This opinion will be unpublished and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
Child of: J.L.T. and J.B., Parents.
Filed September 26, 2006
Anoka County District Court
File No. J9-05-52326
Allison Maxim, Sherri D. Hawley, Walling, Berg & Debele, P.A., 121 South Eighth Street, Suite 1100, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for appellant J.L.T.)
Robert M.A. Johnson,
Considered and decided by Dietzen, Presiding Judge; Willis, Judge; and Ross, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant challenges the district court’s termination of her parental rights. Because the record supports the district court order, we affirm.
Appellant J.L.T. is the mother of a child born in February 2003. In December 2003, the child was adjudicated in need of protective services because of J.L.T.’s chemical use. The matter was dismissed in April 2004 when J.L.T. complied with her case plan. But in November 2004, J.L.T. tested positive for methamphetamine, and the child was returned to foster care. J.L.T.’s social worker provided her with a comprehensive case plan. The plan focused initially on J.L.T.’s sobriety and ability to find stable housing, which were the most pressing needs to allow reunification, but as J.L.T.’s case progressed, the focus shifted to the mental health of both J.L.T. and the child.
Shortly after placement, the child’s foster parents referred the child to a therapist. The therapist diagnosed the child with reactive-attachment disorder (RAD), which results from disregarding a child’s basic emotional and physical needs; a stable and loving parent-child relationship is necessary to treat RAD effectively. The therapist recommended that J.L.T. receive services to improve her parenting skills and her relationship with the child.
In May 2005, J.L.T. underwent a neuropsychological evaluation, which revealed mild prefrontal-cortex dysfunction. According to the doctor, J.L.T. is competent to parent, but she “may have some difficulty” in understanding the child’s behaviors and changing her own behavior to meet the child’s needs.
J.L.T. underwent psychological testing in June 2005. This testing revealed significant mental-health issues, including antisocial-personality disorder and adjustment disorder with anxiety and depression. The psychologist concluded that full-time parenting would be demanding, that J.L.T. would have difficulty understanding the child’s needs, and that J.L.T.’s impulsivity and poor judgment could put the child at risk.
At the psychologist’s recommendation, J.L.T. began dialectic behavioral therapy, which, as the district court found, was intended “to change [J.L.T.’s] thought process.” J.L.T. went through 15 individual sessions of such therapy with a family counselor. The counselor, too, identified the child as having RAD. Initial sessions of therapy went well; J.L.T. was open to parenting suggestions, although she did not believe that the child had RAD and refused to admit that the child’s behavior was unusual. But as the therapy progressed, J.L.T. became hostile, antagonistic, and defensive. During the last session, J.L.T. refused to speak. The therapy was terminated because J.L.T. refused to accept both the child’s RAD diagnosis and the fact that J.L.T.’s parenting could have caused it.
In August 2005, J.L.T. underwent a parenting assessment. The assessor concluded that the likelihood of successful reunification was low because of J.L.T.’s refusal to acknowledge the child’s disorder. Additionally, the assessor opined that J.L.T.’s mental-health issues affect her parenting ability, that her personality disorders are resistant to treatment, and that it will be difficult for her to modify her behavior. The assessor recommended that the child “be placed in a loving, stable and consistent adoptive family.”
In September 2005, respondent
In February 2006, the district court terminated J.L.T.’s parental rights, denied the petition of J.L.T.’s mother, and authorized adoption of the child. The district court did not find J.L.T.’s testimony credible, in light of her long-term denial that the child suffered from RAD and her refusal to alter her parenting. It found that while she has made “amazing progress” in addressing her chemical dependency and mental health, J.L.T. “is not emotionally, mentally or psychologically capable of parenting a child with the extreme needs associated with a RAD diagnosis.” The district court also discounted the testimony of J.L.T.’s mother as not exhibiting an understanding of the child’s diagnosis and as motivated to reunite the child with J.L.T. The court noted the mother’s history of alcohol dependency and her “neglectful” care of her own children.
The district court concluded that although the county “made every possible service available,” J.L.T. remains palpably unfit to be a parent; that reasonable efforts have failed to correct the conditions leading to the child’s out-of-home placement; and that the child is neglected and in foster care. The court also concluded that transfer of custody to J.L.T.’s mother is not in the child’s best interests. J.L.T. moved for amended findings or a new trial. The district court denied the motion, and J.L.T. now appeals.
D E C I S I O N
In termination-of-parental-rights proceedings,
“the best interests of the child must be the paramount consideration.”
J.L.T. first argues that the county did
not provide “realistic services” that were adequate to meet her needs because
it ignored her “cognitive deficits” and thereby failed to make reasonable
efforts to reunite her and the child. The
county is required to make “reasonable efforts” to reunite the child and her
family that are consistent with “the child’s best interests, health, and
the court shall consider whether services to the child and family were:
(1) relevant to the safety and protection of the child;
(2) adequate to meet the needs of the child and family;
(3) culturally appropriate;
(4) available and accessible;
(5) consistent and timely; and
(6) realistic under the circumstances.
The district court found that the county made “extraordinary efforts to reunify” the child and J.L.T. and that the efforts have failed because of J.L.T.’s “unfortunate inability to understand [the child’s] psychological condition or to modify her own behavior to meet her child’s needs.” The district court also found that the county provided (1) an evaluation that diagnosed the child with RAD; (2) a neuropsychological evaluation to determine whether J.L.T. had an organic brain injury; (3) psychological testing to determine J.L.T.’s emotional ability to parent adequately; (4) 15 sessions of dialectic behavioral therapy; and (5) a parenting assessment. The district court concluded that the county “made every possible service available to [J.L.T.] in an attempt to reunite her” with the child.
J.L.T. does not challenge these findings. Instead, she contends that the services were inadequate because the county did not consider or compensate for her “cognitive deficits.” But the counselor who conducted the dialectic behavioral therapy testified that she knew that J.L.T.’s mental condition could make it more difficult for J.L.T. to comprehend the therapy instructions. The counselor also testified that J.L.T. took initial suggestions “very well and was very open” to advice. But as the sessions continued, J.L.T. became, “at different points in time, hostile. She did not want to hear what I had to say. She also did not believe that [the child] had the problems and issues that I was seeing.” On one occasion, the counselor gave J.L.T. a pamphlet on RAD. But the counselor stated that she was hesitant to give J.L.T. additional written information because J.L.T’s reading skills were limited. The counselor tried to find a videotape to explain RAD to J.L.T. but was unable to find one that explained the disorder “well enough without going into major detail.” In the counselor’s opinion, the county could not have provided any other service to help J.L.T. better understand RAD. The district court’s finding that the services offered to J.L.T. were adequate is supported by the evidence and is not clearly erroneous.
J.L.T. also argues that the county did
not complete a reasonable investigation of her mother because the social worker
“decided, without even visiting [the mother], that [the mother] was not a good
candidate” for the child’s placement. When
placing a child, a social-services agency “shall identify relatives of the
child and notify them of the need for a foster care home for the child and of
the possibility of the need for a permanent out-of-home placement.”
The district court found that a “substantial amount of information . . . raises substantial doubt as to [the mother’s] fitness to parent any child.” J.L.T. told social services that she was sexually assaulted as a child by her mother’s former husband. The social-services agency discovered that the mother has a history of domestic abuse and alcoholism and that her three children are chemically dependent and have criminal histories that are related to substance abuse. The district court found that J.L.T.’s mother is motivated more by loyalty to J.L.T. than by concern about the child’s best interests.
The testimony of J.L.T.’s social worker supports these findings. Based on conversations with J.L.T.’s mother, the social worker concluded that the mother wants custody so that J.L.T. can maintain contact with the child. The social worker conducted a background investigation, which revealed that one of the mother’s sons, who was living with her at the time, has “multiple alcohol offenses.” The social worker was also aware of J.L.T.’s statement that she had been sexually assaulted as a child. According to the social worker, placing the child with J.L.T.’s mother in Brainerd meant that the county “couldn’t have visits with [the child] being up there.” The district court’s findings are supported by the record and reflect satisfaction of the statutory requirement of a reasonable and comprehensive investigation of J.L.T.’s mother.
J.L.T. argues that the evidence is
insufficient to support termination of her parental rights. District 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 must prove only one criterion, the primary
consideration in any termination proceeding is the best interests of the child.
J.L.T. first contends that the
evidence does not show that she is palpably unfit to parent because she
addressed her substance-abuse problems—which, she alleges, “led to the filing
of the child protection petition”—by successfully completing
chemical-dependency treatment. She also
contends that the county “failed to show that any conduct or condition on the
part of [J.L.T.] presented a specific danger” to the child. Parental rights can be terminated if a parent
is “palpably unfit . . . because of a consistent pattern of specific
conduct before the child or 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.”
On appeal, J.L.T. focuses only on her successful chemical-dependency treatment; she ignores the mental-health issues that contributed to the termination of her parental rights. The comprehensive case plan, which went into effect shortly after the child was placed in foster care, provides that J.L.T. “will attain and maintain consistent stable mental health,” will follow recommendations from psychological and neuropsychological evaluations, and will “consistently display parenting patterns which are age and developmentally appropriate” for the child. The record shows that J.L.T. successfully completed chemical-dependency treatment and that she is currently sober, accomplishments that are significant and for which she deserves much credit. But the record also shows that J.L.T. has not properly addressed concerns about her mental health. Most relevant to the child’s best interests, several experts testified that these mental-health issues prevent J.L.T. from providing the parenting necessary to help the child overcome RAD and that, despite services from the county, these issues remain.
J.L.T. further argues that the county “failed to show that any conduct or condition on the part of Appellant presented a specific danger to her daughter” and that her resistance to the child’s RAD diagnosis is “more likely a product of her cognitive deficits . . . than an intentional refusal to participate” in therapy. But despite her efforts, the evidence shows that J.L.T. is still unable to effectively parent her child because of J.L.T.’s mental-health problems. J.L.T. ignores her hostility to the suggestions of the dialectic-behavioral-therapy counselor and the fact that she cancelled therapy by refusing to speak to the counselor and leaving the program. Again, the best interests of the child are paramount, and, as discussed above, the experts who testified agreed that J.L.T.’s mental-health issues, which prevent her from acknowledging and effectively dealing with her child’s RAD, would further damage the child’s emotional and mental development. The record substantially supports the district court’s finding that J.L.T. is palpably unfit to parent the child.
Termination of parental rights is appropriate
when “reasonable efforts, under the direction of the court, have failed to
correct the conditions leading to the child’s placement.”
J.L.T.’s argument is not persuasive for two reasons: First, she did not maintain continuous contact with the child. After the county filed its petition, the child was placed in foster care, and visitation between the child and J.L.T. stopped in September 2005. The record shows that when visitation stopped, the child’s behavior dramatically improved. Second, although J.L.T. addressed the chemical-dependency condition that contributed to the removal of the child, she has not successfully sought treatment of her mental-health issues, which is part of her case plan. The district court’s findings are supported by substantial evidence, and the district court did not err by concluding that reasonable efforts have failed to correct the conditions leading to the child’s placement.
J.L.T. argues that the district court erroneously terminated her parental
rights under the provision allowing termination of parental rights when “the
child is neglected and in foster care.”
J.L.T. contends that she has made “reasonable efforts to correct her circumstances, condition, [and] conduct.” She completed chemical-dependency treatment and has remained sober. But she did not successfully address her mental health, as required by her comprehensive case plan, and expert testimony concluded that J.L.T.’s ongoing mental-health issues will further harm the child’s development. This evidence supports the district court’s conclusion that J.L.T. has not adjusted her “circumstances, condition, or conduct,” and the district court did not err by terminating her parental rights on this ground.
Like the district court, we are impressed by J.L.T.’s efforts to change her life. But on appeal, we are limited to a determination of whether the record clearly and convincingly supports the termination of J.L.T.’s parental rights, and we defer to credibility determinations made by the district court. Here, the record clearly and convincingly supports the district court’s finding that J.L.T. is “incapable of parenting [the child] in light of her own issues” and the child’s diagnosis with RAD. On the record before us, we conclude that the district court’s findings address the necessary statutory criteria and that it did not err by terminating J.L.T.’s parental rights.