may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Filed July 29, 1997
Carlton County District Court
File No. J59450167
Joanna M. Wiegert, 1000 Torrey Building, 314 West Superior Street, Duluth, MN 55802 (for appellant D.L.M.)
Marvin E. Ketola, Carlton County Attorney, Lori J. Ketola, Carlton County Courthouse, #202, P.O. Box 300, Carlton, MN 55718 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Norton, Presiding Judge, Amundson, Judge, and Holtan, Judge.[*]
Appellant D.L.M. seeks review of an order terminating her parental rights to K.L.S. Appellant argues that the trial court failed to make specific findings of fact, supported by clear and convincing evidence, and that respondent Carlton County Human Services (the county) failed to provide an adequate case plan. We affirm.
After an evidentiary hearing, an order was filed on October 24, 1994, adjudicating K.L.S. to be in need of protection or services on the basis that K.L.S. was without proper parental care because of appellant's emotional, mental, or physical disability under Minn. Stat. § 260.015, subd. 2a(8) (1994). The trial court found that without counseling, appellant would not be able to meet K.L.S.'s needs. The court also found that, although appellant indicated she would be willing to participate in counseling, she denied any need for assistance and blamed others for all of her problems.
The record contains interim disposition orders indicating that appellant was having supervised visitation with K.L.S., that appellant and K.L.S. were involved in counseling, and that appellant and the county were cooperating in the development of a reunification plan. By order on March 10, 1995, the trial court incorporated the plan, identified as "service plan number four." The plan directed appellant and her husband, R.M., to complete the scheduled structured visitations and to reach an agreement about a specific plan to have K.L.S. returned to appellant's care, including parent training and counseling as needed. The plan directed the county social worker to cooperate to establish a plan to return K.L.S. to appellant and to authorize necessary services.
The social worker assigned to the case testified that appellant made progress in February and March 1995, and that on March 29, 1995, he and appellant agreed on a detailed plan for overnight visitation leading to possible reunification. On April 3, 1995, appellant was arrested and jailed briefly as a result of a fight with R.M. Both appellant and R.M. consumed alcohol prior to the incident. Appellant moved out of the apartment she shared with R.M. after her release from jail. The social worker advised appellant that because of the incident, only supervised visitation would be allowed until a new plan was in place. The social worker stated that appellant had no contact with the county from June 1995 until mid-October 1995 and failed to provide the county with a current address.
In August 1995, prior to appellant's resumption of contact with the county, the county developed service plan number five. The plan directed appellant to negotiate a new social service plan that included: (1) a way to demonstrate that appellant is living a sober life, has a home and a stable lifestyle; (2) establishment of regular visitation with K.L.S.; (3) a way to demonstrate that appellant is able to avoid violence and contact with the police; and (4) appellant's cooperation with K.L.S.'s therapist, the foster parents, and the social worker.
The social worker testified that appellant had a stable residence at the time of the July 1996 termination trial, but otherwise had not complied with the reunification plan. The social worker testified that appellant had failed to continue with individual therapy, complete chemical dependency treatment, participate in a follow-up psychological evaluation, and demonstrate sobriety. The social worker testified that a follow-up psychological evaluation was required because appellant was not honest about her trauma history or her involvement with alcohol in the first evaluation. The social worker was familiar with appellant's history because he had been appellant's case worker when appellant received protective services as a minor. The social worker also testified that he had recently spoken with appellant's Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, who indicated that she had not had any contact with appellant in recent months and could not vouch for appellant's sobriety. The social worker stated that there are no other services the agency could provide for reunification.
The social worker testified that K.L.S. had to assume a protective and caregiving role when she was living with appellant, but has been able to reclaim her childhood since being placed in foster care. The social worker indicated that K.L.S.'s success in forming a healthy attachment to her foster parents makes her a good candidate for adoptive placement. K.L.S.'s foster mother testified that since K.L.S. was placed in her home in April 1994, her school performance has improved and her behavior is now more appropriate for a 10-year-old child. The foster mother testified that K.L.S. loves appellant and enjoyed visiting her.
Appellant testified she had consumed alcohol only on a few isolated occasions. Appellant stated that she attends Alcoholics Anonymous, but dropped out of chemical dependency treatment because it was not benefiting her. Appellant testified that she has maintained sobriety since the April 1995 incident. Appellant's current companion testified that he has never seen appellant consume alcohol and that there is no violence in his relationship with appellant.
The trial court interviewed K.L.S. in camera in the presence of counsel. K.L.S. stated that when she lived with appellant, she did not like appellant's drinking and smoking. K.L.S. indicated that she thinks she should be adopted because she does not feel safe with appellant.
In this case, the trial court terminated appellant's parental rights based on the following four statutory grounds: (1) that appellant substantially, continuously, and repeatedly refused or neglected to comply with the duties imposed on her by her relationship with the child; (2) that appellant is palpably unfit to be a party to the parent and child relationship; (3) that following the determination that K.L.S. was in need of protection or services, reasonable efforts, under the direction of the court, have failed to correct the conditions that led to that determination; and (4) that K.L.S. is neglected and in foster care. See Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subd. 1(b)(2), (4), (5), (8) (1996).
It is presumed that reasonable efforts under Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subd. 1(b)(5), have failed upon a showing that: (1) the child has resided out of the parental home under court order for more than one year following an adjudication of need for protection or services; (2) the conditions leading to the termination will not be corrected within the reasonably foreseeable future; and (3) reasonable efforts have been made by the social service agency to rehabilitate the parent and reunite the family. Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subd. 1(b)(5).
With respect to the basis for termination under section 260.221, subdivision 1(b)(5), the trial court found that K.L.S. has resided outside of the parental home for more than one year following the adjudication that she is in need of protection or services, that reasonable reunification efforts have been made by the county, and that the conditions leading to the original determination will not be cured in the reasonably foreseeable future. Appellant argues that the trial court's conclusions are not supported by adequate findings and clear and convincing evidence. We disagree.
The trial court found that the case plans required appellant to obtain a psychological assessment, complete a chemical dependency evaluation, attend therapy, and work cooperatively with social services. The court found that appellant failed to comply with the plan because she (1) provided incomplete information in the psychological and chemical dependency assessments; (2) has not demonstrated sobriety; and (3) failed to participate in individual therapy and complete chemical dependency treatment. The court found that appellant's inability to acknowledge problems with her ability to care for K.L.S. and chemical dependency problems prohibits appellant from correcting the conditions leading to K.L.S.'s out-of-home placement. The findings are sufficient to demonstrate the trial court's consideration of the statutory requirements. See In re Welfare of Chosa, 290 N.W.2d 766, 769 (Minn. 1980) (trial court must make clear and specific findings conforming to the statutory requirements).
Appellant argues that she was deprived of due process of law because the case plans failed to provide appellant with clearly defined requirements and goals. See Minn. Stat. § 257.071, subd. 1 (1996) (case plan shall set forth specific actions to be taken by the parent to eliminate or correct the conditions leading to the out-of-home placement). In this case, the specific requirements for visitation and treatment were negotiated between appellant and the county, rather than stated explicitly in the plan. Appellant stated that the social worker went over the case plans with her and acknowledged that she was required to attend individual therapy, complete chemical dependency treatment, and maintain sobriety. Although she initially testified that she was not asked to complete a follow-up psychological assessment, appellant later stated that the social worker had directed her to complete a second evaluation. Because the record shows that appellant was aware of the actions expected of her to achieve reunification with K.L.S., appellant was not deprived of due process because of the lack of detail in the written plans.
In determining whether the county has made "reasonable efforts," this court must consider whether the county offered services that 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(c) (1996). In this case, the county's initial focus on individual therapy and structured visitation was expanded to include chemical dependency treatment after the April 1995 alcohol-related incident that resulted in appellant's arrest. The county's efforts were reasonable because they addressed appellant's emotional and chemical dependency problems that led to K.L.S.'s out-of-home placement.
Appellant acknowledged that she failed to complete chemical dependency treatment and that she had not seen her therapist for about a year. Appellant's failure to keep in contact with her Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor undermines her claim that she has maintained sobriety. Although appellant's living arrangements were stable at the time of the termination trial, her denial of the emotional and chemical dependency problems that led to K.L.S.'s out-of-home placement and her failure to complete the treatment components of the plan support the trial court's finding that the conditions leading to the CHIPS adjudication will not be corrected in the reasonably foreseeable future. See In re Welfare of J.L.L., 396 N.W.2d 647, 652 (Minn. App. 1986) (minimal improvement is not sufficient to overcome conclusion that a parent's past problems make her future performance as a parent uncertain).
If one or more of the statutory prerequisites for termination of parental rights exist, the court must consider whether termination would be in the child's best interests. See Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subd. 4 (1996). In this case, the trial court did not explain its finding that termination would be in K.L.S.'s best interests. See In re Welfare of M.P., 542 N.W.2d 71, 74-75 (Minn. App. 1996) (findings should explain trial court's rationale for best interests determination). Although more detailed findings addressing the best interests issue would have been preferable, the trial court's other findings regarding the length of time K.L.S. has been in foster care and the likelihood that the conditions leading to the placement will not be corrected provide adequate support for the trial court's conclusion that termination of appellant's parental rights would be in K.L.S.'s best interests. See In re Welfare of D.T.J., 554 N.W.2d 104, 110 (Minn. App. 1996) (trial court's findings regarding length of time children had been in foster care and parent's inability to correct conditions resulting in the placement supported best interests determination).
Although appellant loves K.L.S., her failure to acknowledge and resolve her emotional and chemical dependency problems precludes her from providing a safe and stable home for K.L.S. The trial court's conclusions that the county established by clear and convincing evidence the necessary criteria pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subd. 1(b)(5), and that termination would be in K.L.S.'s best interests are not clearly erroneous. Because the court need find only one of the statutory grounds articulated in Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subd. 1(b), to terminate appellant's rights, we need not address the remaining grounds for termination considered by the trial court. See In re Welfare of R.M.M., 316 N.W.2d 538, 541 (Minn. 1982).
[ ]* Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.