Dept. of Health & Welfare v. Doe I (2017-21)Annotate this Case
This cases involved the statutory termination of parental rights by two adoptive parents after John Doe I (“Child”) was alleged to have sexually assaulted a sibling. John and Jane Doe adopted Child in June 2016. The Does’ adoption came after a previous out-of-state adoption of Child was ended through legal termination of parental rights (a “disrupted adoption”). In September 2016, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (“the Department”) received a report from Jane Doe that Child had sexually assaulted his younger sister (aged nine), another adoptive child of the Does. Child was twelve years old at the time of the incident. Thereafter, the Does worked with the Department and juvenile corrections personnel to determine the best course of action with regard to Child. In October 2016, Child’s juvenile corrections proceeding was expanded to a child protective proceeding, and he was placed in shelter care with the Department. The expansion order specified that “[t]he parents indicate [Child] will never be able to return to their home due to the safety of the other children.” Child was subsequently taken to a residential care facility in Utah (“the Utah facility”) to receive treatment, including mental health services. The treatment program was not permanent placement, but Child’s completion of the program was expected to take up to a year. Shortly after Child was taken to the Utah facility, the magistrate court decreed that Child was to be placed under the protective custody of the Department because it would be contrary to Child’s welfare to remain in the Does’ home. The magistrate court then held a hearing on the case plan submitted by the Department and approved the plan without any objections from the parties. The magistrate court ultimately entered judgments (one for each parent) terminating the Does’ parental rights on three grounds: inability to discharge parental responsibilities, best interest of the Does and Child, and voluntary consent. Child appealed. The Idaho Supreme Court determined the magistrate court record did not support the finding of termination: “[w]ithout compelling substantive evidence, the primary argument for the Does’ unfitness appears to be premised on the same idea that undergirded the Department’s argument as to Child’s best interest: namely, Child cannot return to the Does’ home due to the nature of the sexual assault incident and the presence of the victim and other children in the home.” The Supreme Court reversed the termination of parental rights and the order of guardianship, and remanded this case for further proceedings.