This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).







In the Matter of the Welfare of the Children of:
D. N. R., a/k/a D. N. J. and R. R. R., Parents.


Filed December 19, 2006

Reversed and remanded

Wright, Judge


Lake County District Court

File Nos. J1-03-50085, J1-03-50086



Mark C. Jennings, 509 Board of Trade Building, 301 West First Street, Duluth, MN  55802 (for appellant R. R. R.)


Russ Conrow, Lake County Attorney, Bruce L. Anderson, Assistant County Attorney, Lake County Courthouse, 601 Third Avenue, Two Harbors, MN  55616 (for respondent state)


Roger A. Anderson, 430 Ninth Avenue, Two Harbors, MN  55616 (guardian ad litem)



            Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge; Hudson, Judge; and Wright, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D  O P I N I O N


            Appellant-mother argues that the district court’s order terminating her parental rights is defective because the record lacks clear and convincing evidence that (1) at least one statutory ground for termination exists, (2) the county made reasonable efforts to reunite the family and rehabilitate appellant, and (3) termination is in the children’s best interests.  Because the district court failed to identify the statutory grounds for terminating parental rights and the findings are insufficient to allow us to discern the statutory basis, and because the findings regarding the county’s reasonable efforts to rehabilitate the parent and reunite the family do not address the nature and extent of the county’s efforts, we reverse and remand.


D.R.R. (son), born in February 1996, and A.R.R. (daughter), born in April 2000, are the children of R.R.R. (father) and D.N.R. (mother).[1]  On October 6, 2003, Lake County Human Services (LCHS) filed Child in Need of Protection or Services (CHIPS) petitions, alleging that mother’s alcohol addiction rendered her unable to adequately care for the children.  On October 29, the district court ordered LCHS to undertake protective supervision of the children while they remained in the home.

On November 12, mother called LCHS social worker Vickie Thompson, reported that she was having a breakdown, and requested that the children be placed in foster care.  The district court held a hearing that day, during which it granted LCHS temporary custody of the children and ordered the children to be placed in foster care.  LCHS placed the children in the home of the Ylatupas, licensed foster-care providers.

On August 30, 2004, the district court issued a CHIPS order finding son and daughter in need of protection or services because “mother is unable or unwilling to provide the necessary food, clothing, shelter, education, and other required care for the children’s physical, emotional, or mental health.”  The CHIPS order also directed mother to follow LCHS’s reunification plan, to enter and complete inpatient alcohol treatment and an aftercare program, and to comply with the district court’s earlier order requiring mother to submit to daily alcohol and drug tests.

In early November 2004, mother was convicted of driving while impaired (DWI).  Shortly thereafter, on November 24, 2004, LCHS petitioned to terminate mother’s parental rights.  While this petition was pending, mother entered and completed inpatient treatment as a condition of her probation on the DWI offense.  Also while this petition was pending, the children were moved from the Ylatupas’ foster home to the home of J.V. and C.Y., who had been identified as potential adoptive parents.[2]

The three-day trial on the termination-of-parental-rights petition spanned a nearly nine-month period.  Thereafter, on May 15, 2006, the district court issued an order terminating mother’s parental rights.  This appeal followed.


We review a district court’s order terminating parental rights to determine whether the district court’s findings address the requisite statutory criteria, are supported by substantial evidence, and are not clearly erroneous.  In re Children of T.A.A., 702 N.W.2d 703, 708 (Minn. 2005).  Although we give deference to a district court’s termination decision, we closely inquire into the sufficiency of the evidence to determine whether it was clear and convincing.  Id.

In reviewing a decision to terminate parental rights, we determine whether there is clear and convincing evidence to support at least one statutory ground for termination, whether there is clear and convincing evidence that the county made reasonable efforts to rehabilitate the parent and reunite the family, and whether termination is in the best interests of the child.  Id. at 708-09.  Such evidence must relate to conditions that exist at the time of termination and support the conclusion that the conditions giving rise to the termination will continue for a prolonged, indeterminate period.  In re Welfare of P.R.L., 622 N.W.2d 538, 543 (Minn. 2001).

            Before it may terminate parental rights, the district court must find that at least one statutory ground for termination as defined in Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b) (2004), exists.  Mother argues that the district court’s termination of her parental rights is defective because the district court did not explicitly find that any statutory ground for termination had been proven by “clear and convincing evidence.”  This argument is founded on a misinterpretation of the law governing termination of parental rights.  The district court may terminate parental rights only if it “finds by clear and convincing evidence” that one or more of the grounds for termination set forth in section 260C.301, subdivision 1(b), exist.  Minn. Stat. § 260C.317, subd. 1 (Supp. 2005).  This provision defines the quantum of proof necessary to terminate parental rights.  This section, however, does not render the district court’s termination order defective for failing to expressly include the words “clear and convincing.”  If the legislature had intended to require the district court to make an explicit finding that clear and convincing evidence exists, it could have done so.  See, e.g., Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 8(1) (2004) (requiring “individualized and explicit findings”).

            Although the district court’s order survives on this basis, it fails on another.  In its petition to terminate mother’s parental rights, LCHS alleged three statutory grounds for termination of mother’s parental rights: mother failed to comply with the duties imposed by the parent-child relationship, Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(2); reasonable efforts  failed to correct the conditions that led to the out-of-home placement of the children, id., subd. 1(b)(5); and the children are neglected and in foster care, id., subd. 1(b)(8).  But nowhere in its order does the district court identify on which ground its decision to terminate mother’s parental rights is based.[3]  The district court failed to identify the statutory criterion for termination of parental rights, and this failure constitutes reversible error.  See T.A.A., 702 N.W.2d at 708 (requiring district court to “address” statutory criteria). 

Even if we assume that the termination was based on each statutory ground alleged, the district court’s findings regarding those grounds are inadequate.  For example, with regard to Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(5) (reasonable efforts failed to correct conditions that led to out-of-home placement), the district court found that, despite the county’s reasonable efforts, mother refused alcoholism treatment and continued to consume alcohol.  But this finding is inconsistent with the district court’s finding in its May 20, 2005 pretrial order that “mother has been sober for six months,” which the district court incorporated into the termination order.  There is neither an explanation of this inconsistency nor an identification of the evidentiary basis for finding that mother resumed drinking.  Because the district court’s findings regarding the statutory grounds for termination are inadequate and inconsistent, we cannot assess whether those findings are supported by clear and convincing evidence.

In addition, the findings do not address “the nature and extent of efforts made by the social services agency to rehabilitate the parent and reunite the family.”  Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 8(1) (2004); see also Minn. Stat. § 260C.301,subd. 1(b)(2) (requiring a finding that social-services agency’s reasonable efforts would be futile or have failed to correct conditions that formed basis of termination petition), (5) (requiring a finding that reasonable efforts have failed to correct conditions leading to child’s placement out of the home).  “Reasonable efforts” are defined as “the exercise of due diligence by the responsible social services agency to use appropriate and available services to meet the needs of the child and the child’s family in order to . . . eliminate the need for removal and reunite the family.”  Minn. Stat. § 260.012(b) (2004).  Whether a county has satisfied its reasonable-efforts obligation depends on the nature of the problem presented, In re Welfare of S.Z., 547 N.W.2d 886, 892 (Minn. 1996), and the duration and quality of the county’s involvement and efforts, In re Welfare of H.K., 455 N.W.2d 529, 532 (Minn. App. 1990), review denied (Minn. July 6, 1990).  The services the county provides pursuant to its reasonable-efforts obligation “must go beyond mere matters of form so as to include real, genuine assistance.”  Id.

The district court’s order does not explicitly identify any of the services that the county made available to mother in an effort to rehabilitate her or reunite her with her children.  Rather, it includes the conclusory finding that LCHS “made [rehabilitation] services available to the mother” and “made reasonable efforts to reunite the mother and the children.”  The absence of detailed reasonable-efforts findings that weigh the evidence and assess its probative value precludes meaningful appellate review.

What we can glean from the record appears to establish that LCHS, of its own volition,[4] ceased providing rehabilitative services to mother in November 2004, approximately 18 months before the termination of mother’s parental rights.  The evidence also shows that, since that time, LCHS admittedly has done nothing to reunite mother with her children other than arranging visitation.  How these circumstances constitute reasonable efforts to rehabilitate mother and reunite the family is not readily apparent from our review. 

We, therefore, reverse the district court’s decision terminating mother’s parental rights and remand this matter to the district court with directions to identify at least one statutory ground for terminating parental rights, if such a ground exists, and make findings that set forth the existing conditions on which this determination is based.  See P.R.L., 622 N.W.2d at 543 (holding that evidence supporting grounds for termination must relate to conditions that exist at time of termination).  We also direct the district court to make explicit findings regarding the nature and extent of LCHS’s efforts to rehabilitate mother and reunite the family.

Reversed and remanded.

[1] Mother and father separated in April 2002 and divorced in June 2004.  Mother retained custody of the children.

[2] J.V., mother’s adult son from a prior relationship, is son’s and daughter’s half-brother.  C.Y. is the Ylatupas’ daughter.  When J.V. and C.Y. married on June 25, 2005, C.Y. changed her name to C.V.

[3] Minnesota’s statutes and rules require termination of parental rights based on a ground included in the termination petition.  See Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1 (2004) (permitting a district court to terminate parental rights “upon petition”); Minn. R. Juv. Prot. P. 34.03, subd. 3(a) (requiring district court to “determine whether the petition states a prima facie case in support of termination of parental rights under the statutory grounds stated in the petition” (emphasis added)); Minn. R. Juv. Prot. P. 39.05, subd. 3(a) (stating that district court may terminate parental rights if “the statutory grounds set forth in the petition are proved” (emphasis added)).  Thus, to effectuate meaningful appellate review, the grounds on which a district court’s decision to terminate parental rights is based must be identified.

[4] The district court did not relieve the county of its obligation to provide reasonable efforts at reunification and rehabilitation.  And the district court’s order does not address whether the statutory requirements for relieving the county of its obligation have been met.  See Minn. Stat. § 260.012(a) (2004) (defining the circumstances under which a court may determine that reasonable efforts for reunification and rehabilitation are not required).