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In re Doe

Supreme Court of Idaho

February 9, 2018

In the Interest of: JANE DOE I, A Child Under Eighteen (18) Years of Age.
v.
JANE DOE (2017-36), Respondent-Appellant, IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND WELFARE, Petitioner-Respondent, and GUARDIAN AD LITEM, Intervenor-Respondent.

         2018 Opinion No. 12

         Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. Andrew Ellis, Magistrate Judge.

         Magistrate court order terminating parental rights, affirmed.

          Ada County Public Defender's Office, Boise, for appellant.

          Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Idaho Attorney General, Boise, for respondent.

          Eberle, Berlin, Kading, Turnbow & McKlveen Chtd., Boise, for intervenor-respondent.

          BURDICK, Chief Justice.

         Jane Doe (Mother) appeals the Ada County magistrate court's termination of her parental rights to her minor child, A.L. (Child). The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (IDHW) filed a petition to terminate Mother's parental rights to Child on August 26, 2016, and an amended petition on June 30, 2017. After a two-day trial, the magistrate court found termination proper on several bases of neglect and entered an order to that effect. Mother timely appeals, and for the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Child was removed from Mother's custody and placed into foster care on June 25, 2015, after Mother's roommate reported to law enforcement that Mother had attempted to commit suicide in front of Child, who was then five years of age. Mother's suicide attempt stemmed from frustration with Child because Child refused to sleep. Mother thus "smacked [Child] in the mouth" and then yelled, "I'm going to kill myself, I can't take it anymore" before taking three Ambien sleeping pills in front of Child. Mother was admitted to the hospital for psychiatric care.

         Mother has suffered traumatic experiences and mental health problems since her childhood. For example, Mother's brother sexually and physically abused her when she was a child. After a suicide attempt in 2002, she was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and began receiving treatment for mental health problems. Since 2002, Mother has experienced considerable mental health fluctuations, resulting in frequent "ups and downs." These fluctuations caused several periods of hospitalization.

         Before Child's birth in 2009, Mother met and married John Doe (Father).[1] Father, a registered sex offender, had parole conditions that largely barred contact with Child after Child's birth. As such, Mother primarily raised Child alone during the first few months of Child's life. Later, when Father was around, he noticed that Mother's focus was on watching television, not Child. According to Father, Mother and Child never had a positive relationship.

         Mother emotionally abused Child. For example, Mother told Child, "I hate you. I don't want you anymore. I wish you hadn't been born." Mother explained that she "yelled at [Child] a lot." Mother recognized that this abuse "affected [Child] a lot." At times Mother's abuse turned physical. Mother reported to IDHW that she "often times will 'pop [Child] in the mouth' or give her a 'swat on the butt' with her hand if [Child] refuses to listen to her." Mother explained that Child was a "trigger" for her anger and mental health issues.

         Emotional and physical abuse also plagued Mother and Father's relationship, with Child witnessing it at times. During the first few years of their marriage, Mother would "pop off at the snap of a button . . . . [Mother] would yell at [Father]. [Mother] would curse. [Mother] would put [him] down." Father became physically abusive towards Mother after he "reach[ed his] boiling point" and grabbed Mother to restrain her and "los[t] his control" at some point in 2013. Father did not recall ever physically striking Mother, but he "grabbed her to the point where --sometimes to restrain her, and at some times where [Father] just lost control, and [Father] felt like [he] was going to do something that was going to end up putting [him] back in prison." Child witnessed some of the incidences, including some that became physically abusive, which Father attributed to Mother.

         IDHW learned the full extent of Child's treatment after Child was placed into foster care. Specifically, after Mother was released from hospitalization following her suicide attempt, she informed an IDHW safety assessor that (1) Child was "trigger" and Mother "could go off at any moment"; (2) Mother was not in control of her mental health and was thus "worried about her ability to take care of [Child]"; and (3) Mother would "pop one off on [Child] in [Child's] mouth when she needed it." IDHW thus grew concerned over Mother's ability to parent Child, which concern was exacerbated when Mother expressed her wish that Child be placed with her maternal grandmother, notwithstanding that Mother's brother, who had sexually assaulted Mother when she was approximately the same age as Child was, resided in Mother's maternal grandmother's house. In light of these concerns, a case plan was entered on August 13, 2015.

         Child initially exhibited bad behavior and poor decision making while in foster care. For example, Child would throw "extreme fits" ten or twenty times per day and was expelled from preschool for exhibiting aggression toward other students and pulling fire alarms. When Mother was confronted about these issues, she did not express any concern, much less advice on how to resolve them, which IDHW's social worker testified was "a rare thing to see . . . ." After approximately two months in foster care, Child began counseling and was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and parental-relational issues. In counseling, Child reported "very specific nightmares about [Mother]." The nightmare "always involved a weapon and her mother and [Child] being the victim. And there was always blood, and it was quite graphic." The counselor concluded there was "a significant issue between [M]other and [C]hild."

         Child was placed into a second foster home in August 2016. Child's former foster parents explained that Child's "extreme behaviors and particularly the screaming fits and the screaming and physical fits" took a significant toll on them, though Child did improve gradually while in their care. Nevertheless, Child improved greatly with more time in foster care under the care of her second foster family. By the 2016-17 schoolyear, Child was (1) "on grade level" and even exceeded some expectations in some areas; (2) able to develop and maintain friendships; (3) "show[ed] empathy towards her peers"; and (4) able to "start[] to trust adults more, a lot more." When Child's former foster parents saw Child in August 2017, approximately one year after Child had left their care, they felt that Child "was a different kid" and Child's progression had continued "in an amplified way." Overall, Child has become "just a happy kid, " but once Mother is mentioned, Child has "meltdowns that c[an] last anywhere from 45 minutes to three hours."

         IDHW thus filed a petition to terminate Mother's parental rights on August 26, 2016. Shortly thereafter, in September 2016, IDHW moved to suspend Mother's visitation rights, explaining that Child's "visits with [Mother] are hindering progress in therapy and life." Mother, who had missed twenty-eight visits since January 2016, agreed that discontinuing visits "would be better for both [her] and [Child, ]" and acknowledged that she was unable to care for Child "based on [Mother's] state of mental health." Accordingly, the magistrate court entered an order on October 13, 2016, limiting visitation with Mother to that which Child requested and requiring it to take place in a therapeutic setting.

         IDHW amended its termination petition on June 30, 2017. After a two-day trial, on October 16, 2017, the magistrate court entered an order terminating Mother's parental rights, finding that Mother had neglected Child and, further, that termination was in Child's best interests. Mother timely appeals, and, after the parties' consented, this ...


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