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When "Child" was three years and seven months old, his Mother was arrested while Child was in her care. Since Father was already incarcerated, the state declared Child to be in imminent danger. Child was placed in the the Department of Health and Welfare's custody, and a child protection case was initiated. The matter proceeded to trial, after which the trial court granted the Department's petition to terminate Father-Petitioner John Doe's parental rights. Father appealed. Finding clear and convincing evidence that termination of Father's parental rights were in Child's best interests, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's decision to terminate.Receive FREE Daily Opinion Summaries by Email
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF IDAHO
Docket No. 39392
IN THE MATTER OF THE PARENTAL
TERMINATION OF JOHN (2011-18) DOE.
-------------------------------------------------------IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH &
JOHN (2011-18) DOE,
Boise, March 2012 Term
2012 Opinion No. 53
Filed: March 22, 2012
Stephen Kenyon, Clerk
Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District of the State of
Idaho, Ada County. Hon. Cathleen MacGregor-Irby, Magistrate Judge.
The magistrate court’s order terminating parental rights of the father is affirmed.
Law Office of Theresa A. Martin, Boise, for appellant.
Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Attorney General, Boise, for respondent.
ON THE BRIEFS
Child was declared in imminent danger and taken into the custody of the Department of
Health and Welfare (the Department). The Department petitioned for termination of John Doe’s
(Father) parent-child relationship on the grounds of neglect. The matter proceeded to trial, after
which the trial court granted the Department’s petition. We affirm the trial court’s order
terminating Father’s parental relationship with Child.
I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
When Child was three years and seven months old, his Mother was arrested while Child
was in her care. Since Father was already incarcerated, the state declared Child to be in imminent
danger. Child was placed in the Department’s custody, and a child protection case was initiated.
Father was released from custody approximately three months later. The Department petitioned
for termination of Mother’s and Father’s parental rights, alleging that they had neglected Child.
Mother did not answer or otherwise appear, and the trial court entered default and terminated her
parental relationship with Child.
Father’s case went to trial, during which there was testimony that prior to and during
Child’s early childhood, Father was frequently convicted of crimes involving alcohol and
substance abuse, which resulted in his incarceration. A family friend and neighbor testified that
she had raised Child in her home during the better part of his first three and a half years, during
which Father occasionally visited. When Child was three years and five months old, he returned
to his parents’ primary care. Approximately three months later, he was declared to be in
Mother’s and Father’s parental rights as to Child’s five older siblings previously had been
terminated. The parents consented to termination of their parental rights as to the first four
children after the children were found in a hazardous home environment. The parents’
relationships with the fifth child were involuntarily terminated based upon findings of neglect
and abandonment. 1 Based on the second action, the trial court in the present case found that
aggravated circumstances existed such that the Department was not required to make reasonable
efforts to prevent Child’s placement into foster care. See I.C. § 16-1619(6)(d). After Child was
removed from the custody of his parents, the Department placed him in the care of the foster
mother to his five older siblings. Child was soon diagnosed with, and began extensive treatment
for, autism and developmental delays. Before the trial court released the Department from the
obligation to make reasonable efforts at reunification, a Department social worker communicated
with Father about the extent of Child’s special needs and provided Father with the contact
information for Child’s several healthcare providers, in order that Father could learn how to meet
Child’s needs. Child’s development has improved under the foster mother’s care.
At the termination trial, Father testified that he successfully completed his child
protection case plan and that he visits Child every week for one hour. One social worker testified
that Father’s conduct during his weekly interaction with Child was appropriate. Father also
testified that he has lived, and worked part time, with a friend for the preceding four months, and
In that instance, Mother and Father appealed the trial court’s decision. This Court affirmed the findings of
abandonment as supported by substantial, competent evidence. In re Doe, 146 Idaho 759, 203 P.3d 689 (2009).
that the friend had granted permission for Child to live in the home. Father testified that his
efforts to contact Child’s healthcare providers had been met with limited success.
The trial court found that although Father had completed the case plan, he had failed to
demonstrate that he could meet Child’s special needs. The court found by clear and convincing
evidence that Father’s conduct and omissions met the definition of neglect found in I.C. §§ 161602(25)(a) and (b) and that termination of Father’s parental rights was in Child’s best interests.
On November 11, 2011, the trial court entered a final judgment terminating Father’s parental
relationship with Child. Father appealed.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
“Grounds for termination of parental rights must be shown by clear and convincing
evidence because each parent has a fundamental liberty interest in maintaining a relationship
with his or her child.” Idaho Dep’t of Health & Welfare v. Doe II, 150 Idaho 36, 41, 244 P.3d
180, 185 (2010). “[W]here a trial court has noted explicitly and applied a clear and convincing
standard, an appellate court will not disturb the trial court’s findings unless they are not
supported by substantial and competent evidence.” State v. Doe, 144 Idaho 534, 535, 164 P.3d
814, 815 (2007). “Substantial, competent evidence is ‘such evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.’” In re Doe, 143 Idaho 343, 345-46, 144 P.3d 597,
599-600 (2006) (quoting Folks v. Moscow School Dist. No. 281, 129 Idaho 833, 836, 933 P.2d
642, 645 (1997)). Since “the magistrate court has the opportunity to observe witnesses’
demeanor, to assess their credibility, to detect prejudice or motive and to judge the character of
the parties,” this Court will draw all reasonable inferences in favor of that court’s judgment. Doe
II, 150 Idaho at 41, 244 P.3d at 185 (internal quotation and citation omitted).
This Court recognizes the significance of the parent-child relationship. As we stated in In
re Doe, 146 Idaho 759, 203 P.3d 689 (2009):
A parent has a fundamental liberty interest in maintaining a relationship
with his or her child. This interest is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment of
the U.S. Constitution. Our legislature also recognizes the importance of
maintaining the parent-child relationship: “Implicit in [the Termination of Parent
and Child Relationship] act is the philosophy that wherever possible family life
should be strengthened and preserved . . . .” I.C. § 16-2001. Therefore, the
requisites of due process must be met when the Department intervenes to
terminate the parent-child relationship. Due process requires that the Department
prove grounds for terminating a parent-child relationship by clear and convincing
Id. at 761-62, 203 P.3d at 691-92 (citations omitted). Idaho Code § 16-2005 enumerates several
grounds for termination of the parent-child relationship. Under that section, termination is only
appropriate if an enumerated ground for termination exists and termination is in the child’s best
interests. I.C. § 16-2005(1).
A. Substantial, competent evidence supports the magistrate court’s finding that Father
Neglect of a child is one statutory ground upon which a court may order termination of
the parent-child relationship. I.C. § 16-2005(1)(b). Neglect may take several forms, including
conduct or omission by a parent which causes a child to be “without proper parental care and
control, or subsistence, medical or other care or control necessary for his well-being.” I.C. § 161602(25)(a); see also I.C. § 16-2002(3). Neglect may also exist where a child “lacks the parental
care necessary for his health, safety or well-being” due to the parent’s inability “to discharge
their responsibilities to and for the child . . . .” I.C. § 16-1602(25)(b). In the present case, the
Department alleged that Father neglected Child because (1) Father’s ongoing criminality and
substance abuse issues impaired his ability to provide Child with either a stable home
environment or the proper parental care and control necessary for Child’s well-being; and (2)
Father failed to demonstrate an ability to provide for Child’s needs.
The trial court extensively reviewed the testimony of each trial witness with regard to
whether Child was neglected, and ultimately found by clear and convincing evidence that Father
committed each of these two forms of neglect. The court summarized its findings as follows:
When the court considers [Father’s] parenting history along with his significant
substance abuse issues and long periods of incarcerations, and then factors in
[Child’s] special needs, it is clear that [Father] has not been, and cannot be in the
future, the parent that [Child] needs. The evidence before this court is that
[Father] is still getting on his feet, trying to find a job, provide for himself and
What [Father] seems to suggest is that even though he has never been the
primary caregiver to [Child], that because he is out of custody and has gone
through a substance abuse program, his situation now is sufficiently better to
warrant a delay in termination of his parental rights and determining what is in the
best interest of his child.
What [Father] fails to appreciate is that his conduct and omissions during
the period prior to the child protection case show a complete disregard for his
child. He was absent as a caretaker and was completely unwilling to assume any
parental responsibility for his child. Then, when [Child] was declared in imminent
danger, [Father] was incarcerated. The court recognizes that [Father] is currently
maintaining sobriety, has completed a treatment program and is compliant with
probation. He apparently has housing and part time employment. But quite
frankly it is too little, too late. This child has significant special needs that
[Father] cannot even fully grasp or appreciate. Neither before or after the child
protection case began did [Father] ever try in any meaningful way to find out
about [Child’s] conditions or be included in his therapies.
Therefore, based on the foregoing there is clear and convincing evidence
that [Father] neglected his child.
As we explain hereafter, substantial and competent evidence supports these findings.
We have recognized that “specific evidence from another CPA proceeding concerning [a
parent’s] ability at present to provide parental care and control may be probative of neglect as
defined in I.C. § 16–1602(25)(a) or (b) . . . .” Idaho Dep’t of Health & Welfare v. Doe (2011-03),
___ Idaho ___, ___, 260 P.3d 1169, 1178-79 (2011). As the trial court found, Father has
established a pattern of failed parenting. Before the present case was initiated, Father’s parental
rights to five children were terminated in two separate child protection actions. 2 The Department
case manager who handled the previous cases testified that Father’s rights were voluntarily
terminated as to four of the children after they were declared in imminent danger due to
unsanitary home conditions. Later, Father’s rights were involuntarily terminated as to the fifth
child after no parent or guardian was available to authorize treatment when the child required
emergency medical care. With regard to each of these five children, there were concerns about
Father’s frequent incarceration, drug abuse, and inability to maintain safe and appropriate
housing. Each of the children for whom Father’s parental rights were terminated had special
needs that Father never attempted to address.
The evidence produced at trial also supports the trial court’s finding that Father has failed
to provide parental care or control for most of Child’s life. Child was born in March 2007. Father
was incarcerated in April through May of 2007. In August 2007, he was sent to prison and was
paroled in early 2009. He returned to prison in October 2010 and was paroled in February 2011.
These repeated stints behind bars have prevented Father from providing care and support for
The trial court also noted that Father “has a total of nine children whom he has never been a full time parent to or
care giver for.”
A neighbor and family friend testified that, during Child’s first three and a half years, she
provided for Child’s basic needs by allowing Child to live in her home. During the time that
Father was not in custody, Father’s contact with Child was limited to occasional visits and
overnight stays. Father did provide diapers for Child when so requested by the caregiver. When
Child was almost a year old, the caregiver noticed and sought assistance in addressing some
aspects of his delayed development. As the trial court found, there is no indication that Father
attempted to involve himself in Child’s treatment at that time. In August of 2010, Father and
Child’s mother resumed Child’s primary care. Less than three months later, Father returned to
prison. The record thus demonstrates that, unlike Father, a non-family member cared and
provided for Child for the vast majority of Child’s life before he came into the Department’s
The trial court’s finding that Child has significant special needs is likewise supported by
the record. Child was taken into the custody of the Department on November 10, 2010. The
social worker who handled his case testified that although Child was then three years and eight
months old, he was not toilet trained, could neither clothe himself nor brush his own teeth, and
only communicated by grunting or crying. The Department placed Child with the foster mother
to his five siblings, who testified that when Child entered her care, he had a number of unusual
behaviors and his teeth suffered from visible decay. Child responded to most sounds by covering
his ears, threw temper tantrums when one attempted to remove his shoes and refused to remove
them himself, and had difficulty sleeping.
Child was soon diagnosed with mild to moderate autism and developmental delays that
require extensive and ongoing treatment and interventions. These include occupational therapy,
speech therapy, developmental therapy, developmental preschool, medical visits, and regular
administration of medication. These various treatments and therapies require that Child be
transported to sessions at least four days every week.
The record also supports the trial court’s finding that Father has not adequately
acquainted himself with the extent of Child’s special needs or with the means by which to
address those needs. According to the social worker assigned to Child’s case, Father’s
interactions with Child during his weekly hour-long visits are “appropriate,” as well as “loving
and tender.” There is evidence that Father and Child are bonded to one another. However, the
evidence also demonstrates Father’s lack of understanding of Child’s special needs. Father
simply testified that he was aware that Child “needs to catch up on some of his developments.”
In late February 2011, a social worker encouraged Father to contact Child’s several
healthcare and therapeutic providers to learn both about Child’s special needs and about how to
provide for those needs. The social worker provided Father with each provider’s contact
information. Father testified that he attempted to contact several of the providers, but had little
success. When he did make contact with Child’s occupational therapist, he inquired whether
there were certain toys or tools that he could bring to their hour-long visits to help with Child’s
development. There is no evidence that Father inquired about the nature of Child’s needs or how
to address those needs.
As of August 23, 2011 (the first day of trial), Father had never attended any of Child’s
therapeutic or medical appointments. When asked whether he was familiar with Child’s
treatment, Father testified:
I’m not too familiar with it because, like I said, I only made a few phone
calls, and I have had difficulty in one or two of them. But, you know, if I were to
be given the chance to, you know, catch up on more of this, I would make a thing
to get more information on what I need to know what needs to be done with him.
When the termination trial resumed on October 7, 2011, Father had not made any further attempt
to contact Child’s providers, despite having been reminded repeatedly of Child’s special needs.
The record clearly supports the trial court’s finding that Father did not take the steps necessary to
develop a thorough understanding of Child’s needs or to appreciate what would be required of
him if he were to become Child’s primary caregiver.
Father contends that the trial court ignored lifestyle improvements he has made since his
most recent release from incarceration. It is true that “[a] trial court may not ignore relevant and
admissible evidence the legislature has deemed relevant.” State, Dep’t of Health & Welfare v.
Doe III, 149 Idaho 409, 414, 234 P.3d 733, 738 (2010) (citing In re Adoption of Doe, 143 Idaho
188, 192, 141 P.3d 1057, 1061 (2006)). Indeed, Father has successfully completed his case plan,
including a number of treatment programs. These include random drug testing, a substance abuse
evaluation, drug and alcohol treatment, and a parenting class. Father’s uncontradicted testimony
was that he has been sober since October 2010, when he most recently entered prison. He
explained that his most recent substance abuse treatment has taught him to think before he acts
and avoid situations that enable bad behavior. Father attributes his recent success to his desire to
maintain his parental relationship with Child. Father’s cousin confirmed Father’s testimony. She
has noticed a substantial change in Father since he underwent treatment and she expressed no
concern about his ability to parent Child.
Contrary to Father’s assertion on appeal, however, the trial court did not ignore this
evidence. Rather, the court expressly acknowledged that “[Father] is currently maintaining
sobriety, has completed a treatment program and is compliant with probation. He apparently has
housing and part time employment.” 3
Nonetheless, the court weighed the totality of the evidence and concluded that “quite
frankly it is too little, too late.” The trial court found that there was no evidence that Father has
ever maintained a consistent pattern of employment or housing. We have previously regarded
such failures as grounds to affirm findings of neglect. Doe (2011-03), ___ Idaho at ___, 260 P.3d
at 1172-73. Indeed, Father points to nothing in the record as to his past employment or housing.
The trial court noted that Father has lived in shelters, a sober living environment, and
with friends and family, accurately characterizing this as “a history of unstable housing.” The
court further noted that, at the time of trial, Father lived with a roommate, without a lease, and
that Father was purportedly employed by the roommate, with rent being withheld from his
wages. The court emphasized that Father’s ability to continue to reside at that location was
contingent upon his ability to maintain his sobriety. Based on Father’s history of recurrent
substance abuse, the court also expressed concern for the prospect that Father would relapse and
lose his housing. In light of this evidence, and recognizing the uncontroverted evidence that
Child had spent very little time living with Father, we find that substantial, competent evidence
supports the trial court’s finding that Father lacked the ability to provide housing for Child.
This Court has also affirmed findings of neglect where a parent has failed to demonstrate
an ability to obtain consistent employment and a stable income. E.g., Doe (2011-03), ___ Idaho
at ___, 260 P.3d at 1175; In re Doe (2011-02), 151 Idaho 356, ___, 256 P.3d 764, 774 (2011).
Father and his roommate testified that the roommate occasionally employed Father on a parttime basis in 2011. However, the trial court expressed doubt as to their credibility on this subject,
noting that neither Father nor the roommate were able to give a clear description of the manner
in which Father was employed. As to future employment, Father’s testimony was inconsistent.
We observe that there is an inconsistency between this statement regarding part-time employment and more
detailed observations by the trial court regarding the credibility of the evidence of Father’s employment.
He testified that when he completes his rehabilitative programs, he intends to seek full time
employment. He also testified that he has enrolled or intends to enroll in a two-year program to
study auto body repair. But Father also explained that:
It’s not – it’s not set in stone. It’s not going to happen. I might get a nighttime job.
I might get a swing shift job. I never know, but I need a – you know, these are the
things I need to figure out, you know. If I need to work days, I will work days,
and if I need to work, like, swing shift or graveyard shift, I also need to figure out
– all these are the things that I need to take care of for [Child]. Like where am I
going to take him, who is going to babysit him, are they going to be able to watch
him while I’m gone to work. I need to think of all these things ahead of time as
well. I am just giving you, like examples that I might be able to do or what might
Father’s testimony demonstrates that he has done little more than consider possibilities of future
employment. This Court must honor the trial court’s assessment of the lack of credibility of
Father’s claim of employment by his roommate. We find that substantial and competent evidence
supports the trial court’s finding that Father lacks, and will continue to lack, the financial ability
to support Child.
The trial court found that “[w]hat [Father] fails to appreciate is that his conduct and
omissions during the period prior to the child protection case show a complete disregard for his
child.” The social worker who handled Child’s protection case testified that he was concerned
that Father “is still dependent on other people to provide for his own basic living situation,” is
“still struggling to find employment and to financially support” himself, and lacked stable
housing sufficient to meet Child’s needs. In the social worker’s opinion, Father’s parenting and
criminal history, in combination with the fact that he “is still getting on his feet himself,” and did
not appear to appreciate the severity of Child’s needs, rendered it unlikely that Father would be
able to meet Child’s extensive needs.
In light of the foregoing, we find that substantial and competent evidence supports the
trial court’s conclusion that Father neglected Child by conduct or omission which caused Child
to be “without proper parental care and control, or subsistence, medical or other care or control
necessary for his well-being,” I.C. § 16-1602(25)(a), and that Child “lacks the parental care
necessary for his health, safety or well-being” due to Father’s inability to discharge his
responsibilities to and for Child, I.C. § 16-1602(25)(b).
B. Substantial, competent evidence supports the magistrate court’s finding that
termination of Father’s parent-child relationship is in Child’s best interests.
This Court has previously upheld a finding that termination of parental rights was in the
best interests of a child when the child flourished in foster care and the child’s continued success
depended upon placement in a permanent, stable family environment. Idaho Dep’t of Health &
Welfare v. Doe (2011-12), 151 Idaho 846, ___, 264 P.3d 953, 957-60 (2011). Here, the social
worker testified that when he last met with Father in March 2011, prior to the finding of
aggravated circumstances, the interaction led him to believe that Father “struggled to really
grasp” the entirety of Child’s special needs. The social worker felt that although he intended to
convey to Father an understanding of the depth and complexity of Child’s needs, Father’s focus
repeatedly shifted to his own desire to be reunited with his son.
Further, Child’s foster mother testified that she has never known Father to attend one of
Child’s therapy sessions or medical appointments. She stated that she does not believe Father
“has any idea of the scope, magnitude, [sic] of the problems that [Child] is encountering with all
of his developmental problems.” The foster mother is concerned that Child’s development will
regress if his therapies are disrupted or are not consistently reinforced in the home. The several
treatments and therapies necessary to Child’s continued development require that he be
transported to sessions at least four out of five days each week. The healthcare providers
regularly assign his foster mother homework to implement, and teach Child’s five siblings to
implement, therapeutic techniques and counseling in the home. Over the course of Child’s
treatment, he has made substantial improvements in occupational therapy and slight
improvements in his speech and language abilities. He has developed healthy relationships with
his siblings, and several of his behavioral difficulties have lessened or resolved.
The trial court noted that the guardian ad litem testified that termination of Father’s
parental rights was in Child’s best interests. The trial court found that “given [Father’s] history of
substance abuse, criminal activity and inability to independently maintain housing and
employment, it is highly probable that he will not be able to provide his child with the stable,
safe and consistent home environment that [Child] needs in order to maintain the progress he has
made with regard to his special needs. Additionally, over the course of the last year, [Father] has
not expressed a genuine interest in learning about [Child’s] special needs let alone how to care
for [Child’s] needs on a daily basis.”
The trial court further noted that Father had consistently placed his interests ahead of
those of Child and expressed concern that this misplaced set of priorities were reflected at trial,
stating: “[e]ven during the trial, [Father] focused on himself and how termination of his rights
impacted him. [Father] focused on how he needed [Child] and not on what [Child] needed, given
[Child’s] limitations,” in that Father’s expressions of concern were directed at his wants and
needs, rather than Child’s needs.
Having carefully considered the evidence presented at trial, we find that the trial court’s
conclusion that termination of Father’s parental rights was in Child’s best interests to be
supported by substantial, competent evidence.
We affirm the trial court’s judgment terminating Father’s parent-child relationship with
Child. Costs to Respondent.
Chief Justice BURDICK and Justices EISMANN, J. JONES and W. JONES CONCUR.