IN THE MATTER OF THE TERMINATION OF THE PARENTAL RIGHTS OF JANE DOE (2014-17). IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH & WELFARE, Petitioner-Respondent,
JANE DOE (2014-17), Respondent-Appellant
2014 Opinion No. 133
Appeal from the District Court of the Seventh Judicial District, State of Idaho, Bonneville County. Hon. Ralph L. Savage, Magistrate Judge.
Magistrate court decision terminating parental rights, affirmed.
Crane Law, Idaho Falls, for appellant.
Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Idaho Attorney General, for respondent.
BURDICK, Chief Justice. Justices EISMANN, J. JONES, HORTON and WALTERS, J., Pro Tem, CONCUR.
BURDICK, Chief Justice
Jane Doe (" Mother" ) appeals the Bonneville County magistrate court's judgment that terminated her parental rights to three of her children. The magistrate court concluded that the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (" IDHW" ) proved by clear and convincing evidence that Mother and John Doe (" Father" ) neglected their children and that terminating parental rights was in the children's best interests. Mother argues IDHW did not show clear and convincing evidence, the court failed to properly consider her disability, and IDHW did not make reasonable efforts to help her comply with her case plan. We affirm the magistrate court's judgment terminating Mother's parental rights.
I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Mother and Father are married and have three biological children together. Their older daughter, B.M., was born in 2002. Their younger daughter, A.M., was born in 2004. Their son, S.M., was born in 2007. This case began as a child protection case in 2010, was vacated in January 2011, was reopened in 2012, and resulted in a judgment terminating parental rights in 2014. The magistrate court's termination of Mother's parental rights is the subject of this appeal.
In 2009, family members started to notice Mother and Father struggling. Father had lost his job with a law firm and had stopped attending school board meetings at his children's school, where he was chairman of the board of education. The children's grandparents grew concerned because of Mother and Father's alcoholism, the home's condition, and Mother and Father's care for the children. IDHW first opened an informal case in 2009, after IDHW received several referrals from Mother and Father's family members.
Around that same time, teachers noticed that B.M. and A.M. missed many days of school. When B.M. and A.M. were at school, they had dirty uniforms, unkempt hair, and needed breakfast because they had not eaten at home. In November 2009, several teachers and the principal from the children's school went to Mother and Father's house to offer assistance and found the home cluttered and dirty. S.M. had no diaper or clothes on. Consequently, a teacher voluntarily took S.M. for several weeks. B.M. and A.M. went to live with their paternal grandmother next door. When S.M. returned home several weeks later, the home's condition had not improved. That same month, an officer serving an arrest warrant on Mother noticed problems with the home's condition, including that the home was cluttered and smelled like urine. The officer instructed Mother and Father to make changes within 48 hours. The officer found only slight changes two days later.
On February 25, 2010, a case worker and an officer went to Mother and Father's home. The officer found S.M. in the house unsupervised. B.M. and A.M. were still living with their grandmother next door at the time. The officer found problematic conditions inside the home and cited Father for misdemeanor injury to a child. The officer declared S.M. in imminent danger and placed S.M. into shelter care. Mother was incarcerated at the time, so she was not at the house.
The Bonneville County prosecutor filed a petition under the Child Protective Act (CPA) to place all three children in shelter care. The next day, the magistrate court ordered the children removed from the home pending a shelter care hearing. The court held a shelter care hearing on March 1, 2010, but Mother and Father did not attend. At the hearing, the court placed the children in IDHW's care pending an adjudicatory hearing. The court determined there was reasonable cause to believe the children came within the CPA due to neglect. The court also determined that IDHW made reasonable efforts to prevent the need for placement and it was in the children's best interests to give temporary legal custody to IDHW. The court later appointed a guardian ad litem (GAL).
The court held an adjudicatory hearing on April 7, 2010. During that hearing, Mother and Father stipulated to give custody to IDHW. The court found IDHW had made reasonable efforts prior to placing the children in foster care and that it was in the children's best interests to vest legal custody in IDHW. The court later approved IDHW's case plan for Mother and Father. As part of the plan, the At Risk Family Intervention Program trained Mother and Father on parenting skills and basic house cleaning skills. Mother and Father completed this training. In July 2010, after the children were in foster care for five months, the court allowed an extended home visit. In September 2010, the family moved to a rental house because their mortgage had been foreclosed. The family prepaid their rent with Mother's disability income. The children's extended home visit continued until a January 2011 review hearing, when the GAL and case manager recommended vacating the case because the parents had complied with the case plan. This was despite reports that the home's cleanliness was still an issue. Mother and Father did not attend that hearing. The court vacated the case on February 4, 2011.
In July 2011, Mother and Father were cited for misdemeanor injury to a child because a police officer observed that their house was in an unsanitary condition. At the time, the officer observed that Mother and Father had been drinking alcohol. Mother and Father had been on a drinking binge for several weeks.
In January 2012, Father was incarcerated because of a domestic violence incident that involved Mother. Both Mother and Father were intoxicated at their home during that incident, and Mother had locked herself in a bathroom and sent B.M. a text message to call police. A resulting no-contact order prohibited Father from contacting Mother. The court put Father on pre-trial release, but revoked that release because Father missed required appointments and did not complete his urinalysis.
The court then issued a warrant, and officers went to Mother and Father's house to look for Father. Mother claimed he was not in the house. The officers found Father in the house and arrested both parents: Father for violating the no-contact order and Mother for obstructing an officer. The officers contacted IDHW because the only adult left at the home after Mother and Father's arrest was Mother's ex-mother-in-law, who was an alcoholic.
IDHW re-opened the case and appointed a GAL. The first adjudicatory hearing was continued because Mother and Father did not attend and did not have sufficient notice. At the next adjudicatory hearing, Mother and Father stipulated that the court had jurisdiction because of an unstable home environment, but objected to giving IDHW custody. The court allowed the children to stay at home subject to IDHW's protective custody. The court also ordered Mother and Father to sign medical releases for the children to update IDHW on the children's progress. In April 2012, S.M.'s doctor complained to IDHW that S.M. was failing to thrive because he had regressed to diapers, had not
received his prescribed medications, and was not increasing in weight. Mother and Father attended that visit, but the nurse found Mother would not give straight answers about S.M.'s care.
On May 21, 2012, the court held a case plan hearing. The court ordered Mother and Father to participate in a group decision-making meeting, submit to drug tests, comply with the court's orders, and allow IDHW home access. The court told Mother and Father that it could remove the children if Mother and Father failed to comply. Mother and Father submitted to hair follicle drug testing that day and both tested positive for methamphetamine. The results indicated " high, daily, constant use" for both parents. IDHW visited the home and found it cluttered, dirty, and unsanitary. The inspection revealed many problems, including large laundry piles, items resting against a wood stove, and a cup of mold on B.M.'s bedside table. IDHW gave Mother and Father 48 hours to clean their home, and Mother and Father failed to properly clean their home within that time.
On May 24, 2012, the court placed all three children in foster care. The court did this because Mother and Father had tested positive for methamphetamine, refused to sign medical releases, had not cooperated with IDHW, and appeared ready to move to California. All three children were initially placed with their paternal grandmother, but S.M. was moved to a separate foster home a few weeks later. S.M.'s physical health immediately improved in foster care.
A redisposition hearing was held on May 29, 2012. The court decided to keep the children in IDHW's custody until a June 21, 2012 hearing. The court approved a case plan on June 25, 2012. The case plan included requirements that Mother and Father: participate in substance abuse programs; sign releases allowing the case manager to assess Mother and Father's progress in treatment; submit to random drug testing; keep all mental health appointments; follow probation; participate in visitation; attend their children's medical appointments; and maintain a stable home.
The court held more review hearings and continued to find it was in the children's best interests to stay in IDHW's custody. At an August 2012 review hearing, the court found Father had not worked with the case plan and Mother had only made some recent progress on the plan. Father did not attend this hearing. Mother and Father then both failed to attend a November 2012 review hearing. Father also did not attend a January 2013 review hearing. At the hearing the court noted that Father did not comply with his case plan and that Mother had " somewhat complied," but by residing with Father had showed she was unwilling to establish a safe residence. Mother and Father attended a March 2013 review hearing, where the court again found they were not making progress on the case plan and it was in the children's best interests to remain in IDHW's care.
Mother and Father then had almost no contact with the GAL or IDHW for two months. They attended only one visit with the children between March 18 and May 13. Mother was arrested in April for petit theft after she stole from Walmart. Mother was also hospitalized for substance abuse in April. Around the same time, Mother and Father were evicted from their home and did not attend drug testing.
The court held a permanency hearing on May 13, 2013. Mother and Father failed to attend the hearing. The court ultimately approved a permanency plan to terminate parental rights and ordered IDHW to file a termination petition. The court also suspended visitation because the parents had not complied with the court orders or their case plan and had missed two months of visitation and counseling. The court then suspended reunification efforts at a May 29, 2013 hearing. Neither parent attended that hearing. IDHW filed petitions to terminate Mother and Father's ...