In the Matter of the Welfare of the Children of: C. L. W., C. W. P., N. L. A., Parents
Jackson County District Court File No. 32-JV-11-56
Jacob M. Birkholz, Birkholz Law, LLC, Mankato, Minnesota (for appellants, C.L.W. and N.L.A.)
Robert C. O'Connor, Jackson County Attorney, Sherry E. Haley, Assistant County Attorney, Jackson, Minnesota (for respondent county)
Considered and decided by Hooten, Presiding Judge; Johnson, Chief Judge; and Halbrooks, Judge.
Appellant-parents argue that the district court abused its discretion by terminating their parental rights. Because the evidence reasonably supports the district court's conclusion that appellants have substantially, continuously, or repeatedly refused or neglected to comply with the duties imposed upon them by the parent and child relationship, we affirm.
A petition for children in need of protection or services was filed by respondent Jackson County Department of Human Services on October 6, 2011, concerning the health and welfare of three minor children born in 2006, 2007, and 2009, respectively. Appellant C.L.W. is the children's mother and appellant N.L.A. is the father of the younger two children. A petition to involuntarily terminate their parental rights was filed by respondent on August 8, 2012, under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(2), (4), (5), (8) (2012).
A. Living Conditions Prior to Children's Out-of-Home Placement
N.L.A. admitted that the family has moved approximately 10 times since the beginning of his six-year relationship with C.L.W., living primarily in apartments or rural residences in and around Jackson and Scott Counties with other family members for short periods of time. In the spring of 2010, they moved to a two-bedroom trailer home in Missouri to help C.L.W.'s father set up a campground. In June 2011, child protection personnel in Missouri visited this residence and reported that the trailer was dirty, the children were being restrained with zip ties, one or more children were locked into a room for extended periods of time with the window blocked by a metal sheet, and there were 23 dogs and a pet pig on the premises. Soon after the Missouri child protection agency became involved with the family, the parents moved back to Minnesota to live with N.L.A.'s siblings and their families in rural Minnesota.
In October 2011, while living in a home in rural Jackson County with N.L.A.'s brother and his family, law enforcement authorities responded to a report of animal endangerment and became aware of the condition of the home and that children were living in the home. The evidence was undisputed that the condition of the home created an unfit environment for the children. C.L.W. admitted the home was "a disaster, dirty, feces everywhere, garbage, clothes everywhere, bags, rabbits, rabbit cage [that] tipped over . . ., and there was rabbit feces in one of the bedrooms." Photos were also submitted which showed numerous dead chickens left in chicken crates in the home and other dead animals on the farm, including one or more carcasses of horses and a cat, within close proximity to the home.
N.L.A. admitted that he brought 30 mature chickens, as well as six or seven kittens, into the home. He described the kitchen as being "[d]isgusting and messy" and "unsanitary, " noting that in addition to the chicken grit on the floor, a puppy had also got into the garbage and spread it around the kitchen. He also admitted that the same dirty dishes and empty food containers that were observed by the county authorities had been sitting in the kitchen for an entire month. C.L.W. recalled that the chicken crates were inside the residence about a week prior to the county's investigation of the home. N.L.A. explained that when they moved in, one room contained dog feces and garbage "ankle to knee deep." A sheriff's deputy also confirmed that there was fecal matter on the kitchen floor and that the house smelled of manure and rotten garbage. The children did not have their own bedroom, but slept in the same room as their parents.
On October 4, 2011, the children were removed from the home by respondent. Since their removal from the home, the children have remained in foster care. The parents moved first to an apartment, but eventually purchased a home in Sherburn, a town in Martin County, where they resided during trial.
B. The Children's Behavioral, Educational, and Health Issues
In evaluating the children and their needs after their removal from the home, respondent learned that the children had numerous behavioral, educational, and health issues that had to be addressed. The most significant issue identified by respondent was that the two younger children, who were then ages two and four, engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior. This was first discovered by the foster mother in December 2011 when the middle child made certain comments and gestures involving his penis while in the bathtub in the presence of his brothers. On another occasion, the foster mother saw the youngest child perform oral sex on the middle child. After this, she attempted to never ...