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In re Termination of the Parental Rights of Doe

November 24, 2010

IN THE MATTER OF TERMINATION OF THE PARENTAL RIGHTS OF JANE DOE 2009-19.


Appeal from the District Court of the First Judicial District of the State of Idaho, in and for Kootenai County. The Hon. Robert Caldwell, Magistrate Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Eismann, Chief Justice.

2010 Opinion No. 116

The judgment of the magistrate court is affirmed.

This is an appeal from a judgment terminating parental rights due to the mother‟s neglect and inability to discharge her parental responsibilities as a result of her addiction to methamphetamine. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On March 14, 2008, the Kootenai County prosecutor filed a petition under the Child Protective Act, Idaho Code §§ 16-1601 to 16-1643, concerning the infant daughter (Child) of Jane Doe (Mother). Pursuant to Idaho Code § 16-1611(4), the prosecutor sought in the summons an order that Child be removed and placed in shelter care. The affidavit in support of the order for removal stated: that Mother tested positive for methamphetamine on the day of Child‟s birth; that Mother was homeless and was "couch hopping"; that Mother was leaving Child in the care of "numerous individuals in the Methamphetamine community"; that Mother was arrested on March 2, 2008, for the felony charge of possession of methamphetamine with the intent to deliver; and that Mother had not taken Child to her pediatric appointments since being discharged from the hospital. Mother and Child were located, and Child was taken into custody.

On March 18, 2008, the trial court held a shelter care hearing at which Mother was present and was represented by counsel. The court found that there was reasonable cause to believe that Child was within the purview of the Child Protective Act due to an unstable home environment. The court ordered that Child be placed in the temporary legal custody of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (Department).

After Child was taken into custody, a hair follicle test showed that there was methamphetamine in her system. A social worker also testified that she was exhibiting symptoms consistent with withdrawal from that drug.

On April 18, 2008, the court held an adjudicatory hearing at which Mother was present and represented by counsel. Based upon stipulation of all concerned, including Mother, the court found that Child was subjected to an unstable home environment; that reasonable efforts were made but were not successful in eliminating the need for the placement of Child in foster care; and that it was in Child‟s best interests to have her legal custody vested in the Department.

On May 15, 2008, the court held a case plan hearing at which Mother was present with her counsel. At that hearing, Mother stipulated to a case plan that was intended to assist her in achieving reunification with Child. The plan required, among other things, that Mother successfully complete inpatient substance abuse treatment; that she participate in random drug testing; that she not frequent places of drug use or associate with past drug-using friends; that she attend community-based self-help recovery groups; that she receive a mental health assessment from a designated psychiatrist and that she follow his recommendations; that she complete a parenting class; that she not engage in illegal activities; and that she acquire stable housing and employment.

On September 10, 2008, the court held another case plan hearing. Based upon information set forth in a report dated August 27, 2008, which was incorporated by reference into the court‟s order but not included in the record on appeal, the court found that Department had made reasonable efforts to eliminate the need to have Child in foster care, but such efforts were unsuccessful. The court also found that it was in Child‟s best interests to remain in the custody of Department in order to give Mother time to complete the case plan and to provide a stable home environment for Child.

On December 9, 2008, the court held a third case plan hearing. Mother‟s counsel was present at the hearing, but Mother was absent. Based upon reports dated December 2 and 3, 2008, which were incorporated by reference into the court‟s order but not included in the record on appeal, the court found that Department had made reasonable efforts to eliminate the need for placement of Child in foster care, but it was in Child‟s best interests to remain in Department‟s custody. The court also ordered Department to prepare a written permanency plan.

On March 10, 2009, the court held a hearing regarding Department‟s permanency plan. Mother did not attend the hearing, but her counsel was present. The court approved the permanency plan "for termination of parental rights without the need for reunification efforts including visitation." That order was based upon information in reports dated February 24, 2009, and March 2, 2009, which were incorporated by reference into the order but not included in the record on appeal. The court scheduled a review hearing to determine whether any modifications need to be made to the permanency plan and ordered the Department to file proceedings to terminate Mother‟s parental rights by April 10, 2009.

On February 6, 2009, Mother pled guilty to her pending criminal charge, and she entered drug court. Although she had some initial issues in complying with drug court requirements, the court found: "Since March, 2009, she has greatly improved showing signs of compliance with her drug court requirements. To her credit, she is now involved with treatment again and seems to be doing much better."

On March 24, 2009, Department filed a petition to terminate the parent and child relationship between Mother and Child. On June 15, 2009, Mother filed an answer denying the alleged grounds for termination and asking that the petition be dismissed.

The matter was tried on October 16 and 30, 2009. On November 3, 2009, the court issued its decision, finding that Mother had neglected Child and was unable to discharge her parental responsibilities and that it was in Child‟s best interests to terminate Mother‟s parental rights. It ordered that the parent-child relationship between Mother and Child be terminated. Mother timely appealed to this Court.

This appeal was initially assigned to the Idaho Court of Appeals. It issued an opinion on March 30, 2010, affirming the judgment terminating Mother‟s parental rights, and she filed a petition for review with this Court. We granted the petition and then heard the appeal anew.

II. ISSUES ON APPEAL

A. Was the trial court‟s finding that Mother had not complied with her case plan supported by substantial and competent evidence?

B. Was the trial court‟s finding that Department had made reasonable efforts to reunite Mother and Child supported by ...


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