This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

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

 

STATE OF MINNESOTA

IN COURT OF APPEALS

A07-494

 

In the Matter of the Welfare of the Children of:

A. G. and D. R., Parents.

 

Filed August 21, 2007

Affirmed

Kalitowski, Judge

 

Blue Earth County District Court

File No. 07-JV-06-73

 

Paul E. Grabitske, Eskens, Gibson & Behm Law Firm, Chartered, 115 East Hickory Street, Suite 200, Mankato, MN 56002-1056 (for appellant D.R.)

 

Ross E. Arneson, Blue Earth County Attorney, Mark A. Lindahl, Assistant County Attorney, P.O. Box 3129, Mankato, MN 56002-3129 (for respondent Blue Earth County Human Services)

 

Carrie Marsh Leone, Assistant Public Defender, P.O. Box 1059, Mankato, MN 56002 (for respondent A.G.)

 

Debi Cumming, Nicollet County Courthouse, 501 South Minnesota Avenue, St. Peter, MN 56082 (guardian ad litem)

 

            Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge; Toussaint, Chief Judge; and Kalitowski, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

KALITOWSKI, Judge

            Appellant D.R. challenges the district court’s order terminating his parental rights to his twin sons, arguing that the district court clearly erred by finding that respondent had provided reasonable services to rehabilitate him and reunify the family, and abused its discretion by concluding that (1) appellant refused to abide by the duties of the parent-child relationship; (2) appellant failed to correct the conditions leading to the children’s placement in foster care; (3) the children are neglected and in foster care; and (4) termination of appellant’s parental rights are in the best interests of the children.  We affirm.

D E C I S I O N

            Twin boys, D.R. and D.R., were born prematurely to A.G. and D.R. on December 20, 2005, at 29 weeks of gestation, having been exposed prenatally to cocaine and methamphetamine.  Accordingly, the twins “were extremely fragile” and “required extraordinary care and attention.”

            From the time of their birth, the twins have been in the custody of Blue Earth County Human Services, placed in foster care.  Following a four-day hearing, the district court terminated appellant’s parental rights to the twins, concluding that termination was appropriate because appellant had failed to comply with the duties imposed by the parent-child relationship, Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(2) (2006); reasonable efforts had failed to reunite the family, Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(5) (2006); and the twins are neglected and in foster care, Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(8) (2006).  The district court concluded that respondent had made reasonable efforts to reunite the family, those efforts had failed, further efforts would be futile, and termination of appellant’s parental rights is in the best interests of the children.  Appellant challenges each of these determinations.

            We “must determine whether the [district] court’s findings address the statutory criteria, whether those findings are supported by substantial evidence, and whether those findings are clearly erroneous.”  In re Welfare of M.D.O., 462 N.W.2d 370, 375 (Minn. 1990).  When making these determinations, we exercise great caution, but “a court need find only one of the statutory grounds exists to terminate parental rights.”  In re Welfare of S.Z., 547 N.W.2d 886, 890 (Minn. 1996).  We “closely [inquire] into the sufficiency of the evidence to determine whether the evidence is clear and convincing.”  Id. at 893.  But “[c]onsiderable 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). 

I.

            Before parental rights may be terminated, reasonable efforts must be made to reunite the children with the parent.  Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 8(1); In re Welfare of S.Z., 547 N.W.2d at 892.  Even if statutory grounds for termination exist, this court must determine whether there is clear and convincing evidence that the county made reasonable efforts to unite the family.  In re Children of T.A.A., 702 N.W.2d 703, 708 (Minn. 2005).  Appellant argues that respondent’s efforts were not reasonable.

            “Reasonable efforts” means “the exercise of due diligence by the responsible social services agency to use culturally appropriate and available services to meet the needs of the child and the child’s family” and to reunify the family.  Minn. Stat. § 260.012(f)(2) (2006).  In determining whether reasonable efforts have been made, the district court must consider whether the services 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.”  Minn. Stat. § 260.012(h) (2006). 

            “Efforts to help parents generally are closely scrutinized, because public agencies may transform the assistance into a test to demonstrate parental failure.”  In re Welfare of J.H.D., 416 N.W.2d 194, 198 (Minn. App. 1987), review denied (Minn. Feb. 12, 1988).  Whether the county’s services constitute “reasonable efforts” depends on 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 H.K., 455 N.W.2d 529, 532 (Minn. App. 1990), review denied (Minn. July 6, 1990).  The assistance must go beyond mere matters of form, such as the scheduling of appointments, so as to include real, genuine help.  Id. Such help must focus on the parent’s specific needs.  In re Welfare of M.A., 408 N.W.2d 227, 235-36 (Minn. App. 1987), review denied (Minn. Sept. 18, 1987).

            Appellant argues that the district court clearly erred by making inadequate findings regarding the reasonableness of the services offered to appellant.  Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 8, requires:

            In any proceeding under this section, the court shall make specific findings:

 

            (1) that reasonable efforts to prevent the placement and to reunify the child and the parent were made including individualized and explicit findings regarding the nature and extent of efforts made by the social services agency to rehabilitate the parent and reunite the family; or

 

            (2)  that reasonable efforts at reunification are not required as provided under section 260.012.

 

            Section 260.012 provides that reasonable efforts are unnecessary if “the provision of services or further services for the purpose of reunification is futile and therefore unreasonable under the circumstances.”  Minn. Stat. § 260.012(a)(5) (2006). 

            The record indicates that appellant’s case plan required him to:

1.                  complete a parenting skills course through Early Childhood Education Program.

2.                  complete Red Cross CPR Training for infants.

3.                  complete a parenting assessment

4.                  maintain sobriety

5.                  participate in medical attention for the children

6.                  work with the PIP program and participate in Early Childhood Assessment from the Early Intervention Outreach

7.                  find approved day care services before the children enter his care

8.                  sign releases

9.                  visit the children; and

10.             visit with the social worker to review progress.

 

Appellant argues that the results of the parenting skills assessment regarding anger management were not incorporated into the plan and therefore the plan is faulty.  He further argues that insufficient resources were supplied in order to maintain his sobriety.

            Regarding appellant’s efforts to comply with his case plan, the district court found that:

[appellant] did complete the Red Cross CPR training.  He did complete the parenting assessment.  That was about it.  Most critically, considering the extraordinary needs of the twins, [appellant] never contacted [the twins’ Early Childhood Special Education case manager] or anyone in an effort to acquire the skills necessary to care for them. 

 

The district court further stated that:

 

[Appellant] has failed to fulfill much of the requirements established in the case plan.  He actually explicitly denied that anything was wrong with the twins.  He failed to engage in any of the opportunities for parenting skills classes or to participate in the early intervention programs.

 

And the court found that “[respondent] has made reasonable efforts to correct the conditions that led to the placement of the twins in foster care.  Services have been offered to [appellant].  He has failed to take advantage of such services.” 

            Here, the district court determined that “reasonable efforts have been and would be futile and thus unreasonable and unnecessary.”  It found that “given [appellant’s] psychological profile as verified by his life style, it is unlikely that he would be able to acquire the necessary ability to parent the twins.  In other words, one must note the futility of continuing in an effort to provide services to [appellant] given the extraordinary needs of the twins and their legal right to permanent stability.”  The district court noted that appellant had reacted with hostility toward various representatives of respondent, and that the psychological profile developed depicted appellant as “a man who would have difficulties with relationships; an inability to hold a job; difficulty following the rules of society; and animosity and suspicion of those in authority.”   

            The district court commented:

When pressed to provide a time line needed by [appellant] to possibly become minimally qualified to parent the twins, [the child protection case manager] suggested that [appellant] would need a year!  And then, only if he was diligent in his efforts and did not experience any major problems.

 

            We agree with the district court that the record supports its finding that future efforts by respondent would be futile.  We conclude that Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 8(2), applies in this case and the district court was not required to make detailed findings regarding respondent’s reasonable efforts.

II.

            Under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(2), parental rights may be terminated upon a finding:

that 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 . . . 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. 

 

            Here, the district court determined that appellant had not abided by the duties of the parent-child relationship because he had not complied with the case plan.  See In re Child of Simon, 662 N.W.2d 155, 163 (Minn. App. 2003) (noting that failure to comply with a case plan can support a finding that a parent failed to satisfy the duties and responsibilities of the parent-child relationship).   As discussed above, appellant failed to comply with many of the requirements of his case plan.

            It is within the district court’s discretion to determine that appellant did not comply adequately with the case plan and, from that, to decide that he had failed to abide by the parent-child relationship.  Because appellant failed to comply with the case plan and further efforts by respondent would be futile, we conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion by concluding that appellant “substantially, continuously, or repeatedly refused or neglected to comply with the duties imposed upon that parent by the parent and child relationship.”

III.

            A district court may terminate parental rights if it finds “that following the child’s placement out of the home, reasonable efforts, under the direction of the court, have failed to correct the conditions leading to the child’s placement.”  Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(5).

            It is presumed that reasonable efforts have failed upon a showing of the following:  (1) “a child has resided out of the parental home under court order for a cumulative period of 12 months within the preceding 22 months”; (2) the district court approved the out-of-home placement plan; (3) “conditions leading to the out-of-home placement have not been corrected”; and (4) “reasonable efforts have been made by the social services agency to rehabilitate the parent and reunite the family.”  Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(5)(i)-(iv). 

            Appellant argues that he complied with seven of the ten requirements of the case plan, constituting substantial compliance, sufficient to overcome the district court’s determination that he had not upheld his commitment to the parent-child relationship.  Minn. Stat. § 160C.301, subd. 1(b)(5)(iii), states that “[i]t is presumed that conditions leading to the out-of-home placement have not been corrected upon a showing that the parent or parents have not substantially complied with the court’s orders and a reasonable case plan.” (emphasis added).  We conclude that the district court did not clearly err by failing to find that appellant substantially complied with the case plan.  We further acknowledge that the district court specifically found, as is required under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(5)(iv), that “[respondent] has made reasonable efforts to correct the conditions that led to the placement of the twins in foster care.  Services have been offered to [appellant].  He has failed to take advantage of such services.”  We conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion by determining that appellant failed to correct the conditions that led to the children’s placement out of the home.

IV.

            A district court may terminate parental rights if it finds that a child is neglected and in foster care.  Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(8).  “Neglected and in foster care” means a child who has been placed in foster care and “[w]hose parents’ circumstances, condition, or conduct are such that the child cannot be returned to them” and “[w]hose parents, despite the availability of needed rehabilitative services, have failed to make reasonable efforts to adjust their circumstances, condition or conduct, or have willfully failed to meet reasonable expectations with regard to visiting the child or providing financial support for the child.”  Minn. Stat. § 260C.007, subd. 24 (2006).

            To determine whether a child is neglected and in foster care, a district court may consider, among other considerations,

(1)  the length of time the child has been in foster care;

(2)  the effort the parent has made to adjust circumstances, conduct, or conditions that necessitates the removal of the child to make it in the child’s best interest to be returned to the parent’s home in the foreseeable future, including the use of rehabilitative services offered to the parent;

(3)  whether the parent has visited the child within the three months preceding the filing of the petition, unless extreme financial or physical hardship or treatment for mental disability or chemical dependency or other good cause prevented the parent from visiting the child or it was not in the best interests of the child to be visited by the parent;

(4)  the maintenance of regular contact or communication with the agency or person temporarily responsible for the child;

(5)  the appropriateness and adequacy of services provided or offered to the parent to facilitate a reunion;

(6)  whether additional services would be likely to bring about lasting parental adjustment enabling a return of the child to the parent within an ascertainable period of time, whether the services have been offered to the parent, or, if services were not offered, the reasons they were not offered; and

(7)  the nature of the efforts made by the responsible social services agency to rehabilitate and reunite the family and whether the efforts were reasonable.

 

Minn. Stat. § 260C.163, subd. 9 (2006).  The district court balances these factors, considering both the interests of the parent and the interests of the child, with the particular circumstances in each case.  In re Welfare of HGB, 306 N.W.2d 821, 826-27 (Minn. 1981).  But a district court need not specifically address each factor so long as its “detailed findings of fact demonstrate the existence of many of the factors outlined in the statute, and provide clear and convincing evidence.”  In re Welfare of A.D., 535 N.W.2d 643, 649 (Minn. 1995).

            Here, the district court noted that appellant had visited with the children and attended some of the children’s medical appointments.  But it also addressed appellant’s hostility toward medical and service staff, his denial that the twins had special needs, his attempts to undermine the parental assessment procedure, his continued drug- and alcohol-related lifestyle, and his lack of involvement with early childhood services.            Appellant argues that the children are not in foster care because the surrogate family is providing such extensive services that the home should qualify as a treating facility instead of a foster home.  But appellant does not explain how the care the children received in the foster home differs from the care the twins should receive in appellant’s home.  Even though the twins require medical attention and services, including periodic nursing visits and therapy, they would need those services whether in appellant’s home or a foster home; the provision of these services does not appear to equate the foster home with a “hospital[] or treatment facility[y].”  

            We conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion by determining that the twins are neglected and in foster care.

V.

            In addition to determining whether one of the nine statutorily defined bases for termination is present, a district court must also consider whether termination of parental rights is in the children’s best interests and “explain its rationale in its findings and conclusions.”  In re Tanghe, 672 N.W.2d 623, 626 (Minn. App. 2003); Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 7 (2006) (stating “the best interests of the child must be the paramount consideration” in proceeding to terminate parental rights).

            The “best interests” analysis requires the district court to balance the children’s interest in preserving the parent-child relationships, the parent’s interest in preserving the parent-child relationships, and any competing interests of the children.  In re Welfare of R.T.B., 492 N.W.2d 1, 4 (Minn. App. 1992).  “Competing interests include such things as a stable environment, health considerations and the child’s preferences.”  Id.  “Where the interests of the parents and child conflict, the interests of the child are paramount.”  Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 7. 

            The district court noted with regard to another child in appellant’s care that “much of the time, no one in authority knew exactly where [appellant’s daughter] was sleeping at night.”  And the district court concluded that termination of appellant’s parental rights was in the children’s best interests because appellant is unable to provide a stable environment and “given [appellant’s] psychological profile as verified by his life style, it is unlikely that he would be able to acquire the necessary ability to parent the twins.” 

            We have held that children have a significant interest in the stability of the home environment and their health.  In re Welfare of M.G., 407 N.W.2d 118, 121 (Minn. App. 1987).  And here, the record indicates that the twins have significant medical needs due to their premature birth and prenatal exposure to cocaine and methamphetamine.  The twins require extensive attention and stability, which the district court found that appellant could not supply:

            Termination of parental rights is called for by clear and convincing evidence.  It is certainly in the best interests of the twins, as it is the only basis upon which the twins have any hope of achieving their full potential as human beings.  They are in obvious need of extensive and long term caregiving and professional services. . . .  [appellant], though expressing interest, is not capable of providing that care.

 

            We conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion by determining that termination of appellant’s parental rights to the twins is in the twins’ best interest.

            Affirmed.