This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In the Matter of the Welfare of the
Children of: A.O., H.L.C., and C.D.C., Parents.
Filed March 14, 2006
Hennepin County District Court
File No. 27-J2-04-066439
Leonardo Castro, Fourth District
Public Defender, Melissa Haley, Assistant Public Defender,
Amy Klobuchar, Hennepin County Attorney, Mary M. Lynch, Assistant County Attorney, 525 Portland Avenue South, Suite 1210, Minneapolis, MN 55415 (for respondent Hennepin County Human Services and Public Health Department)
Shirley A. Reider,
Irene F. Nosow,
Considered and decided by Kalitowski, Presiding Judge; Willis, Judge; and Stoneburner, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
On appeal from the termination of her parental rights, appellant mother argues that the record lacks clear and convincing evidence supporting any statutory grounds for the termination. Because the district court’s findings are supported by clear and convincing evidence and satisfy the statutory grounds for termination of appellant’s parental rights, we affirm.
Appellant A.O. (mother) challenges the district court’s decision to terminate her parental rights to her 13-year-old daughter, L.F., and eight-year-old son, C.C. The Hennepin County Human Services and Public Health Department (the county) filed a CHIPS petition on March 31, 2004, and removed mother’s children from her home because of domestic abuse that occurred in the home and because of mother’s mental-health problems.
At the CHIPS hearing, mother admitted that her mental-health problems adversely affected her parenting abilities and that she was unable to provide proper parental care for her children at that time. L.F. and C.C. were adjudicated CHIPS because they were without proper parental care because of mother’s “emotional, mental, or physical disability.”
Mother has received a variety of services from the county since 1998, when she first became involved with child-protection services. After the 2004 CHIPS determination, the services that the county provided to mother and the two children included foster care, counseling, in-home parent education and parenting-support services, a domestic-violence program, a parenting assessment, a psychological assessment, a psychiatric assessment, and facilitation of visitation.
In compliance with a case plan prepared in 2004, mother met with a therapist and “tried hard” to accomplish her goals in therapy. She completed the psychological evaluation and an anger-management program. She also participated in the Parent Support In-home Parenting Program, designed for developmentally disabled parents. And she completed a parenting assessment.
But at the TPR trial, mother’s continuing relationship with R.D., her boyfriend of 15 years, was of special concern to the district court. When the children lived with mother, they often witnessed physical altercations between their mother and R.D., who lived with them at the time. Shortly before the CHIPS petition was filed, R.D. threatened mother with a loaded gun in front of the children. He also threatened L.F. with the gun. The county gave R.D. a case plan, but he refused to comply with it. At the time of the TPR trial, mother was still unwilling to end her relationship with R.D.; although R.D. no longer lived with mother, he visited her frequently.
Mother’s mental-health problems were also an underlying concern in the CHIPS determination and the TPR petition. Mother is mildly mentally retarded and is also depressed. She has attempted suicide more than once. And she has also intentionally cut herself, sometimes in front of the children.
The district court’s finding that both L.F. and C.C. have special needs is supported by the record. A psychologist’s report and others’ testimony at trial noted that L.F. is a vulnerable child, that she was sexually abused when she was younger, and that she has severe emotional and behavioral problems. The guardian ad litem testified that L.F. does not want to live with her mother, and mother admitted during the parenting assessment that she is unable to parent L.F.
C.C. also has special needs, which are described in a psychologist’s confidential diagnostic assessment relied on by the district court. The parenting assessment noted that C.C. has a history of ADHD. The guardian ad litem testified that C.C. wants to live with his mother, but mother’s therapist testified that mother would need extensive support services to enable her to parent C.C. The parenting assessment noted that with help, mother could parent C.C., but it also noted that some of mother’s parenting skills “lapsed” when she was under stress.
It appears from the record that mother has made sincere efforts to complete her case plan, but most of the professionals involved recommended at trial that the children not be returned to mother. All agreed that mother could not parent L.F. The parent-support worker testified that he was unaware of any additional services that might result in correction of mother’s lack of insight. The child-services worker opined that mother “would not be able to meet the children’s needs” if they were returned home. The child-protection worker also testified that in her opinion, the children “could not be with [mother]” now or in the future because mother is unable to meet their needs. She also testified that mother did not understand the danger that her relationship with R.D. posed to herself or to her children And she testified that continued foster care would not provide the stability that the children need.
Consequently, the district court ordered the termination of mother’s parental rights to L.F. and to C.C. This appeal follows.
D E C I S I O N
reviewing a district court’s decision to terminate parental rights, this court
determines whether the district court’s 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 (
courts may terminate parental rights on the basis of one or more of the nine
criteria listed in Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b) (2004). Although the petitioner need only prove one criterion,
the primary consideration in any termination proceeding is the best interests of the child.
Here, the district court concluded that termination of mother’s parental rights was necessary because: (1) reasonable efforts failed to correct the conditions leading to the out-of-home placement, see id., subd. 1(b)(5); (2) mother failed to abide by the duties imposed on her by the parent-child relationship, see id., subd. 1(b)(2); (3) mother is a palpably unfit parent, see id., subd. 1(b)(4); and (4) the children were neglected and in foster care, see id., subd. 1(b)(8). Mother argues that none of these criteria is supported by clear and convincing evidence.
A district court may terminate parental rights if it finds that “following the child’s placement out of the home, [the county’s] 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). Subdivision 1(b)(2) also requires an inquiry into the county’s reasonable efforts. Therefore, this element is reviewed first.
the services a county provides constitute “reasonable efforts” depends on the
nature of the problem presented, the duration of the county’s involvement, and
the quality of the county’s effort. In re Welfare of S.Z., 547 N.W.2d 886,
Mother argues that the county did not make reasonable efforts because it did not provide L.F. with residential treatment, as recommended by several professionals who worked with L.F. Mother’s children were adjudicated CHIPS when the district court found that the children were without proper parental care because of the “emotional, mental, or physical disability” of mother. The services provided by the county addressed mother’s mental health and the domestic violence in the home, which were the conditions underlying the CHIPS adjudication. We conclude that the county’s efforts were reasonable.
Mother also argues that the conditions underlying the CHIPS adjudication have been corrected because she completed domestic-abuse counseling and an anger-management program, and because she separated from R.D., who has not had contact with the children for a period of time that mother does not specify. But the evidence suggests that mother’s relationship with R.D. continues even though he refused to comply with his case plan. Mother did not testify that her relationship with R.D. had ended, and she told county workers that she was unwilling to end the relationship.
Although mother substantially complied with her case plan, the district court concluded that she lacks the ability to parent her children. This conclusion is supported by the opinions of the professionals who testified at trial. They acknowledged that mother demonstrated some change in her parenting interactions and professed to have benefited and learned from the anger-management group, but she continued to lack necessary insight for providing her children a safe and stable home. The parent-support worker also testified that he was not aware of other parenting services or resources that might correct mother’s lack of insight.
While a parent’s completion of the conditions of a case plan often supports a finding that the parent corrected the CHIPS conditions, e.g., In re Welfare of M.H., 595 N.W.2d 223, 227-28 (Minn. App. 1999), we conclude that clear and convincing evidence supports the district court’s conclusion that reasonable efforts have failed to correct the conditions leading to the children’s placement. The district court did not err by terminating mother’s parental rights under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(5).
Failure to Comply With Parental Duties
A district court may also terminate parental rights if it finds that “the parent has substantially, continuously, or repeatedly refused or neglected to comply with the duties imposed upon that parent by the parent and child relationship” and that “either reasonable efforts by the social services agency have failed to correct the conditions that formed the basis of the petition or reasonable efforts would be futile and therefore unreasonable.” Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(2). The district court should not base its decision simply on a parent’s mental illness or low IQ, but it can consider the effect of such facts on the parent’s ability to care for and nurture her child. In re Welfare of M.M.D., 410 N.W.2d 72, 75 (Minn. App. 1987), see also In re Welfare of K.M.T., 390 N.W.2d 371, 373-74 (Minn. App. 1986) (noting that “clear and convincing proof that a mental handicap is directly related to deficient parenting and permanently detrimental to the physical or mental health of the child” is sufficient to support the termination of parental rights) (quotation omitted). Failure to comply with parental duties has been found when a parent’s circumstances “repeatedly have proved detrimental to the physical, mental, and emotional welfare of the children.” In re Welfare of A.J.C., 556 N.W.2d 616, 622 (Minn. App. 1996), review denied (Minn. Mar. 18, 1997).
Here, the district court noted that mother’s involvement with child-protection services began in May 1998. At the CHIPS hearing, mother admitted that her mental-health problems adversely affected her ability to parent her children and that she was unable to provide proper parental care for her children at that time. The testimony and evidence introduced at the TPR trial showed that the professionals involved had continuing concerns regarding mother’s ability to protect her children from dangerous relationships and dangerous situations. They also expressed doubt about mother’s ability to meet her children’s special needs. The district court’s conclusion that the children would not be safe in mother’s care and that mother lacks the parenting skills to parent her children is supported by the record, including mother’s decision to continue her relationship with R.D. and by her failure to demonstrate an understanding of her children’s needs. These circumstances have adversely affected the safety and well-being of both of mother’s children.
Because we concluded above that reasonable efforts failed to correct the conditions that formed the basis of the petition and because clear and convincing evidence supports the conclusion that mother failed to comply with her parental duties, the district court did not err by terminating mother’s parental rights under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(2).
A district court may also terminate parental rights if it determines 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). A parent’s
current and future inability to address her child’s physical, mental, and
emotional needs supports a finding that she is palpably unfit to parent her
child. In re P.T., 657 N.W.2d 577, 591 (
Mother argues that because the district court failed to make specific findings regarding a “specific parenting disability that would continue for a prolonged period of time,” there is not clear and convincing evidence supporting termination because of mother’s palpable unfitness. She also argues that she is not palpably unfit to parent C.C.
Many of the professionals involved in this case expressed the opinion that mother lacks the ability to parent either of her children. The parent-support worker testified that mother’s inability to empathize with her children affects her ability to parent. The parenting assessment noted that mother has “accepted the fact that she is not able to currently parent [L.F.]” because of L.F.’s special needs and mother’s “own deficits.” And mother’s therapist noted that mother’s mental health problems affect her ability to parent L.F. The record, including the confidential diagnostic assessment, demonstrates that C.C. has been adversely affected because he witnessed mother’s attempts to cut herself and was exposed to domestic violence.
Further, as discussed above, the evidence shows that mother is unwilling to end her relationship with R.D. This directly relates to mother’s ability to parent her children because R.D. has physically abused L.F. and both children have witnessed R.D. and mother’s violent confrontations. The parenting assessment also questioned mother’s ability to parent either of her children while in a “conflicted relationship.” The continuation of this relationship demonstrates mother’s lack of insight into situations that might be dangerous for her children.
Because clear and convincing evidence supports the district court’s conclusion that mother is unable to care for either of her children now or in the reasonably foreseeable future and is palpably unfit to parent her children, it did not err by terminating her parental rights under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4).
Neglected and in Foster Care
A district court may terminate all rights of a parent to a child if the district court finds that “the child is neglected and in foster care.” Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(8). A child is neglected and in foster care if (1) the child has been placed in foster care by court order; (2) the parent’s circumstances, condition, or conduct is of a type that makes it impossible to return the child to the home; and (3) the child’s parent has “failed to make reasonable efforts to adjust [her] circumstances, condition or conduct, or [has] 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 (2004).
Here, mother made sincere efforts and participated meaningfully in an anger-management program, domestic-abuse counseling, a parenting assessment, visitation, and a psychological evaluation. Further, she is no longer living with R.D. Therefore, the evidence does not support the conclusion that she failed to make reasonable efforts to correct her circumstances, condition, or conduct, and we conclude that the district court erred by terminating mother’s parental rights under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(8).
In reviewing a district court’s best-interests
determination, this court considers “(1) the child’s interests in maintaining
the parent-child relationship, (2) the parent’s interests in maintaining the
parent-child relationship, and (3) any competing interests of the child.” In re
Child of Simon, 662 N.W.2d 155, 163-64 (
Mother argues that the district court’s best-interests findings were conclusory. But a district court need not go into great detail concerning its best-interests findings. See In re Welfare of Child of W.L.P., 678 N.W.2d 703, 711 (Minn. App. 2004) (determining that the district court’s failure to make detailed findings on the best-interests factors was not an abuse of discretion because the district court concluded that the child’s need for permanency outweighed competing interests). Here, the district court considered the children’s safety, their special needs and vulnerability, their need for stability and permanency, and the extent of mother’s ability to care for her children. This demonstrates that the district court balanced competing interests. Therefore, the district court did not clearly err by determining that L.F.’s and C.C.’s best interests are served by the termination of mother’s parental rights.
Mother also argues that the district
court erred by failing to consider long-term foster care. But a district court need not consider
long-term foster care as an alternative to adoption as part of its
best-interests analysis because “the legislature has clearly expressed a
preference for either adoption or placement with a relative over long-term
foster care if placement with the parents is not reasonably foreseeable.” In re
Welfare of Children of R.W., 678 N.W.2d 49, 57-58 (
Because clear and convincing evidence supports the termination of mother’s parental rights to both of her children under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(2), (4), and (5), and because termination of parental rights is in the best interests of both of mother’s children, we affirm the district court’s termination of mother’s parental rights.