Ramsey County District Court File Nos. 62-JV-11-3738, 62-FA-08-1440, 62-JV-11-1095
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hooten, Judge
This opinion will be unpublished and may not be cited except as provided by Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2012).
Considered and decided by Johnson, Chief Judge; Schellhas, Judge; and Hooten, Judge.
Appellant-mother challenges the juvenile court's order terminating her parental rights to her four children, arguing that the court erred by concluding that the county established by clear and convincing evidence that termination is warranted under four separate statutory grounds. She also argues that the court erred by concluding that that the county made reasonable efforts toward reunification and that termination is in the best interests of the children. Because there is clear and convincing evidence satisfying the requirements of the relevant statutory grounds for termination, and because the juvenile court did not err by finding that reasonable efforts were made towards reunification and that termination is in the children's best interests, we affirm.
Appellant L.A.W. is the biological mother of three sons and a daughter. All of her children were removed from her home in April 2011. The Ramsey County Community Human Services Department (RCCHS) filed a children in need of protective services (CHIPS) petition, and the children were adjudicated in need of protection or services. RCCHS later filed a petition to terminate appellant's parental rights on December 15, 2011. Prior to the initiation of the current matter, appellant's family was referred to child protection on 11 occasions between 2002 and 2010. Chantel Houg was assigned as the RCCHS child-protection worker for appellant and her family in early 2011 after reports surfaced that appellant was physically abusing her youngest son, D.O.B. 7/20/2004. There were also concerns that appellant was smoking marijuana while pregnant, was intermittently homeless, and had limited parenting skills and limited understanding of the specialized needs of her children.
After undergoing a mental-health assessment, appellant's eldest son, D.O.B. 6/4/2002, was diagnosed with major depressive disorder with a concern that he was a suicide risk. Appellant's middle son, D.O.B. 9/17/2003, was diagnosed with anxiety disorder and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Houg described the youngest son as the most challenging of her children. He was diagnosed with post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), ADHD, and anxiety disorder, and his diagnostic assessment recommended that appellant participate in his therapy. Appellant's daughter, D.O.B. 3/6/2011, has not been diagnosed with special needs. Based on these assessments, Houg was mainly concerned with the specialized needs of the youngest son and appellant's mental health and developmental delays, "tenuous" housing situation, and "financial issues."
Appellant underwent a psychological assessment and was determined to have an IQ of 58 and the functional capacity of a 10 year old relative to her adaptive behavior skills. Appellant stated that she has difficulty delaying immediate needs and is often impatient. The psychologist assessing appellant's mental health concluded that appellant suffers from depression, PTSD, mild mental retardation and possible mixed personality disorder with antisocial, borderline, and avoidant personality features. The psychologist recommended that appellant should be under a conservatorship or guardianship because of her cognitive and mental-health problems and recommended that the best option for any attempt to reunite the children with appellant was in a family foster care facility.
After the CHIPS adjudication, appellant was ordered to comply with a case plan, which included requirements that she cooperate with RCCHS in providing therapeutic services to the children, make sure that her youngest son took his medication, and get her children to school. She was also required to obtain mental-health services for herself, maintain her sobriety, undergo chemical urinalysis testing, manage her finances, and obtain suitable housing.
While appellant participated in an outpatient chemical-treatment program and was discharged with staff approval, she refused to provide urinalysis test samples to RCCHS because she did not think her drug use was still a problem. Houg testified that appellant was often short of money because appellant was unemployed and "would frequently go to casinos and gamble the money for the rent." Appellant would ask Houg for rent money because she did not have her social security or welfare payments. RCCHS assisted appellant twice with her rent. Appellant did not accept Houg's suggestion that she obtain a representative payee to manage her finances.
After their removal from appellant's home, the children were placed with a family friend, but appellant complained about this placement, and appellant and her family threatened the foster care provider. Because of his behavioral problems, the youngest son was placed in two additional foster homes before entering St. Joseph's Home for Children. The other children were also moved to another foster care home as a result of the problems caused by appellant. Houg explained that appellant and her mother caused problems at this placement as well, and that the children had a difficult time not knowing when they would return home, which was delayed by appellant's search for housing. Houg recommended that she apply for housing at Jackson Street Village because as a whole family foster care facility, it offered on-site case-management and recreational activities. Houg thought that Jackson Street Village offered "the best shot she would have at maintaining the services that [Houg] set up once the children were returned home."
The youngest son's individual and group therapist at St. Joseph's testified that appellant reluctantly participated in family therapy with this son, failed to establish goals for the therapy, missed at least three sessions (with appellant failing to call or respond to attempts to reach her on two of these occasions), and became defensive when offered parenting suggestions. Her youngest son was fully engaged in the sessions and would initiate discussion, but appellant often appeared tired, disregarded her youngest son's attempts to engage her, and failed to provide meaningful feedback. Houg added that appellant was "hostile to tolerant depending on her mood" in dealing with St. Joseph's. She stated that appellant failed to understand the nature of the children's mental-health needs. When the youngest son was advised of appellant's scheduled visits to St. Joseph's, he consistently became anxious and would resort to aggression and "dysregulation." Because of these problems, staff at St. Joseph's began a practice of not telling him when his mother would visit. Appellant initially refused the recommendation that her youngest son be given a sleep aid, but eventually agreed that the medication might be helpful. RCCHS sought to medicate the youngest son for his ADHD, but was required to obtain a court order to administer the medication. The youngest son responded well to this medication and graduated from St. Joseph's after exhibiting significant progress in school and in his behavior. Upon discharge, it was recommended that he continue with his medication.
A trial home visit commenced in March 2012 after appellant was accepted into the Jackson Street Village program. Prior to the trial home visit, Houg reviewed in detail each item in the case plan with appellant and referred her to a mental-health worker to help her with her needs and services. While appellant initially obtained a mental-health worker, she did not meet with her on a regular basis, which resulted in appellant losing this service. Houg also discussed with appellant her difficulties handling her finances, but appellant again refused to obtain a representative payee as Houg suggested.
Problems arose once the children returned home for the trial home visit. The eldest son became aggressive at school and was suspended. Appellant did not keep all of her appointments with the children's skills service providers. The eldest son's mental-health practitioner testified that appellant cancelled five meetings because the eldest son was not home, and that after addressing the issue with appellant and her social worker, appellant continued to miss appointments. The mental-health practitioner assigned to work with appellant's youngest and middle sons recalled that appellant cancelled or failed to have the boys available for appointments on multiple occasions. She forwarded her concerns to Houg, and the agency sent letters to appellant indicating that treatment or services may be discontinued. She testified that appellant was only partially cooperative with her services. Appellant also failed to keep her eldest son on medication prescribed for his anemia, and did not follow up with an appointment to keep her youngest son on his medication, resulting in a lapse of his medication. In the spring of 2012, teachers were concerned that the youngest son was not medicated and that some of his old behaviors were returning.
Appellant failed to meet with her case manager at Jackson Street Village. Houg testified that appellant's housing at Jackson Street Village was in jeopardy at one point because she was unavailable to meet with her case manager, but that loss of the housing was not imminent. Management at Jackson Street Village made clear that failure to comply with a case plan might result in a loss of housing; management was also aware of an incident when appellant locked her children out of her house at Jackson Street Village, resulting in the suggestion that appellant leave a key at the front desk instead of leaving her children outside. Appellant also informed Houg that she was assaulted by her boyfriend and was not staying at her home, and that she was again out of money because she went to the casino after receiving social security and welfare payments. In July 2012, RCCHS received a report that appellant stabbed her mother in the lip in the presence of the children.
RCCHS and the guardian ad litem requested revocation of the trial home visit. RCCHS stated that appellant failed to comply with almost all of the conditions of the trial home visit, including not attending her psychiatric and therapy appointments, not taking her psychiatric medications, failing to make the children available for in-home therapy and skills-work sessions, and failing to give her youngest son his medications. She did not cooperate with her weekly case management meetings required by Jackson Street Village or meet with her mental health worker. The children were also exposed to incidents of violence between appellant and her mother and between appellant and her boyfriend. The youngest son reported that appellant's boyfriend punched appellant in the face, causing her to fall on appellant's daughter. After the children returned to foster care, appellant missed, cancelled, or refused to visit the children "at least a half to a third" of the scheduled visits during the four to six weeks following removal.
Houg testified that appellant was partially compliant with her case plan, but made inadequate progress. She concluded that the children are "at times" unsafe in appellant's care because the children were often not under her direct care or left supervised. This concern was corroborated by a former neighbor of appellant who testified that appellant's children would frequently knock on her door for snacks and activities and would spend nights and weekends with her. Around the time of appellant's stabbing of her mother, this individual received a phone call from the middle son requesting that she pick him up. On her way to appellant's residence, appellant called her and said that "she couldn't take it anymore." The middle and youngest sons spent the next three days in her care.
The guardian ad litem recommended termination of appellant's parental rights to all of her children and that for their best interests, they continue in their current foster placement. The juvenile court terminated appellant's rights as to her children on October 25, 2012. This appeal follows.
The juvenile court terminated appellant's parental rights pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(2), (4), (5) and (8) (2012), finding that termination is in the children's best interests, that RCCHS has made all reasonable efforts to rehabilitate and reunite appellant with her children, and that additional services will not likely bring about lasting parental ...