This opinion will be unpublished and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 Child of: S.L.P., Parent.


Filed December 12, 2006


Stoneburner, Judge


Steele County District Court

File No. J7-05-50382


Bethene M. Koch, 525 East First Avenue, Shakopee, MN 55379 (for appellant)


Douglas R. Ruth, Steele County Attorney, Christine A. Long, Assistant County Attorney, 303 South Cedar, Owatonna, MN 55060 (for respondent petitioner)


Daniel T. Donnelly, 130 Third Avenue Northwest, Austin, MN 55912 (for respondent intervenor)


            Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge; Klaphake, 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 a transfer of legal and physical custody of appellant’s child to the child’s paternal grandmother, appellant argues that the district court’s findings are inadequate, the evidence was insufficient to support the transfer to the child’s paternal grandmother rather than to the child’s maternal uncle, and the child’s best interests would be served by transferring permanent custody to her maternal uncle.  Because the district court’s findings are adequate, and there is sufficient evidence in the record to support the district court’s conclusion that the child’s best interests are served by transferring custody to her paternal grandmother, we affirm.



            K.P. was born in Iowa on July 12, 2002 to appellant S.L.P. (mother) and A.J.P. (father).  Father died when K.P. was two months old.  Following father’s death, mother and K.P. moved to Texas, where K.P.’s maternal grandmother and uncle live.  In 2004, mother and K.P. moved to Owatonna to live with K.P.’s paternal grandmother and her husband (grandparents).  In July 2005, mother and K.P. moved out of grandparents’ home due to a breakdown in the relationship between mother and grandparents.

In September 2005, Steele County Human Services (the county) filed a petition alleging that K.P. was a child in need of protection or services of the court (CHIPS) due to concerns about mother’s mental health and substance abuse.  The petition alleged that mother and K.P. had been living in shelters and were homeless at the time of the petition.  Based on mother’s admission to the petition, K.P. was adjudicated CHIPS and placed in foster care with grandparents. 

In permanency planning discussions, mother and her family proposed that maternal uncle or maternal grandmother in Texas be awarded legal and physical custody of K.P.  Grandparents wanted custody to remain with them or be awarded to father’s half-sister, who also lives in Minnesota.  All parties agreed that, regardless of where K.P. is permanently placed, it is important to maintain visitation between K.P. and K.P.’s half-sister, who lives in St. Peter.

The district court held a permanency hearing in May 2006.  Mother stipulated that she is unable to parent K.P. and that it is in K.P.’s best interests to be permanently placed in the custody of a relative.  The sole issue at the permanency hearing was whether placement with maternal uncle or paternal grandmother is in K.P.’s best interests.  Mother requested that custody be awarded to maternal uncle.  Grandparents requested that custody be awarded to paternal grandmother.  In her affidavit, the county social worker advised the court that termination of mother’s parental rights is not in K.P.’s best interests “because the child and the mother have a strong bond and there are a number of relatives who would be able to take custody of the child without breaking that attachment.”  She recommended that short visits between K.P. and mother “should be encouraged.”  The county did not express a preference between maternal uncle and paternal grandmother.

The guardian ad litem (GAL) expressed concern that visitation between K.P. and mother would not continue on a regular basis if paternal grandmother had custody of K.P., because paternal grandmother had previously denied mother’s visitation.  The GAL described the relationship between mother and paternal grandmother as “antagonistic” and expressed doubt as to whether they would be able to set it aside.  The GAL recommended permanent placement with maternal uncle, because he is more likely than paternal grandmother to nurture a relationship between K.P. and mother.  The visitation supervisor echoed the GAL’s concerns. 

When asked what she would do to facilitate visitation between K.P. and mother, paternal grandmother testified: “I [would] like to see and talk to [mother], and we can come up with an agreement when she [would] like to come and visit at our house; and we [would] like for [K.P.] to grow up close to her mother.”  When asked if she would ever welcome mother back into her house to live, paternal grandmother replied, “yes, but we would be more careful.  We will supervise what she does.”  Paternal grandmother also testified that she would accommodate visitation with K.P.’s maternal relatives.

The district court noted that it was “in the position of having to choose between two perfectly fine homes in which to place [K.P.]” and awarded custody to paternal grandmother.  The district court acknowledged the “apparent animosity” between mother and paternal grandmother, but noted paternal grandmother’s testimony that she is willing to allow contact between K.P. and mother, if mother complies with her treatment regime, and that paternal grandmother is willing to facilitate contact between K.P. and her extended maternal family.

            The court found that “it is in [K.P.’s] best interest to leave her in the only home she knows, with her [paternal g]randmother.”  The court also found “the importance of the bond between [paternal grandmother] and [K.P.] to be the overriding concern at this time, again, looking out for the best interest of [K.P.].”  This appeal followed.



I.                   Best Interest Findings

“Any order for a disposition authorized under [Minn. Stat. § 260C.201] shall contain written findings of fact to support the disposition . . . .”  Minn. Stat. § 260C.201, subd. 2(a) (2004).  In a permanent placement order, the district court must make findings of fact that address the following statutory criteria:

(1)       Why the best interests and safety of the child are served by the [placement] ordered;

(2)       What alternative dispositions or services . . . were considered by the court and why such dispositions or services were not appropriate in the instant case;

(3)       When legal custody of the child is transferred, the appropriateness of the particular placement made . . . by the placing agency using the factors in section 260C.212, subdivision 2, paragraph (b); and

(4)       Whether reasonable efforts . . . were made to prevent or eliminate the necessity of the child’s removal and to reunify the family after removal.  The court’s findings must include a brief description of what preventive and reunification efforts were made and why further efforts could not have prevented or eliminated the necessity of removal or that reasonable efforts were not required. . . .


Id.  The district court’s findings must be adequate to “facilitate effective appellate review, to provide insight into which facts or opinions were most persuasive of the ultimate decision, or to demonstrate the trial court’s comprehensive consideration of the statutory criteria.”  In re Welfare of M.M., 452 N.W.2d 236, 239 (Minn. 1990).

Mother correctly notes that the district court’s order does not contain any findings of fact or conclusions of law.  But she does not argue or provide any authority that would support an argument that the district court’s incorporation of a memorandum containing findings of fact and conclusions of law does not adequately address the statutory mandate

that a disposition order contain written findings of fact to support the disposition.[1]  Rather, mother argues that the findings of fact contained in the memorandum do not adequately address K.P.’s best interests. 

In this case, the district court addressed each of the statutory criteria.  First, the district court found that “it is in [K.P.’s] best interest to leave her in the only home she knows, with her [paternal g]randmother.”  Mother argues that there is nothing in the district court’s memorandum that reflects a review of the child’s relationship with her mother, maternal uncle, maternal grandmother, sister or any other relatives or important persons.  But the district court specifically considered and credited paternal grandmother’s willingness to continue contact between K.P. and mother and facilitate K.P.’s contact with her extended maternal family.  It was not disputed at the hearing that the bond between K.P. and her mother is strong or that it is in K.P.’s best interests to continue contact with her mother, half-sister, and other maternal relatives.  But the district court found “the importance of the bond between [paternal grandmother] and [K.P.] to be the overriding concern at this time, again looking out for the best interest of [K.P.].”  These findings indicate which placement the court found to be in K.P.’s best interests, and they “provide insight into which facts or opinions were most persuasive of the ultimate decision.”  Id.

            Second, the district court addressed “alternative dispositions” by considering whether K.P. should be placed with maternal uncle instead of paternal grandmother.  The district court made detailed findings about maternal uncle’s suitability and noted the steps he had taken to obtain custody of K.P.  The district court also explained its rationale for not placing K.P. with maternal uncle.  In addition to finding that “[paternal grandmother’s] home is the only home [K.P.] knows, given her age at leaving Texas,” the district court observed that maternal uncle “has no experience raising children.”

Third, the district court considered the “appropriateness of the particular placement.”  The district court noted the length of time paternal grandmother and her husband had been caring for K.P. and found that paternal grandmother has “obviously bonded” with K.P.  The district court found that paternal grandmother is “financially stable and has a very nice home.”  The district court noted that paternal grandmother enrolled K.P. in preschool and that K.P. “has been doing well.”  The district court made findings about paternal grandmother’s work, home, finances, age, and her bond with K.P.  The only “negative” the district court noted with respect to grandparents is their age and paternal grandmother’s health condition. 

As for the final criterion, it was not necessary for the district court to address whether reasonable efforts were made to reunify the family, because the district court found that mother “stipulated that she is unable to parent [K.P.] and that it is in [K.P.’s] best interest that she be permanently placed with a family member.”  We conclude that the findings adequately demonstrate that the district court considered and evaluated all relevant factors in determining K.P.’s best interests.

II.        Substantial Evidence

Mother argues that the district court’s findings are not supported by substantial evidence in the record.  When reviewing a permanent-placement order, this court determines “whether the trial court’s findings address the statutory criteria and are supported by substantial evidence, or whether they are clearly erroneous.”  In re Welfare of A.R.G.-B., 551 N.W.2d 256, 261 (Minn. App. 1996) (quotation omitted).  “Considerable deference is due to the district court’s decision, because a district court is in a superior position to assess the credibility of witnesses.”  In re Welfare of L.A.F., 554 N.W.2d 393, 396 (Minn. 1996).  This court closely inquires into the sufficiency of the evidence to determine whether it was clear and convincing.  In re Welfare of J.M., 574 N.W.2d 717, 724 (Minn. 1998). 

            Mother appears to be asking this court to independently review the record and make a determination about K.P.’s best interests.  She points to evidence in the record that placing K.P. with paternal grandmother could jeopardize her relationship with K.P., that maternal uncle is better suited to foster that relationship, and that the GAL recommended placement with maternal uncle. 

            Even if this court would have reached a different conclusion as to K.P.’s best interests, the district court’s findings must be sustained unless they are clearly erroneous. In re Welfare of A.R.G.-B., 551 N.W.2d at 261.  The record shows that grandparents have a close and loving relationship with K.P and that K.P. appears comfortable and secure in their home.  The record shows that grandparents have been K.P.’s primary caregivers since September 2005, and they played a significant role in caring for K.P. for a significant amount of time before that.  The record shows that K.P. attends preschool, church services, Sunday school, and ballet classes.  The county social worker testified that her main concern was “yet another move in this little girl’s life” that would “interrupt[] her bonding and attachment.”  Paternal grandmother’s pastor stated that he “would have a hard time believing that [others] could offer [K.P.] a better home than she already has with [paternal grandmother].”  After carefully reviewing the record, we cannot conclude that the district court’s findings are clearly erroneous.


[1] Juvenile protection proceedings are governed by the Rules of Juvenile Protection Procedure rather than the Rules of Civil Procedure.  The Rules of Juvenile Protection Procedure do not contain a counterpart to Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01 which provides, in part, that findings of fact and conclusions of law may be contained in a memorandum, but the absence of a specific provision does not lead us to conclude that this long-recognized manner of providing findings of fact and conclusions of law is insufficient in juvenile protection matters.