In the Matter of the Welfare of: C.K., K., A. and A.T., Minor Children.
This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALSC6-02-1727
In the Matter of the Welfare of:
C.K., K., A. and A.T.,
Filed July 29, 2003Affirmed Willis, Judge
Pine County District Court
File No. J30050279
Neil Fagerstrom, Assistant Public Defender, 1001 East Highway 95, Suite 150, Cambridge, MN 55008 (for appellant father)
John K. Carlson, Pine County Attorney, Michelle Skubitz, Assistant County Attorney, Pine County Courthouse, Suite 8, 315 Sixth Street, Pine City, MN 55063-1695 (for respondent Pine County)
Kerry Scott, Assistant Public Defender, 5010 IDS Center, 80 South Eighth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent children)
David Powers, Assistant Public Defender, 1001 East Highway 95, Suite 150, Cambridge, MN 55008 (for respondent mother)
Considered and decided by Hudson, Presiding Judge, Willis, Judge, and Forsberg, Judge.*
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
On appeal from an order placing his children in long-term foster care, appellant argues that (1) the county failed to provided reasonable efforts to reunify his family, (2) the district court's finding that he failed to comply with the reunification plan is not supported by substantial evidence or is clearly erroneous, and (3) the district court erred by placing his children in long-term foster care. Because the county's reunification efforts were reasonable and the district court did not err, we affirm.FACTS
In August 2000, the Pine County Department of Health and Human Services filed a petition alleging that C.K., K.T., A.T., and A.T. were children in need of protection or services (CHIPS). The petition alleged that (1) at least one of the children had been subjected to physical or sexual abuse, (2) the children resided or had resided with a victim of domestic abuse, (3) the children resided with or would reside with a perpetrator of domestic child abuse, (4) the children were victims of emotional maltreatment, and (5) the children were without "necessary food, clothing, shelter, education, or other required care." The petition also alleged that in August 2000 appellant-father D.T. committed acts of physical abuse against C.K. and that he had physically abused his wife. Father admitted to the police that he "smacked" the children, "paddled their ass, kicked em in the butt and smacked in the mouth or whatever."
In November 2000, the district court held a CHIPS hearing at which father and mother admitted that K.T., A.T. and A.T. were children in need of protection or services. The parties agreed that the CHIPS adjudication would be stayed for 90 days on the condition that father and mother comply with the terms of an agreement they had reached with the county by (1) completing an anger-management assessment and following all recommendations and (2) participating in an in-home therapy/parenting skills program and following all recommendations. Based on the agreement, the court returned the children to father and mother.
In February 2001, the court (1) granted the county's motion to revoke the stay of the CHIPS adjudication, (2) determined that K.T., A.T., and A.T. were children in need of protection or services, and (3) found that father and mother had failed to comply with the terms of their agreement with the county. At that time, the children were staying with mother in a shelter.
In June 2001, the court held a dispositional hearing and found that father and mother had reunited and that the county had removed the children from their care because of the county's concern for the children's safety. The court ordered father to complete an anger-management assessment, a psychological evaluation, and a parenting assessment. The court also required father to provide a budget to the county. At a review hearing in August 2001, the court found that the county had continued to work with father and mother to reunify the family and that father and mother had made some progress toward that goal. The court ordered that the children remain in the county's custody until father and mother completed the terms of the case plan and followed all recommendations.
In October 2001, the county petitioned to terminate father's and mother's parental rights. The county's petition alleged that father and mother (1) had refused to comply with the duties imposed on them by the parent and child relationship, such as providing food, clothing, shelter, and education; (2) are "palpably unfit" to care appropriately for the ongoing physical, mental, or emotional needs of the children; and (3) had failed to correct the conditions leading to the child's placement. The court dismissed the county's petition, determining that the county had not sustained "its burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that statutory grounds exist[ed] to terminate parental rights to the children." But the court determined that the children were still in need of protection or services and ordered a review hearing in the CHIPS matter.
In July 2002, the county filed a petition for K.T., A.T., and A.T. to be placed in long-term foster care. In August 2002, the court found that (1) reasonable efforts by the county to place the children with relatives or an adoptive family had failed, (2) the children were residing in a structured and therapeutic foster home that suited the children's needs, and (3) the children had shown marked behavioral improvement and were doing well in school. The court also found that father had not complied with the case plans that were amended and adopted by the county in May 2002. The case plans required father to (1) obtain employment, (2) obtain suitable housing, (3) submit a family budget, (4) complete parenting assessment, and (5) attend anger-management assessment and counseling. At the time of the August 2002 hearing, father and mother were unemployed, had lost their home due to foreclosure, lived in a camper on their pickup truck, denied the county access to the camper that was functioning as their home, had not submitted a family budget, and father had not attended anger-management counseling. Because father and mother were unemployed, the court had "grave concerns" regarding how they would be able to provide "food, clothing, shelter and medical care for themselves, let alone their children." Based on those finding and conclusions, the court determined that long-term foster care is in the children's best interests. This appeal followed.
D E C I S I O N
With an exception for circumstances not present here, a county may petition a district court to order the permanent placement of a child. See Minn. Stat. § 260C.201, subd. 11(b) (2002). If the court decides not to return the child to the parents, it may place the child in long-term foster care. See id., subd. 11(d)(3) (listing conditions required for long-term foster care). The allegations of a petition seeking long-term foster care must be proven by clear and convincing evidence. In re Welfare of A.R.G.-B., 551 N.W.2d 256, 261 (Minn. App. 1996).
Where, as here, children have been adjudicated CHIPS and have been placed out of the home, the county is required to provide within 30 days an out-of-home-placement plan describing, inter alia, the services offered and provided to the parents to reunify the family. Minn. Stat. § 260C.212, subd. 1(c)(3)(ii) (2002); see Minn. Stat. § 260.012(a) (2002) (stating court "shall" assure that reasonable efforts to reunite family are provided after child is adjudicated CHIPS). Here, father argues that the county's efforts to reunify the family were unreasonable because the county provided him with inadequate assistance in finding employment and suitable housing.
When ordering a disposition under Minn. Stat. § 260C.201 (2002), the district court "shall" make findings addressing, among other things, (1) the county's efforts to reunify the family, (2) the reunification-related services provided by the county, and (3) the reasonableness of those services. Minn. Stat. § 260C.201, subd. 2(a)(4), (b), (c); see Minn. Stat. § 645.44, subd. 16 (2002) (stating "[s]hall' is mandatory"); see also Minn. Stat. § 260C.201, subd. 11(h)(2), (3) (stating orders issued under Minn. Stat. § 260C.201, subd. 11, "must" include certain findings, including findings on "nature and extent" of county's "reasonable efforts" and parent's "efforts and ability to use services").
While the district court's findings in its August 30, 2002 order regarding the adequacy of the county's reunification efforts are sparse, the order does mention the then-current amended case plan, which had been adopted on May 9, 2002. The district court's order of June 4, 2002, found that "reasonable efforts" had been made to "eliminate the need for removal" of the children, and the court's August 13, 2002 order found that the county had "made reasonable efforts to reunify the family and avoid placement," including the provision of "training" programs. Because the district court issued two prior orders specifically finding the county's reunification efforts to be reasonable, and because these determinations are supported by the record, any error by the district court in not including in the August 30, 2002 order a third determination that reunification efforts were reasonable is harmless. See In re Welfare of S.R.A., 527 N.W.2d 835, 838 (Minn. App. 1995) (refusing to reverse termination of parental rights for harmless error), review denied (Minn. Mar. 29, 1995); cf. Grein v. Grein, 364 N.W.2d 383, 387 (Minn. 1985) (affirming district court's decision to modify custody despite lack of adequate findings where remand was unlikely to result in a different outcome).
It is undisputed that, in addition to approximately two years of other services provided to father, the county provided him with services specifically related to employment and housing: the county (1) offered to assist father in advertising the sale of his tractor to raise the money necessary to pay the insurance premiums for his business; (2) counseled father, after the loss of his business, regarding the need for him to seek education and training to prepare him for alternative employment; (3) referred father to the Mora Workforce Center for employment assistance; and (4) referred father to three different housing-assistance agencies. On this record, and particularly in light of the district court's finding that father refused to cooperate with the county's reunification efforts, we cannot say that father has shown that the county's employment- and housing-related assistance was inadequate.
Although father argues that the district court "erred" by finding that he had consistently failed to comply with the case plans that the county adopted on May 9, 2002, the proper standard for our review of the court's findings in an action for the placement of children in long-term foster care is a determination of whether the court's findings "address the statutory criteria and are supported by substantial evidence or whether they are clearly erroneous." In re A.R.G.-B., 551 N.W.2d at 261 (citation and quotation omitted). We view the evidence and its reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the prevailing party. Id.
At the time of the permanent-placement hearing in August 2002, father had not complied with the case plan's requirements that he (1) obtain employment, (2) obtain suitable housing for the family, (3) submit a budget, (4) complete a parenting assessment, and (5) attend anger-management assessment and counseling. The district court's finding that father had failed to comply with the case plan is supported by substantial evidence and is not clearly erroneous.
Father also alleges that the district court erred by ordering that the children be placed in long-term foster care because "[m]ore time is needed to comply with the terms of the amended case plan." He argues that the plan was presented to him on May 9, 2002, and that the petition for permanent placement was filed on July 31, 2002, which provided "a very short time in which to comply." But a hearing to determine the permanent placement of the children was required by statute, and the timeliness of the hearing was measured from the date of the out-of-home placement of the children, not from the date the most recent case plan was adopted. See Minn. Stat. § 260C.201, subd. 11(a) (2000). And nothing in the record suggests that additional time would have made father more compliant with the case plan.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.
 C.K., who is appellant's stepdaughter, was the subject of a prior permanency order and is not involved in this appeal.
 The county made separate case plans for the three children; the case plans are materially identical.