may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In the Matter of the Welfare of:
J.A.W., S.W., K.U.W., S.T.W.
Ramsey County District Court
File No. J595551850
Robert J. Lawton, 1100 West Seventh Street, Saint Paul, Minnesota 55102 (for appellant)
Karen Garvin, 101 East Fifth Street, Suite 1808, Saint Paul, Minnesota 55101 (for guardian ad litem)
Susan Gaertner, Ramsey County Attorney, Patrick M. Hest, Assistant County Attorney, RCGC-West, 50 West Kellogg Boulevard, Suite 560, Saint Paul, Minnesota 55102-1657 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Crippen, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Peterson, Judge.
On appeal from an order terminating her parental rights, appellant argues that: (1) the findings of fact are insufficient to support the termination of her parental rights; and (2) the trial court abused its discretion in finding that reunification between her and her children was not reasonably foreseeable. We affirm.
In November 1994, St. Paul police executed a search warrant at the apartment where Watkins lived with her children and her boyfriend, Tony Carothers. During the search, police confiscated drugs and a .38 caliber handgun. Watkins pleaded guilty to one count of child endangerment, admitting that Carothers occasionally dealt crack cocaine from the apartment while she and her children lived there. She also admitted that police found a .38 caliber handgun in the apartment. Watkins agreed to place her children in voluntary foster placements under the direction of respondent Ramsey County Community Human Services Department (RCCHSD).
RCCHSD filed a CHIPS petition seeking temporary custody of the children. Watkins revoked the voluntary foster placements. The district court assumed immediate custody and ordered the children placed in the temporary legal custody of RCCHSD until a hearing on May 22, 1995. Following the May 22 hearing, the court ordered RCCHSD to return the children to Watkins on a trial home placement.
On July 25, 1995, the home placement was revoked because Watkins was evicted from her home. On July 26, 1995, a trial on the CHIPS petition was held. Watkins failed to appear for the hearing and the allegations of the petition were deemed true. The children were adjudicated to be children in need of protection or services as to their mother. The district court assumed temporary legal custody of the children and delegated this custody to RCCHSD with authority to place the children in foster care.
In January and April 1996, the district court ordered that temporary legal custody of the children remain with RCCHSD. On both occasions, the court noted that Watkins' social worker and the children's guardian ad litem believed that Watkins' living situations were unstable and unsafe. On both occasions, the district court also found that RCCHSD had made reasonable efforts to alleviate the problems that had separated Watkins from her children.
In August 1996, the district court granted RCCHSD's request to extend for six months the permanent placement determination for the children. During this period, Watkins met nine times with Nathaniel Stewart, a licensed psychologist. Stewart concluded that Watkins was a very depressed woman who did not think she had a problem with her parenting skills and felt that she did not have to provide more supervision to her children because they were already being properly supervised. Stewart estimated that it would take a minimum of 18 months, with consistent effort, to adequately address Watkins' parenting deficiencies.
In January 1997, the district court again ordered that temporary legal custody of the children remain with RCCHSD. The court noted that Watkins failed to follow the requirements of her parenting evaluations, and that she had not found housing.
On April 17, 1997, an initial hearing was held on a petition for termination of parental rights. Watkins appeared and denied the petition. The district court ordered that legal custody of the children continue with RCCHSD until resolution of the case.
On June 8, 1997, Watkins took J.A.W. for an overnight visit and kept him past the time she was scheduled to return him to his foster home. On June 12, 1997, Watkins called RCCHSD and said that she would not return J.A.W. until she was "good and ready." Watkins returned J.A.W. on June 19, 1997. Because of this incident, the district court granted RCCHSD's motion to restrict Watkins to supervised visitation.
At a hearing in July 1997, Watkins' social worker stated that Watkins was either unable or unwilling to provide RCCHSD with an address or phone number where she could be contacted. The social worker also stated that Watkins failed to show up for her appointments for a diagnostic assessment, and for her parenting skills training program.
A trial on the petition to terminate Watkins' parental rights was held on September 9, September 30, and October 1, 1997. Watkins testified and admitted that: (1) she failed to attend individual or family therapy and did not seek any assistance for home health care, financial planning, or housekeeping; (2) she failed to visit her children on a weekly basis, as required by her case plan; (3) she was physically abused by all three of her children's fathers during her relationships with them; (4) when she became depressed she drank alcohol and refused to take medication to address her depression; (5) she had been convicted of child endangerment, as well as three other offenses; and (6) she was not aware whether her children were in school because she had never asked or attempted to find out.
The children's guardian ad litem testified that it would be in the best interests of the children if the trial court terminated Watkins' parental rights. The guardian ad litem testified that Watkins was not equipped to provide the children with a stable home environment and that Watkins' pattern of being involved in abusive relationships had a negative effect on the children.
The trial court found that the allegations in the petition were proved by clear and convincing evidence and ordered termination of Watkins' parental rights to her four children.
On appeal, this court determines whether (1) the district court's findings address the statutory criteria, (2) whether the findings are supported by substantial evidence, and (3) whether the findings are clearly erroneous. In re Welfare of M.D.O., 462 N.W.2d 370, 375 (Minn. 1990).
The trial court based its termination of Watkins' parental rights on four statutory grounds: (1) Watkins refused and neglected to comply with duties imposed by the parent and child relationship; (2) Watkins is palpably unfit to be a party to the parent child relationship; (3) reasonable efforts, under supervision of the court, failed to correct conditions leading to the determination that the children are in need of protection or services; and (4) the children are neglected and in foster care. See Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subd. 1 (2), (4), (5), (8) (Supp. 1997). The district court found that termination of Watkins' parental rights was in the best interests of the children and that reunification of the family is not reasonably foreseeable.
Under Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subd. 1 (2), a trial court may involuntarily terminate the rights of a parent to a child if it finds:
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, including but not limited to providing the child with the 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 reasonable efforts by the social service agency have failed to correct the conditions that formed the basis of the petition.
The record demonstrates that despite the reasonable efforts of RCCHSD to correct the conditions that led to Watkins' separation from her children, Watkins: (1) was unable to locate or maintain a clean and safe home for herself and her children; (2) failed to visit her children on a regular basis and did not know if her children were in school because she had not attempted to find out; (3) was diagnosed with depression that caused her to become irritable and angry, but failed to submit to a second psychiatric evaluation or to take her medication because she did not believe she had a problem; (4) failed to attend rehabilitative parenting classes, family therapy, or individual therapy sessions; (5) had a history of being involved in abusive relationships that had negative impacts on her children, but failed to seek any education or counseling to break this cycle; and (6) failed to return her son to his foster home at the agreed time, keeping him for several days beyond the stipulated three-day visit.
The record demonstrates that Watkins substantially and repeatedly refused or neglected to comply with the duties imposed upon her by the parent and child relationship. RCCHSD met its burden of establishing a basis for terminating Watkins' parental rights under Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subd. 1(b)(2). Because proof of only one statutory basis for termination is required, we will not address the other statutory bases the trial court found applicable.
The record demonstrates that RCCHSD made reasonable efforts for nearly three years to reunite Watkins with her children. During this period, Watkins' social workers set out two case plans that required Watkins to meet certain requirements to regain legal custody of her children. Watkins failed to comply with the requirements of either case plan. She also failed to attend scheduled meetings for a psychological evaluation, as well as meetings for parenting skills training. She also stopped visiting her children and was unable or unwilling to provide RCCHSD with an address or telephone number where she could be reached. Furthermore, Watkins suffers from severe depression, which is manifested by crying episodes, fatigue, and extreme irritability and anger. Watkins was asked to undergo a second psychiatric evaluation and a medication assessment, but she refused, stating that she did not believe she had a problem. Stewart estimated that it would take 18 months of treatment with a consistent effort for Watkins to adequately address her parenting deficiencies. The record demonstrates that Watkins did not make a consistent effort, but instead failed to show up for her appointments for counseling and parenting skills training.
The trial court was not clearly erroneous in finding that reunification between Watkins' and her children is not reasonably foreseeable.