may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat.§ 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In the Matter of the Welfare of: C.A.M.L.
Filed March 25, 1997
Ramsey County District Court
File No. JX96551062
Susan Gaertner, Ramsey County Attorney, Kristi Swanson Wendorff, Assistant County Attorney, Suite 560, 50 West Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55102 (for Respondent Ramsey County Human Services Department)
Considered and decided by Kalitowski, Presiding Judge, Davies, Judge, and Mansur, Judge.[*]
Appellant Destiny Tell'us Radunz challenges the district court order terminating her parental rights to her daughter C.A.M.L., arguing there was insufficient evidence or findings to support the district court's decision. We affirm.
On appeal, this court determines whether the district court's findings address the statutory criteria, are supported by substantial evidence, and are not clearly erroneous. In re Welfare of M.D.O., 462 N.W.2d 370, 375 (Minn. 1990). We exercise great caution in termination proceedings, finding termination proper only when clearly mandated by the evidence. In re Welfare of P.J.K., 369 N.W.2d 286, 290 (Minn. 1985). The best interests of the child are the paramount concern in all termination cases. Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subd. 4 (1996); Welfare of M.D.O., 462 N.W.2d at 375.
a. Neglect of Duties
The district court determined appellant's parental rights should be terminated for neglect of duties pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subd. 1(b)(2) (1996). Appellant argues the district court's conclusion that appellant substantially, continuously, or repeatedly refused or neglected to comply with her parental duties is not supported by sufficient findings of fact. We disagree.
In concluding appellant had neglected to comply with the duties of a parent, the district court found: (1) appellant could not offer explanations for the injuries sustained by her daughter; (2) appellant failed to follow the visitation schedule with her daughter (the record indicates that between January 1995 and April 1996, appellant only visited her daughter 11 times); (3) after a medical examination indicated the child had been physically and sexually abused, appellant went to live with her boyfriend, leaving the child with the child's grandmother, a known drug user; and (4) in September 1995, appellant filed a petition for voluntary termination of parental rights, which she later withdrew.
The district court found that although appellant has made some progress in her life, her focus is not on her daughter as demonstrated by her lack of efforts (1) to learn parenting skills; (2) to address chemical dependency issues in a meaningful way; and (3) to attempt to reestablish contact with her daughter. We conclude the evidence and findings are sufficient to support the district court's conclusion that C.A.M.L. was neglected by appellant.
b. Palpably Unfit as a Parent
The district court also terminated appellant's parental rights because it determined appellant was palpably unfit to be a parent pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subd. 1(b)(4). Appellant argues the district court's conclusion that appellant is palpably unfit to be a parent to her daughter is not supported by the evidence or findings. We disagree.
The following findings by the district court support the conclusion that appellant is unfit to be a parent to her daughter: (1) appellant's lack of knowledge and concern for her daughter's physical and sexual abuse; (2) appellant's failure to comply with the case plan designed to address her chemical dependency problems and teach her parenting skills; and (3) appellant's relationship with her boyfriend who has a criminal record involving violence. We conclude these findings are supported by the record and provide clear and convincing evidence that appellant is unfit to parent C.A.M.L.
c. Failure to Correct Conditions
The district court's third basis for terminating appellant's parental rights is that following a determination of neglect or dependency, reasonable efforts under the direction of the court have failed to correct the conditions pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subd. 1(b)(5). Appellant argues the district court erred in finding the county made "reasonable efforts" to correct the conditions leading to the dependency adjudication. We disagree.
Whether the county's efforts are reasonable requires consideration of the length of time the county was involved and the quality of effort given. In re Welfare of H.K., 455 N.W.2d 529, 532 (Minn. App. 1990), review denied (Minn. July 6, 1990). "Services must go beyond mere matters of form so as to include real, genuine assistance." Id. (citation omitted). The county's efforts must be focused on alleviating the conditions that gave rise to the dependency adjudication. Id.
The record supports the district court's finding of reasonable efforts by the county: (1) the case plans were designed to address appellant's chemical dependency and lack of parental skills that led to the dependency petition; (2) the record indicates the county has provided relative placement of the child, referral to Rule 25 chemical dependency evaluation, referral for outpatient chemical dependency treatment, bus cards, referral for alternative living arrangements, referral to the Genesis II program, referral for a psychological and parenting evaluation, supervised visitation, and provision of adjudication information to alleged father; and (3) considerable efforts were made at engaging appellant in the case plan, explaining the goals of the case plan and the consequences if appellant failed to meet them, and encouraging appellant to follow the visitation schedule with her daughter.
We reject appellant's arguments that the county failed to make reasonable efforts: (1) contrary to appellant's claim, the record does not indicate her caseworker decided appellant's parental rights should be terminated in December 1995 and thereafter made no efforts in assisting appellant to reunite with her daughter; (2) appellant's argument that, because her referral to the Genesis II program coincided with her decision to move to Wisconsin, the county intended to terminate her parental rights by imposing conditions beyond appellant's ability to meet is without merit; the county's continued efforts after April 1996 to help appellant follow through the case plan prove otherwise; and (3) appellant's argument that the district court had no input into the county's efforts to correct the conditions leading to the dependency determination ignores the fact that the case plans were approved and ordered by the district court, and the court's input is reflected in the case plans.
We conclude there is clear and convincing evidence establishing that the county made reasonable efforts to correct the neglect and dependency conditions.
d. Child Neglected and in Foster Care
The fourth basis for the district court's termination of appellant's parental rights is its determination under Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subd. 1(b)(8), that C.A.M.L. is neglected and in foster care. "Neglected and in foster care" means a child
(a) Who has been placed in foster care by court order; and
(b) Whose parents' circumstances, condition, or conduct are such that the child cannot be returned to them; and
(c) Whose 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. § 260.015, subd. 18 (1996). In determining whether a child is "neglected and in foster care," the district court is required to consider the following factors:
the length of time the children have been in foster care; the parents' visitation record during three months preceding the filing of the petition; the parents' efforts to adjust circumstances, conduct, or conditions to make it in the children's best interest to return them to their home in the foreseeable future; the maintenance of regular contact; the appropriateness of services provided and whether they were reasonable; and whether additional services would likely bring about lasting parental adjustments enabling a return of the children within an ascertainable period of time.
In re Welfare of J.S., 470 N.W.2d 697, 703-04 (Minn. App. 1991), review denied (Minn. July 24, 1991) (citations omitted); Minn. Stat. § 260.155, subd. 7 (1996).
C.A.M.L. was in foster care for 17 months prior to the termination hearing. Appellant failed to make a reasonable effort to improve parenting skills as reflected in her failure to complete the rehabilitative services offered. The caseworker and the child's grandfather testified that appellant has not maintained regular contact with the child. Also, appellant was not visiting her daughter on a regular basis for the three months prior to the filing of the petition for termination.
Contrary to appellant's argument, the county provided many services to facilitate reunification and these efforts were reasonable. Based on the lack of success with the services provided by the county, it is unlikely that additional services would bring about any improvement. We conclude the district court properly determined appellant has been given ample time to comply with her case plan and correct the conditions leading to the termination. The district court's findings demonstrate it considered the factors enumerated in Minn. Stat. § 260.155, subd. 7. These findings are not clearly erroneous and provide clear and convincing evidence that C.A.M.L. is neglected and in foster care.
e. Best Interests of Child
Finally, the district court's determination that it is in C.A.M.L.'s best interests to terminate appellant's parental rights is supported by substantial evidence. C.A.M.L. had been in foster care for more than 17 months at the time of the termination hearing. Although appellant states she wants her daughter back and has made progress in some aspects of her life, she failed to comply with the case plan that was designed to allow reunification of the family. Termination of appellant's parental rights would allow the child to live in a permanent stable home. See In re Welfare of J.J.B., 390 N.W.2d 274, 279-80 (Minn. 1986) (the effect of long-term foster care on the child is an important factor in arriving at a best interests determination). This is important to C.A.M.L., whose developmental progress has greatly improved since she was placed with her grandfather. In addition, the child's guardian ad litem recommended termination of appellant's parental rights as in the best interests of the child.
The district court's findings address the requirements of the statutory grounds for termination and are supported by substantial evidence. Therefore, we cannot say the district court erred in terminating appellant's parental rights.
[ ]* Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.