This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. ß 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).

 

 

STATE OF MINNESOTA

IN COURT OF APPEALS

A06-1835

 

In the Matter of the Welfare of the Children of:

T.L.S. and T.J.W., Parents

 

Filed April 3, 2007

Affirmed

Ross, Judge

 

Dakota County District Court

File No. J7-06-55149

 

Sharon L. Freiling, Montpetit, Freiling & Kranz, 222 Grand Avenue West, Suite 100, South St. Paul, MN 55075 (for appellant T.L.S.)

 

James C. Backstrom, Dakota County Attorney, Jean M. Mitchell, Assistant County Attorney, Dakota County Judicial Center, 1560 Highway 55, Hastings, MN 55033 (for respondent)

 

Tamara Hopwood, Guardian ad Litem Program, One West Mendota Road, Suite 14, West St. Paul, MN 55118 (guardian ad litem)

 

Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge; Kalitowski, Judge; and Ross, Judge.

 

U N P U B L I S H E D ††O P I N I O N

 

ROSS, Judge

Appellant T.L.S. challenges the district courtís order terminating her parental rights to her children.† She argues that the district court erred by concluding that the county made reasonable efforts to reunify her with her children, that reasonable efforts failed to correct the conditions that led the county to remove the children from her home, and that termination was in the childrenís best interests.† We affirm.

FACTS

Appellant T.L.S. is the mother and primary custodian of two young boys. †T.L.S. has two other children, an adult daughter who lives independently and a 16-year-old son whose custody the district court previously transferred from T.L.S. to his biological father.

T.L.S. has had a long struggle with mental-health problems and chemical dependency.† She has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and she has abused cocaine and marijuana since 1986.† T.L.S. has begun five chemical-dependency treatment programs and social-services agencies have removed her children on six occasions.† The first removal was at the birth of her son in 2001 after he tested positive for cocaine.† This began a lengthy out-of-home placement.† Two years later her next and youngest son tested positive for marijuana at birth.

Social-service agencies from two counties have intervened regarding T.L.S.ís deficient parenting.† Scott County investigated allegations that T.L.S.ís home lacked water and electricity.† Scott County filed a petition seeking the childrenís care or protection and created a case plan for T.L.S. to address her use of illegal drugs.† Dakota County Social Services later became involved on April 9, 2004, after police responded to a report of domestic violence between T.L.S. and T.J.W., the boysí father, in the presence of the boys at T.L.S.ís home.† The home was littered with clothing, food, and other items scattered on the floor, piled on furniture, or blocking a stairway.† Social-services personnel removed the children and instructed T.L.S. to clean up.† She complied, and the children were returned to her on April 26, 2004.

Social-services personnel assessed the home on April 29, 2004, after receiving a complaint that T.L.S. had left the boys with a neighbor without enough food or diapers and did not return when promised.† Social-services personnel found the home again cluttered and unsanitary.† T.L.S. tested positive for cocaine and marijuana and the two boys were again removed.

Dakota County filed a petition on May 12, 2004, alleging that T.L.S.ís children were in need of protection or services because of the domestic-violence incident, the unhealthy and unsafe condition of the home, T.L.S.ís leaving the children with a neighbor without providing for their necessities, and T.L.S.ís continued drug use.

The county subjected T.L.S. to both scheduled and random drug tests.† She tested positive for cocaine on May 18, 2004, but other test results during this period were negative for drugs or alcohol.† T.L.S. successfully completed inpatient treatment before transferring to outpatient chemical-dependency treatment, which she attended for several weeks.† She was unable to complete the treatment for reasons unrelated to her cooperation.† T.L.S. also attended individual psychological counseling.

The children were returned to T.L.S.ís home on July 30, 2004, but they were again removed for a period in October 2004 for reasons not documented in the record.† The county dismissed the petition in September 2004, based on T.L.S.ís apparent abstinence from illegal drugs and her compliance with recommendations, and the county closed the case in February 2005.

But four months later, a law-enforcement drug taskforce contacted the county after executing a search warrant at T.L.S.ís home.† Members of the taskforce found drug paraphernalia and methamphetamine residue accessible to the children throughout the house.† A social worker found broken glass on the kitchen floor and the house too unclean and unsafe for the children to remain.† A county social worker removed the children and again directed T.L.S. to clean the house.† The state charged T.L.S. with two controlled-substance crimes.†

Dakota County filed another petition for care or services for the boys in June 2005, citing the homeís unsafe condition, another domestic-violence incident, and T.L.S.ís use and the presence of illegal drugs in the home.† T.L.S. met weekly with a social worker, provided urine samples that tested negative for drugs or alcohol, and worked with an in-home parenting advisor whom the county provided.† But she refused to provide a hair sample for more thorough drug testing.† The county returned the children to T.L.S. in July 2005.

Two months later, T.L.S.ís parenting advisor raised concerns about her mental state and the condition of the home, prompting yet another removal.† The house was once again unkempt and the children appeared dirty and tired.† T.L.S. had stopped taking prescribed medication.† She was upset and said that she could not take care of the children.† She had lost her subsidized housing because of the criminal charges arising from her drug use.† T.L.S. voluntarily admitted herself for hospital treatment for about a week.† The children were placed in foster care with a relative.

The childrenís visitation supervisor and guardian ad litem observed T.L.S. interact with her children and made an unfavorable assessment.† The visitation supervisor monitored four weekly, two-hour-long visits.† She noted T.L.S.ís lack of control over the children.† They were often throwing and kicking things and breaking toys without T.L.S. attempting to stop them. †T.L.S. made promises to participate in various activities with the children but did not follow through. †The guardian ad litem visited T.L.S. when the children were in T.L.S.ís home.† When the guardian mentioned to T.L.S. that one of the boys was playing with an electrical outlet, T.L.S. reportedly appeared unconcerned.

In January 2006, Dakota County filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of T.L.S. and T.J.W. to their children, alleging that reasonable efforts have failed to correct the conditions leading to the childrenís out-of-home placement.† At trial, the childrenís social worker and the guardian ad litem testified in support of termination.† The guardian opined that T.L.S. is incapable of parenting the children.† The guardian noted the instability and adverse effect of the childrenís episodic removal from the home. †The guardian testified that she had seen a significant improvement in the childrenís behavior during their out-of-home placement.† There, they had structure, seemed happy, and were more communicative.† The guardian testified that T.L.S. neglects the children.† She expressed concerns about their physical and emotional health when they are with T.L.S., and she opined that T.L.S. was unable to provide the children with a stable living environment.† The social worker also testified that she believed termination was in the childrenís best interests because T.L.S. continually exposed the children to unsafe and unstable living conditions.

The district court concluded that there was significant evidence that termination was in the childrenís best interests and that reasonable efforts had been made to return the children to T.L.S.† But the court deferred its termination decision pending its receipt of reports from T.L.S.ís mental-health and chemical-dependency treatment providers and resolution of criminal charges against her.† This deferral gave the court the opportunity to consider additional evidence regarding whether T.L.S. corrected the conditions that led to the childrenís removal.

The district court conducted a review hearing on the outstanding issue two months later.† It noted that reports from T.L.S.ís health-care providers indicated that T.L.S. was participating in mental-health therapy, took prescribed mediations, and was not a danger to herself or others at that time.† But the court also noted a therapistís report stating that T.L.S. admitted to again using illegal drugs in June 2006. †The court found that T.L.S.ís efforts to address her mental-health issues and maintain abstinence failed to ensure the childrenís necessary safety and stability.† The court found that clear and convincing evidence established that reasonable efforts had failed to correct the conditions leading to the childrenís out-of-home placement and that termination was in their best interests. †It therefore terminated the parental rights of T.L.S. and T.J.W. †T.L.S. moved for a new trial, and the district court denied the motion.† T.L.S. appeals the termination order and the denial of her new-trial motion.† T.J.W. does not challenge the district courtís decision.

D E C I S I O N

On appeal in a termination proceeding, ďappellate courts are limited to determining whether the findings address the statutory criteria, whether those findings are supported by substantial evidence, and whether they are clearly erroneous.Ē †In re Welfare of D.D.G., 558 N.W.2d 481, 484 (Minn. 1997). †The evidence must be clear and convincing that at least one statutory basis for termination exists to support a decision to terminate parental rights. †In re Welfare of Children of R.W., 678 N.W.2d 49, 55 (Minn. 2004); see Minn. Stat. ß 260C.301, subd. 1(b) (2004) (listing nine bases for involuntarily terminating parental rights). †Proof of one statutory basis is sufficient, and in any termination proceeding, the best interests of the children must be the paramount consideration. †Minn. Stat. ß 260C.301, subd. 7 (2004); R.W., 678 N.W.2d at 55 (observing that an appellate court will affirm a termination of parental rights ďas long as at least one statutory ground for termination is supported by clear and convincing evidence and termination is in the child[ren]ís best interestsĒ). †

We consider the conditions as they existed at the time of the termination hearing and rely ďto a great extent upon the projected permanency of the parentís inability to care for his or her child[ren].Ē †In re Welfare of S.Z., 547 N.W.2d 886, 893 (Minn. 1996) (quotation omitted). †Generally, before the state can prevail in an action to terminate a parentís rights, the social-services agency must make reasonable efforts to reunite the children with the parent in a placement that is safe and permanent.† Id. at 892; see also Minn. Stat. ß 260C.301, subd. 8(1) (2004) (stating that district court must make specific findings regarding nature and extent of efforts made by social-services agency to rehabilitate parent and reunite family).† We also recognize that the district court is in a better position to assess the credibility of witnesses, and we give considerable deference to the district courtís decision. †In re Welfare of L.A.F., 554 N.W.2d 393, 396 (Minn. 1996).

The district court identified one statutory basis for terminating T.L.S.ís parental rights.† It concluded that after the childrenís out-of-home placement, reasonable efforts failed to correct the conditions leading to the placement, relying on Minnesota Statutes, section 260C.301, subdivision 1(b)(5). †The court found also that terminating T.L.S.ís parental rights is in the childrenís best interests, under subdivision 7, and that the county had made reasonable efforts to reunify T.L.S. and her children, under subdivision 8(1).

I

T.L.S. contends that Dakota County did not make reasonable efforts to reunite her with her children.† This court must therefore determine whether clear and convincing evidence supports the district courtís finding that the county made reasonable efforts to reunite the family.† In re Children of T.A.A., 702 N.W.2d 703, 708 (Minn. 2005).† The record belies T.L.S.ís contention that Dakota County failed to make reasonable reunification efforts.

Our focus is on the services Dakota County provided in its effort to assist T.L.S. to resolve issues related to her homeís unsafe condition, domestic violence, and her use and the presence of illegal drugs and paraphernalia in her home.† Although the petition that precipitated termination was filed in June 2005, state agencies began assisting T.L.S. in September 2001 when Scott County developed a plan to assist her to stop using illegal drugs and to stabilize her living situation after one of her children tested positive for cocaine at birth.† Dakota County began its efforts in April 2004 after police, responding to a report of domestic violence, notified social services personnel of health and safety concerns arising from the conditions in T.L.S.ís home.† The extensive services toward reunification of the family included providing T.L.S. in-home parenting assistance; intermittently providing out-of-home placement for T.L.S.ís children on various occasions; providing T.L.S. with the opportunity for in-patient and out-patient chemical-dependency treatment; referring T.L.S. for a mental-health diagnosis and individual counseling; arranging for placement with T.L.S.ís adult daughter, a licensed foster-care provider, to assure the childrenís placement in a home most accessible to T.L.S.; and requiring and conducting ongoing chemical-use testing.† Scott County and Dakota County provided these services to T.L.S. specifically with the intent to assist T.L.S. to remedy the conditions that led to the occasional removal of her children.† Contrary to T.L.S.ís contention, clear and convincing evidence supports the district courtís finding that the county made reasonable efforts toward the hoped-for reunification of T.L.S. with her children.

II

The district court concluded that the countyís efforts, though reasonable, failed to correct T.L.S.ís instability and illegal drug usage.† We agree.† T.L.S. argues that she was adequately addressing the conduct that led to the various petitions and that the social worker ignored her ďsubstantial progress.Ē† T.L.S. accurately notes that she provided the children with food, clothing, shelter, and education.† The social workers assigned to her case also noted those laudable efforts, and they are not lost on us.† But the conditions that led to the many removals were T.L.S.ís use of illegal drugs and the recurring unsafe and unsanitary condition of her home.† The record supports the district courtís conclusion that these concerns persisted despite the stateís services.

In September 2005, T.L.S. again allowed her home to revert to an unsafe and unsanitary condition, she admitted her inability to care for the children, and she requested mental-health services.† The guardian ad litem testified that T.L.S. seems incapable of parenting her children.† Despite multiple interventions and directions to maintain the home in a safe condition, the evidence supports the conclusion that T.L.S. failed to satisfactorily respond to the training that the county provided to her concerning basic home care.

The district courtís finding that reasonable efforts failed is also supported by the record as it relates to T.L.S.ís long-standing chemical-use problems.† The district court heard testimony of the many services that were specifically directed to ameliorate T.L.S.ís chemical dependency.† The district court reviewed reports from treatment providers indicating that T.L.S. continued to use drugs during the pendency of the extant petition. †Addressing T.L.S.ís contention that she was no longer chemically dependent, the district court also considered T.L.S.ís refusal to provide a hair sample for drug analysis, two pending criminal charges involving controlled substances, and a reliable report that T.L.S. continued to use controlled substances in June 2006.† We acknowledge that a different factfinder might have weighed T.L.S.ís efforts to end her chemical dependency and parental deficiencies differently, but we conclude that the district court had a sufficient factual basis to determine that reasonable efforts had failed to correct the conditions that led to the out-of-home placement of T.L.S.ís children and to the continuing pattern of removal that had disrupted the two boysí home stability since their birth.

III

T.L.S. argues that the district court erred by concluding that removal was in the childrenís best interests.† She maintains that the guardian ad litem, who testified that termination was in the childrenís best interests, failed to conduct an adequate investigation.† T.L.S. did not convince the district court that the guardianís work was deficient, and the record does not require the finding that T.L.S. urges.† The guardian had been involved in the case for almost a year.† She had observed the children in T.L.S.ís home and in the home of the childrenís foster parent.† The guardian noted the negative effect of T.L.S.ís unstable home environment and her lack of control of the children and compared this with the nurturing setting of their foster placement.† The guardian also cited instances in which T.L.S. exercised poor judgment concerning basic and obvious safety hazards even while T.L.S. knew she was being observed by the guardian.† The testimony from the visitation supervisor regarding T.L.S.ís conduct with the children on several occasions supports the guardianís conclusion that T.L.S. is unable to parent her children.† Despite social workersí testimony that there is a loving bond between T.L.S. and her children and that she has not physically abused them, the record adequately demonstrates T.L.S.ís instability and refusal or inability to overcome her drug use.† The guardian testified without controversy that the children have a great need for stability in their lives.† But T.L.S.ís ongoing involvement with drugs and her inability to maintain a safe and sanitary home have caused the children to be repeatedly removed from their home. †The social worker, who dealt directly with T.L.S.ís relapses, testified that termination was in the childrenís best interests.† Clear and convincing evidence supports the district courtís conclusion that termination was in the childrenís best interests.

Affirmed.