This opinion will be unpublished and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:
L.M.M.-B., A.F.W., L.L.S., Sr.,
M.J.L., J.E.K. and M.A.J., Parents.
Filed November 6, 2007
St. Louis County District Court
File Nos. 69DU-JV-05-64/69DU-JV-06-1247
Mark C. Jennings, 509 Board of Trade Building, 301 West First Street, Duluth, MN 55802-1613 (for appellant mother L.M.M.-B.)
Arthur M. Albertson, 1923 West Superior Street, Duluth, MN 55806 (for respondent father A.F.W.)
Jeremy M. Downs, 200 Alworth Building, Duluth, MN 55802 (for respondent father L.L.S., Sr.)
M.J.L., OID #207628, MCF-Stillwater, 970 Pickett Street North, Bayport, MN 55003-1490 (pro se respondent)
M.A.J., 1924 Banks Avenue, Superior, WI 54880 (pro se respondent)
Melanie S. Ford, St. Louis County Attorney, Benjamin M. Stromberg, Assistant County Attorney, 320 West Second Street, Room 403, Duluth, MN 55802-1495 (for respondent County)
Mangan, P.O. Box 16416, Duluth, MN 55816
(guardian ad litem)
Considered and decided by Ross, Presiding Judge; Kalitowski,
Judge; and Crippen, Judge.
Appellant mother challenges the district court’s termination of her parental rights, arguing that the record lacks clear and convincing evidence supporting the bases for termination invoked by the district court and the finding that termination is in the children’s best interests. We affirm.
Appellant L.M.M.-B. has five children. Her eldest child has many special needs, and appellant’s failed efforts to provide medical care for the child resulted in need-for-protection adjudications in 1997 and 1999. The matters were closed in 2000 after the provision of intensive service.
Appellant gave birth to four more children. Social services received several reports that appellant had neglected her children; her mental illness affected her ability to parent; she and her children were living with a man who was allegedly selling and using drugs and who had committed acts of domestic violence; her eldest child had missed many school days; and appellant harbored teenage runaways. Appellant also contacted social services to seek assistance in placing her then-one-year-old daughter for adoption, and requested help in dealing with one child’s tantrums and aggressive behavior. Appellant inadequately responded to services offered to her on these occasions.
In March 2005, a child-in-need-of-protection-or-services (CHIPS) petition was filed regarding all five children, and all were adjudicated in need. In May 2005, the court determined that the children were not safe in the home because appellant had married a man with an extensive criminal history who was on supervised release from prison.
Appellant was ordered to comply with a plan that included therapy sessions and correction of child-care behavior. In August 2005, appellant completed a psychological evaluation that indicated she has personality disorders that interfere with her parenting. The report also indicated that appellant shows poor judgment, is impulsive, and dishonest.
After initially complying with a reunification plan, appellant soon failed to follow through with its requirements. Appellant’s eldest child was placed out of the home in August 2005. In April 2006, three more of appellant’s children were in out-of-home placement. In August 2006, a social worker visited appellant’s home and found her husband there. Appellant’s two remaining children were also placed out of the home.
Following the children’s out-of-home placement, appellant failed to make meaningful progress with her reunification plan. From mid-August through early October 2006, she did not visit any of her children. She also failed to obtain an order for protection despite being assaulted by her husband. The petition to terminate appellant’s parental rights was filed in October 2006, and the district court subsequently adjudicated cause for termination.
The district court determined that appellant’s parental rights should be terminated because (1) she neglected the duties imposed on the parent and child relationship, (2) she is a palpably unfit parent, (3) reunification efforts failed, and (4) the children are neglected and in foster care. See Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. (1)(b) (2), (4), (5), and (8) (2006). In reviewing a decision to terminate parental rights, an appellate court “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). This court must exercise great caution and “closely inquire into the sufficiency of the evidence to determine whether the evidence is clear and convincing.” In re Welfare of S.Z., 547 N.W.2d 886, 890 (Minn. 1996). 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). And this court “need find only one of the statutory grounds exists to terminate parental rights.” S.Z.,547 N.W. 2dat 890.
Appellant argues that the district court erred in finding that the children remained neglected and in foster care, contending that they should be returned because she provided them with clothes and food, the children were never abused, and she enrolled in college and is seeking a divorce. The 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 the length of time in foster care; the parent’s effort to adjust the circumstances that led to the out-of-home placement; whether the parent has visited the child within the three months preceding the filing of the termination petition; whether the parent has maintained contact with the person responsible for the child; and the adequacy of reunification services provided to the parent. Minn. Stat. § 260C.163, subd. 9 (2006). In balancing these factors, the district court considers the interests of the parent and the children, along with the circumstances of each case. In re Welfare of H.G.B., 306 N.W.2d 821, 826 (Minn. 1981).
All of appellant’s children are in foster care: the eldest child has been in out-of-home placement since March 2005; two of the children have been out of the home since April 2006; and the other two have been out of the home since August 2006. Further, there was evidence that appellant has not seen the children in months. And there was sufficient evidence to permit the district court to find that adequate services were provided for appellant but that she denied the services and failed to take proscribed steps needed to regain custody of her children. The district court’s finding that the children are neglected and in foster care is not clearly erroneous.
Similarly, the record supports the district court’s findings of additional grounds for termination. Parental rights may be terminated upon a finding of substantial or continuous neglect of parental duties. Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(2). Appellant argues that the district court’s finding that she neglected these duties was clearly erroneous because she provided her children with food, clothing, shelter, and education. But there was substantial evidence of neglect leading to placement of the children. Thereafter, appellant failed to visit her children while they were in out-of-home placement and neglected to follow through with a prescribed reunification plan. The district court did not clearly err in finding that appellant neglected her duties in the parent and child relationship.
Termination is also permitted when a parent shows a pattern of conduct rendering the parent unable to provide for the child’s needs. Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4). Appellant primarily argues that although she suffered physical abuse, her children never witnessed the abuse. But there was evidence that appellant exposed her children to an unsafe environment by allowing her husband to live in the family home and that appellant chronically failed to provide appropriate child care. The evidence also shows that appellant’s mental illnesses affect her ability to appropriately parent her children and that she has failed to follow through with recommended treatment. Additionally, the evidence showed that appellant’s children, after whatever limited contact they had with appellant, acted out aggressively after seeing her. There is clear and convincing evidence that appellant is unfit to care for the children.
Appellant argues that the district court erred in finding that reasonable reunification efforts failed. This court must determine whether clear and convincing evidence supports the district court’s 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). Social services have been involved with appellant since the birth of her first child. The record shows evidence of extensive services being offered to appellant over a period of several years and also supports the determination that appellant either failed entirely in accepting the offered services or failed to follow through with them. The district court did not err in finding that reasonable efforts to reunify the family have failed.
Finally, appellant argues that the district court erred in finding the termination of her parental rights is in the children’s best interests. Although the district court must properly find a statutory ground for termination, “the best interests of the child must be the paramount consideration . . . .” Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 7 (2006). The record includes evidence that when appellant failed to see her children they became anxious, would cry, and refused to sleep alone. There was evidence that appellant’s youngest child resorted to telling appellant that she had the wrong number when she called. Further, the adjustment of the children has improved since being placed in foster homes; they act less angry, are more in control of their behaviors, are speaking better, and are learning to read and write. There is substantial evidence supporting the district court’s finding that termination of appellant’s parental rights is in the best interests of the children.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.