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:
B.B. and A.B., Children.
Filed September 29, 1998
Ramsey County District Court
File No. J296555669
Robert J. Lawton, 1100 West Seventh Street, St. Paul, MN 55102 (for appellant mother)
Susan E. Gaertner, Ramsey County Attorney, Patrick M. Hest, Assistant County Attorney, Suite 560 Ramsey County Government Center West, 50 West Kellogg Boulevard, St. Paul, MN 55102 (for respondent Ramsey County)
Karen J. Garvin, Suite 1808, 101 East Fifth Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for guardian ad litem Mabel Carolyn Royster)
Considered and decided by Crippen, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Shumaker, Judge.
Appellant Teresa B. challenges the termination of her parental rights with respect to her daughters A.B. and B.B, now ages 7 and 5. She contends the trial court's findings were not sufficient to support its conclusions and that the court abused its discretion in its ultimate finding that reunification between the mother and her children was not reasonably foreseeable. Finding no merit in these assertions of error, we affirm.
The temporary custody of A.B. and B.B. was originally taken from appellant in December 1996. On that date, St. Paul police responded to appellant's residence after receiving a report from the children's aunt that they had suspicious injuries. Police found welts, scratches, and bruises on the children as well as scarring from earlier injuries. Although the rest of the home was clean, the children's bedroom was relatively dirty. Police discovered the doorknob of the room had been removed so that the girls could be locked into their bedroom. Police conclusions about whipping of the children were confirmed in medical examinations, but appellant denied striking the children or knowing how they were injured.
While in foster care, the children have undergone psychological testing and counseling, and their repeated reports confirm the experience of abuse by their mother. During these sessions, the girls consistently reported being abused by their mother, including being locked up and strangled.
Dr. Fournier, a licensed psychologist, provided expert testimony at the termination trial regarding his evaluation of both girls. He concluded that abuse left both girls with stress syndromes and A.B. with developmental delays. Both girls were also reported to have a bingeing and purging eating disorder as a result of their mother's abuse.
Appellant was examined by two experts, Dr. Fournier and Dr. Grace, another psychologist. Dr. Fournier testified that appellant was capable of violent and aggressive behavior toward others in the future, and that she failed to display remorse concerning her repeated beatings of her children. He concluded that she was mentally ill as a result of a psychotic condition and was resistant to therapy. Dr. Grace testified that although she did not agree with Dr. Fournier's conclusion that appellant was psychotic, she agreed that mother was mentally ill, based on anti-social behavior and personality disorders. She noted that patients with similar diagnoses have high rates of repeated violent behavior and low rates of effective treatment. During her meetings with both experts, appellant continued to deny beating her children. In addition, she missed two appointments with Dr. Fournier and numerous appointments with Dr. Grace. Her self-imposed delay in meeting with Dr. Grace caused a lengthy delay in her admission to a parenting program.
The Ramsey County social service agency has made numerous attempts to reunify appellant with the two children by improving appellant's parenting skills. The unrefuted record evidence shows that a case plan for appellant and her children was first agreed upon in January 1997, contrary to appellant's contention that no plan was developed until July 1997, when, according to the record, a revised case plan was formulated.
Because she declined to participate in a necessary interview, appellant failed to get admitted to a recommended residential services program. She was dismissed from a recommended parenting program due to uncooperative behavior and poor attendance. When readmitted to this program, appellant was again dismissed within two weeks due to non-cooperation with the staff. The parenting program staff also observed that appellant had failed to build positive relationships with her children and was demanding and non-affectionate with them.
After twice being dismissed from the parenting program, appellant was referred to another intense parenting program. She was admitted in December 1997. Once admitted, appellant had a poor attendance record.
At trial, appellant for the first time admitted beating her children.
The trial court issued an order in March 1998, terminating appellant's parental rights with respect to A.B. and B.B., citing four separate statutory bases for termination: Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subd. 1(b)(2), (4), (5), & (8) (Supp. 1997) (respectively, continuous neglect in the face of reasonable efforts to correct, palpable unfitness without reasonably foreseeable ability to provide care, failure of reasonable efforts to correct conditions prompting adjudication of neglect, and the state of being neglected and in foster care). The trial court noted in written findings that the girls had been in foster care for 15 months prior to trial and concluded there was no likelihood they could be safely returned to their mother's care. The court also determined that it was in the children's best interest to terminate their mother's parental rights. Finally, the court found that reasonable efforts by the county had failed to remedy the conditions that led to the January 1997 determination that A.B. and B.B. were neglected and dependent children.
The grounds for termination of parental rights must be proven by clear and convincing evidence. In re Welfare of C.K., 426 N.W.2d 842, 847 (Minn. 1988). The trial court's findings must comport with statutory criteria and be supported by substantial evidence. In re Welfare of M.D.O., 462 N.W.2d 370, 375 (Minn. 1990). Findings in a termination action will not be reversed unless clearly erroneous. In re Welfare of A.D., 535 N.W.2d 643, 648 (Minn. 1995).
1. Appellant primarily asserts that the trial court erred in concluding that her reconciliation with her children was not likely within the reasonably foreseeable future. Of the trial court's four bases for termination, two include as an element a determination that reconciliation between parent and child is unlikely within the reasonably foreseeable future. Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subd. 1(b)(4), (5).
The trial court found that the children had been severely and repeatedly abused by appellant prior to December 8, 1996, when they were placed in foster care. Appellant did not present any evidence that anyone else injured the children. Appellant has shown that she was unable to discipline her children without resorting to physical force, torture (strangling and suffocation) and imprisonment (in closet and locked bedroom) of her children. This abuse has been to the severe detriment of the children's mental, emotional, and physical health.
Two experts testified that appellant was mentally ill and not likely to be receptive to therapy. Both experts had spent a substantial amount of time with appellant and formed their opinions based on these contacts and on the results of written psychological tests.
Appellant undisputedly had a poor attendance record and was twice dismissed from the first recommended parenting program. She has only completed one of the four levels of the parenting program she was attending at the time of trial. She did not enter the program until the termination petition had already been filed, and she missed over one quarter of the therapy sessions. Appellant offered no explanation for her poor attendance at the remedial parenting programs or her failure to maintain and inform the county of a permanent address. Finally, she consistently refused to admit to abusing her children until the day of trial.
The evidence amply supports a finding that the county has attempted reasonable efforts to improve the mother's parenting skills and to reunite the family. The county staff gained her readmittance to a program that discharged her and then arranged a second program for her benefit. Appellant did not enter the second program until the termination petition was filed and she has completed only one of the four steps of the program. At the same time, she failed to secure a permanent residence throughout the pendency of these proceedings and has been living in motels. Thus, in spite of the county's efforts to place appellant in an intensive parenting class and find safe housing for her, she has refused to make a serious effort to improve her parenting skills and establish a safe living condition.
This evidence and the trial court's findings support the trial court's conclusion that A.B. and B.B. will not be able to return safely to appellant's custody within the foreseeable future.
2. Appellant argues that the trial court's finding that the county has made reasonable efforts to assist her in improving her parenting skills and to reunite the family is not supported by the facts. The court's findings in this regard are well supported by the record, not clearly erroneous, and thus may not be reversed.
The record demonstrates that appellant was assigned a culturally-appropriate social worker who developed a case plan for her in January 1997. Her non-cooperation defeated two attempts to provide her parenting education and delayed and obstructed her success in a second program. The staff reports that she still does not either understand or concern herself with the consequences of her actions. Her non-cooperation reflects appellant's lack of concern for the welfare of her children in spite of the county's best reasonable efforts to assist her in improving her parenting skills and reuniting her with her family.
3. Finally, appellant contends a termination of parental rights is not proper in the face of her efforts to improve her parenting skills. She points to the fact that she has successfully completed one portion of the four-part parenting program. This argument reiterates appellant's first contention on appeal, regarding the foreseeability of her reconciliation with her children and equally lacks merit.
Appellant's weak efforts to learn some parenting skills did not come until more than one year after her children were placed in emergency foster care. During that year, she failed to respond to the trial court's clear mandate to change her behavior and establish a safe environment that would allow her children to be placed back in her care. Even upon entering the second parenting program, appellant refused to admit to abusing her children and missed more than one-quarter of the required sessions. The evidence clearly and convincingly supports each of the four statutory bases for termination cited by the trial court.