This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In the Matter of the Welfare of the Children of:
D.L.T. and R.Y., Parents.
Filed June 12, 2007
Anoka County District Court
File No. J2-06-51304
Michael C. Hager,
Robert M.A. Johnson,
Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge; Shumaker, 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, arguing that the evidence is insufficient to support the five bases relied on by the district court. Appellant also argues that the evidence is insufficient to support the district court’s conclusion of law that termination is in the best interests of the children. Because the evidence was sufficient to terminate appellant’s parental rights and the district court made adequate findings to support its conclusion, we affirm.
Appellant D.L.T. is the single
mother of three-year old D.R.M.T. and 22-month-old D.R.Y. In August 2005, D.R.Y. came to the emergency
room suffering from severe malnourishment resulting in dehydration, muscle
wasting, and no weight gain since birth. Doctors also diagnosed D.R.Y. with extreme
failure to thrive.
While monitoring the case plan, social workers observed D.L.T. interact with D.R.M.T. The social workers filed a CHIPS petition for D.R.M.T. because of concerns about D.L.T.’s neglect, lack of supervision, and failure to meet the child’s needs. D.R.M.T. demonstrated minimal speech and language development for a child her age, displayed symptoms of severe neglect as well as an attachment disorder. Deena McMahon, a qualified expert and therapist, diagnosed D.R.M.T. with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), indicating “severe emotional disturbance [that] will affect [D.R.M.T.’s] ability to form lasting and loving long-term relationships.” McMahon described D.R.M.T. as “one of the most withdrawn, avoidant children” she has encountered, and that she “displays behaviors and symptomology consistent with severe neglect.” The district court granted D.R.M.T.’s CHIPS petition, placed her in foster care, and ordered D.L.T. to follow a structured case plan.
D.L.T.’s case plan for both children included monitored visitation, home visits, parenting assessments, and parenting classes. During her parenting education, which lasted more than one year, D.L.T. demonstrated inconsistent parenting and struggled to retain and apply her lessons. Social workers regularly observed filthy and unsafe conditions in the home, and D.L.T. struggled in the areas of child development, attachment and bonding, discipline, parenting styles, nutrition and feeding, hygiene, child temperament, emotional development, and parent-child separation. The children were often dirty after being in D.L.T.’s care, and she admitted feeding D.R.Y. spoiled food. D.R.M.T. vomited and had diarrhea on many occasions after visiting with D.L.T., but never exhibited such symptoms on non-visit days. McMahon characterized D.R.M.T.’s symptoms as physical reactions to distress suffered during visits with D.L.T. During foster care, D.R.Y. and D.R.M.T. improved their health, language and speech skills, and thrived because of the consistent care.
In May 2006, the county filed a petition to terminate D.L.T.’s parental rights. Several social workers and the guardian ad litem testified at trial, each recommending that the district court terminate D.L.T.’s parental rights and that doing so would be in the children’s best interests.
Dr. James Gilbertson testified on behalf of D.L.T. Dr. Gilbertson testified that he would diagnose D.M.R.T. with a different attachment disorder, which could be treated by training D.L.T. to increase her sensitivity. He also testified that D.L.T. would not be able to meet her children’s needs immediately and expressed concern that she would not be able to do so in the foreseeable future.
The district court found by clear-and-convincing evidence that termination was proper under five statutory bases under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b) (2006). The district court concluded that (1) D.L.T. failed to comply with parental duties; (2) she is palpably unfit to be a parent; (3) reasonable efforts under the direction of the court failed to correct conditions leading to the children’s placement outside the home; (4) the children experienced egregious harm in the parent’s care, indicating a lack of regard for the children’s well-being; and (5) the children are neglected and in foster care. The district court also concluded that termination is in the children’s best interests.
D.L.T. moved for amended findings or a new trial, and the district court denied her motion. This appeal followed.
D E C I S I O N
On appeal in a termination
proceeding, “appellate 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.” In re
Welfare of D.D.G., 558 N.W.2d 481, 484 (
of parental rights will be affirmed as long as at least one statutory ground
for termination is supported by clear and convincing evidence and termination
is in the child’s best interests.” In re Welfare of R.W., 678 N.W.2d 49, 55
1. Failure to Comply with Duties Imposed by Parent-Child Relationship
The district court found that termination was proper under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(2) (2006), which provides for termination when
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, including but not limited to providing the child with necessary food, clothing, shelter, education, and other care and control necessary for the child’s physical, mental, or emotional health and development, if the parent is physically and financially able, and 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.
D.L.T. contends that her participation in the county’s case plan shows that her parenting problems are not permanent. But D.L.T.’s mere participation by itself does not establish that the problems are not permanent. Our review of the record shows that D.L.T. continually failed to apply basic parenting skills such as tending to the dietary and hygienic needs of her children. Substantial evidence, including Dr. Gilbertson’s testimony, also shows that D.L.T.’s problems would not improve in the reasonably foreseeable future.
D.L.T. also argues that the duration and quality of the county’s involvement was not reasonable and that the county filed the termination petition prematurely. We disagree. Although D.M.R.T. was placed in foster care in December 2005 and the termination petition was filed in May 2006, the county’s initial involvement began in August 2005, and the termination order was filed more than one year later. During the year in which the county provided services to D.L.T., she received intensive parenting training and home visits by several social workers. The county’s social-services supervisor testified that D.L.T. received more training and supervised visits than any other similarly situated parent in the county.
Our review of the record also shows that the county provided services of a reasonable quality. D.L.T. contends that the quality of the county’s efforts was affected by the alleged misdiagnosis of D.M.R.T with RAD. Although Dr. Gilbertson testified to his opinion that he would diagnose D.M.R.T. with a different attachment disorder, this does not show that the county misdiagnosed D.M.R.T. or that a different diagnosis would have affected the district court’s decision. The district court accepted the county’s expert’s diagnosis, and we will not disturb that finding on appeal. See In re Welfare of Children of J.B., 698 N.W.2d 160, 167 (Minn. App. 2005) (stating “[t]he weight to be given any testimony, including expert testimony, is ultimately the province of the fact-finder”).
Furthermore, D.L.T.’s contention that the county should have placed D.M.R.T. with her aunt also fails to show that the county’s efforts were not reasonable. D.L.T. does not explain how the alternative placement would have been better for the child or that it was unreasonable to place the child elsewhere. Therefore, we hold that the county made reasonable efforts in light of 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 at 892.
Finally, D.L.T. argues that she showed substantial progress in her parenting and that, absent her temporary financial and medical difficulties, the evidence is insufficient to support termination. Although D.L.T. did receive occasional positive feedback from social workers, substantial evidence shows that D.L.T. regularly placed her children in unsanitary and unsafe living conditions that adversely affected their development and well-being. D.L.T.’s home was consistently filthy, she fed D.R.Y. spoiled food, she did not provide proper supervision, and she did not keep the children clean. And even though D.L.T. suffered temporary financial and medical difficulties, these are only isolated, temporary issues that cannot reasonably be blamed for the plethora of continued parenting problems in this case.
Therefore, we conclude that the county made reasonable efforts to resolve the parenting problems in this case and that substantial evidence supports the district court’s conclusion that termination is proper under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(2).
2. Palpable Unfitness
Although we need not address the other grounds for termination, Children of T.A.A., 702 N.W.2d at 708 n.3, we also note that the record supports the district court’s conclusion that termination is proper under the palpable-unfitness standard, Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4) (2006).
Termination is proper under section 260.301, subdivision 1(b)(4), when
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.
D.L.T. argues that her conduct
does not show that she is palpably unfit to parent and highlights the fact that
she is not chemically dependent and does not suffer from mental illness. But neither the caselaw nor the statute limits
a finding of palpable unfitness to cases involving chemical dependency or
mental illness. See In re Welfare of J.K., 374 N.W.2d 463, 466 (
D.L.T. also argues that the
district court did not find a consistent pattern of conduct showing her
palpable unfitness to parent for the indefinite future. But our review of the record shows that the
district court made extensive findings regarding D.L.T.’s unfitness as a parent
and that the duration of the unfitness need only extend into the reasonably
D.L.T. consistently allowed her household to become dirty and unhealthful, and was unable to adequately supervise her children. Social workers testified that she continually struggled with learning and retaining parenting skills. Moreover, D.L.T. was highly defensive about her parenting and “refused to admit any limitations with regard to her parenting abilities.” Substantial evidence in the form of testimony from the social workers supports a finding that D.L.T. is unable to properly care for the children for the reasonably foreseeable future. Dr. Gilbertson, D.L.T.’s own expert, also questioned whether she could meet the children’s need in the foreseeable future.
Finally, D.L.T. argues that the county did not make reasonable efforts to prevent placement and reunify the family. The record shows that the county extended substantial opportunities and resources to prevent placement and reunify the family. The county worked with D.L.T. for a year in an attempt to educate and train her to meet the needs of her children. The county provided parenting classes, home visits, supervised visits, and transportation. We hold that the county made reasonable efforts in this case, and substantial evidence supports the district court’s conclusion that D.L.T. is palpably unfit to parent.
3. Best Interests
D.L.T. also challenges the district court’s conclusion of law that termination is in the best interests of the children.
determining the best interests of a child, a district court is required to
“balance three factors: (1) the child’s interest in preserving the parent-child
relationship; (2) the parent’s interest in preserving the parent-child
relationship; and (3) any competing interest of the child.” In re
Welfare of R.T.B., 492 N.W.2d 1, 4 (
D.L.T. argues that there is insufficient evidence in the record to support the district court’s conclusion that termination was in the children’s best interests. She contends that there was no showing of a permanent problem requiring termination and that separating the children from their family is not in their best interests.
The record, as discussed above, shows that D.L.T. is unable to provide for the needs of her children for the reasonably foreseeable future, despite the county’s reasonable efforts. Therefore, the requisite permanency of D.L.T.’s inability to adequately care for the children was established. See In re Welfare of S.Z., 547 N.W.2d at 893. Furthermore, under the circumstances of this record, it is clear that the children’s interest in living with their mother and other sibling does not outweigh their interest in living in a home that can adequately provide for their needs.
D.L.T. also argues that the district
court did not make any findings or engage in any analysis regarding the
children’s best interests. “Determination
of a child’s ‘best interests’ . . . is generally not
susceptible to an appellate court’s global review of a record.” In re
Tanghe, 672 N.W.2d at 625. An
appellate court’s “combing through the record to determine best interests is
inappropriate because it involves credibility determinations.”
Although the district court’s ultimate finding that termination is in the best interests of the children does not explicitly balance the children’s and D.L.T.’s interests, the district court did address the children’s best interests throughout its order. The district court made numerous findings detailing D.L.T.’s parenting deficiencies, the children’s developmental progress in foster care, as well as the social workers’ and guardian ad litem’s opinions that termination is in the children’s best interests. Based on this record, we hold that substantial evidence supports the district court’s conclusion, and the district court made adequate findings.