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In the Matter of the Parental v. John (2011-18) Doe

March 22, 2012

IN THE MATTER OF THE PARENTAL TERMINATION OF JOHN (2011-18) DOE. IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH & WELFARE,
PETITIONER-RESPONDENT,
v.
JOHN (2011-18) DOE,
RESPONDENT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. Cathleen MacGregor-Irby, Magistrate Judge.

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

2012 Opinion No. 53

Stephen Kenyon, Clerk

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 imminent danger.

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.*fn1 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 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. §§ 16- 1602(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).

III. ANALYSIS

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 evidence.

Id. at 761-62, 203 P.3d at 691-92 (citations omitted). Idaho Code ยง 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 ...


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