origin and placed among Caucasians, the children receive both spoken and unspoken messages that “blacks are bad and whites are good.” Reynolds reported that children then learn to identify with the Caucasian race and culture and can react hesitantly and fearfully when in contact with other African Americans, causing negative self-images. Reynolds also commented that the children’s foster parent, the service providers, the therapist, the social workers, and the GAL are all Caucasian. The district court specifically found that Reynolds had “provided no factual basis for the application of her personal theories to this particular case.”