In the Matter of the Welfare of: J.B., Jr., Child.
This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In the Matter of the
Welfare of: J.B., Jr., Child.
Filed July 3, 2001
Otter Tail County District Court
File No. J80050423
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103; and
Kurt A. Mortenson, Otter Tail County Attorney, Suite 320, 121 W. Junius, Fergus Falls, MN 56537 (for respondent county)
Mark S. Stolpman, Stolpman Law Office, P.O. Box 131, Fergus Falls, MN 56537-0131 (for appellant father)
David A. Phillipe, 411 N. Broadway, P.O. Box 1031, Fergus Falls, MN 56537 (for child)
Carol Rengel, 1421 Ironwood Road, Fergus Falls, MN 56537 (guardian ad litem)
Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge, Crippen, Judge, and Stoneburner, Judge.U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
The district court terminated the parental rights of appellant to his son, J.B., Jr. (J.B.) on the basis that appellant neglected to comply with his parental duties and that reasonable efforts by the county failed to correct the conditions leading to the child's placement. Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(2), (5) (2000). Appellant challenges the court's finding that the county made reasonable efforts to reunite him with J.B. Because we conclude that the county's efforts in assisting this family were reasonable, we affirm.D E C I S I O N
The termination of a parent's relationship with a child is a matter over which an appellate court will "exercise great caution * * *, finding such action proper only when the evidence clearly mandates such a result in accordance with the statutory grounds." In re Welfare of Kidd, 261 N.W.2d 833, 835 (Minn. 1978). On review, an appellate court must consider
[w]hether the [trial] court's "findings address the statutory criteria, whether those findings are supported by substantial evidence, and whether those findings are clearly erroneous."
In re Welfare of S.Z., 547 N.W.2d 886, 893 (Minn. 1996) (quoting In re Welfare of M.D.O., 462 N.W.2d 370, 375 (Minn. 1990)).
One purpose of the termination statute is to
ensure that * * * reasonable efforts have been made by the social services agency to reunite the child with the child's parents in a home that is safe and permanent[.]
Minn. Stat. § 260C.001, subd. 3(1) (2000). When a child is under a court's jurisdiction, because the child is in need of protection or services, the court must "ensure that reasonable efforts" are made by the social services agency. Minn. Stat. § 260.012(a) (2000); see S.Z., 547 N.W.2d at 892 (court must determine whether provision of services was reasonable, before terminating parental rights for palpable unfitness to parent). The statute defines "reasonable efforts" as:
[T]he exercise of due diligence by the responsible social services agency to use appropriate and available services to meet the needs of the child and the child's family in order to prevent removal of the child from the child's family; or upon removal, services to eliminate the need for removal and reunite the family.
Minn. Stat. § 260.012(b). In addition, the "social services agency has the burden of demonstrating that it has made reasonable efforts." Minn. Stat. § 260.12(b)(2).
The essence of appellant's argument is that the county's efforts were not reasonable under the circumstances of this case. Appellant has a low I.Q. and has been diagnosed as having attention deficit disorder with mixed personality disorder. J.B. also has mental health problems and has been diagnosed as having attention deficit disorder, with oppositional defiant disorder symptoms and mood symptoms in the form of depression. The county first became involved with this family in 1994 when J.B. was five-and-a-half years old; during the ensuring years, J.B. was placed in numerous voluntary foster placements, culminating in an involuntary placement that has existed since June 1999. J.B. will be 13 years old on December 5, 2001.
Appellant contends that the county failed to provide him with necessary assistance and that "the manner in which Social Services supported, or fail[ed] to support, the completion of the tasks was not reasonable." Appellant also claims that because of his known intellectual limitations and personality traits, the county should have given him information in small bits and should have shown him required tasks, such as parenting, by example. Appellant states that the county ordered him to participate in a placement plan but did not provide necessary support so that he could complete it. Finally, he argues that the antagonistic relationship that he had with one of the county caseworkers should not be blamed entirely on him.
We conclude that there is substantial evidence showing that the county's efforts on behalf of this family were reasonable and "realistic under the circumstances." S.Z., 547 N.W.2d at 892. Although appellant complains about the length and content of the court-ordered placement plan that documents the services offered to the family, the plan is clear in its goals, explains tasks simply, and establishes a timeline for their completion. The county offered appellant and J.B. numerous services specifically related to their own mental health issues and their issues as a family. The plan required appellant to meet with his caseworker for a twice-monthly review of his progress, but he refused to even participate in the plan for approximately six months after its adoption. Thereafter, he selected the areas in which he would cooperate, often declining to follow recommendations. Thus, the record establishes that despite the county's efforts to provide appellant with appropriate services, he chose not to make use of them.
Further, throughout the county's involvement in this case, appellant has consistently failed to address his deficiencies in parenting J.B. He has not spent regular time with J.B., even though he knows that J.B. has an attachment disorder. The plan required him to contact J.B. by phone or arrange for visitation at least once per week, but appellant did not do this. Appellant refused to participate in family therapy, although it was offered to him at no cost, and refused to follow an evaluating psychologist's recommendation that he participate in individual psychotherapy and intensive in-home therapy, although both services were available to him in the community. Appellant did not attempt to change his lifestyle, so as to afford J.B. the stability he lacked, but needed. Even after the county worked with appellant on this issue, J.B. was the subject of a CHIPS petition because he was found alone and did not know where his father was. Contrary to appellant's assertions, the record clearly establishes that the county provided appellant with the support necessary for him to complete the plan.
Finally, contrary to appellant's characterization of the county caseworker as being difficult to work with, the record and trial court findings show that appellant was suspicious and distrustful of others, especially authority figures, and had beliefs that distorted reality. He resisted cooperating with the caseworker and others, and he labeled the placement plan "stupid."
Based on this record, we conclude that the trial court properly determined that the county made reasonable efforts to assist this family. See In re Welfare of D.T.J., 554 N.W.2d 104, 108 (Minn. App. 1996) (reasonableness of county's actions includes consideration of how long county has been involved in case and quality of its efforts).