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In re Doe

Supreme Court of Idaho

March 6, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF THE DOE CHILDREN, Children under eighteen (18) years of age
v.
JOHN DOE (2017-27) JANE DOE (2017-28), Respondent-Appellants, IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND WELFARE, Petitioner-Respondent, and GUARDIAN AD LITEM, Intervenor-Respondent.

         2018 Opinion No. 21

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

         The judgment of the magistrate court is affirmed.

          John R. Shackelford, Ada County Deputy Public Defender, Boise, for John Doe.

          Theresa A. Martin, Meridian, for Jane Doe.

          Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Attorney General, Boise, for Respondent.

          Elijah M. Watkins, Boise, for Intervenor.

          BEVAN, Justice

         John Doe (2017-27) ("the father") and Jane Doe (2017-27) ("the mother") appeal judgments from the magistrate court terminating their parental rights to their daughters ("Z.W." and "N.W."). The magistrate court terminated the mother and father's parental rights on the grounds of neglect, abuse, inability to discharge parental responsibilities, and chronic abuse and/or neglect, and also found termination was in the best interest of the children. The mother only challenges the termination of her parental rights as to N.W., while the father challenges the termination of his parental rights as to both of the children. The sole issue the father asserts is that the magistrate court did not have substantial and competent evidence to find terminating his parental rights was in the best interest of both children. We affirm the magistrate court's judgments.

         I. FACTS AND PROCEDURE

         On March 16, 2007, Z.W. was born prematurely in California. Due to her premature birth she was placed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit ("NICU") for over twenty-five weeks. At the same time Z.W. was born, the mother was diagnosed with a chronic kidney condition. The doctors discovered that the mother had only one kidney, which was abnormally small. As a result of her condition, the mother was very weak and fatigued, often sleeping up to twelve hours a day. On July 13, 2007, Z.W. was placed into foster care because her parents did not visit her consistently while she was in the NICU. The mother and father were separated at this time. The father was in Washington State with the intent to earn money to pay off medical bills. The father stated that the mother remained in California, which he assumed was to care for Z.W.

         When the father returned to California (three to four months after Z.W was born) child protective services had already declared that Z.W. was abandoned. At this point, the father learned the mother had left Z.W. in the hospital and was not visiting her. The father was eventually able to regain custody of Z.W. by working with child protective services in California, which required him to learn about Z.W.'s developmental needs and participate in her therapies. In March 2009, Ventura County Child Protective Services received referrals with concerns that Z.W. was not receiving appropriate services for her medical needs and had missed appointments with her medical providers. By this time, the mother and the father reconciled and were back together. The father then followed through with obtaining medical services for Z.W. in April 2009.

         In July 2009, the mother, father, and Z.W. moved to Kuna, Idaho. After moving to Idaho, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare ("IDHW") received six referrals regarding this family between January 2011 to December 2014. The first referral was received in January 2011, with concerns that Z.W. (then age three) had bruising on her back and side. The father admitted he caused this bruising on Z.W. by spanking her with a wooden spoon. The father stated he felt ashamed and embarrassed for harming Z.W. and stated it would never happen again. It was reported that the mother was not concerned with the harm done to Z.W. At this point, law enforcement did not declare that Z.W. was in imminent danger. Rather, both parents were told by social worker Stephens to obtain education regarding their reasonable expectations of Z.W. based on her developmental age rather than her chronological age. The father also agreed not to use physical discipline until he could get his emotions and frustrations under control and to complete an anger management evaluation.

         The second referral was received in February 2011, with concerns that Z.W. had marks down the back of her arms, a bruise under her chin, and a swollen jaw. Social workers responded by visiting the home. They observed the marks on Z.W.'s upper arms, which the father stated may have occurred when he forcefully grabbed Z.W. when directing her to go to the bathroom. Further bruising was then observed on Z.W.'s buttock, which the father admitted was from when he spanked Z.W. a couple of days prior. The father specifically stated he put Z.W. across his knee and spanked her five times with his hand because Z.W. was not eating her food. When asked if he would continue to spank Z.W., the father stated he would continue to spank her and that such method of discipline was "set in stone." At this point, Z.W. was declared to be in imminent danger and placed in foster care because of the father's physical abuse and the mother's inability to protect Z.W. from such physical abuse.

         Z.W. was then examined by a pediatric nurse employed at St. Luke's C.A.R.E.S. The nurse noted that Z.W. had significant bruising across her back. Specifically, the nurse noted Z.W. had deep tissue bruising and bleeding which was palpable, which meant that blood could be felt pooling under Z.W.'s skin. She concluded that Z.W. had experienced non-accidental physical trauma. The nurse also believed, given the location of Z.W.'s injuries, they could have been much more serious. However, the blood work did not reveal any bleeding or bruising in Z.W.'s kidneys or spine. The father was arrested and pled guilty to misdemeanor injury to a child.

         The third referral was received in June 2011, because the mother was giving birth to her second child (N.W.) who could also be subject to abuse. N.W. was also born prematurely (weighing only three pounds) and put in the NICU. The mother and father regularly visited N.W. while she was in the NICU and N.W. was discharged into their care after one month with in-home nursing and family preservation classes recommended. This third referral was dismissed as unsubstantiated.

         During this time, IDHW allowed the parents to have unsupervised visits with Z.W. The parents were also provided with protective parenting education, domestic violence treatment, and psychological services. In September 2011, Z.W. returned to her parents for an extended home visit. In a progress report dated January 31, 2012, a social worker noted that the mother had improved and completed her protective parenting classes, and the father stated he would not use spanking as a form of discipline with Z.W. because he recognized the emotional impact of physical discipline. Z.W.'s case was vacated in February 2012.

         In April 2012, Z.W. (then age four) disclosed to a social worker that her parents punished her on two occasions by forcing her to take a cold shower because she soiled her pants. During a safety assessment, the parents denied giving Z.W. cold showers as a form of punishment. At this safety assessment, the social worker was also informed that the parents discontinued Z.W.'s developmental services. Prior to March 2012, Z.W. had received twenty hours per week of developmental services, but the father requested these services be terminated because he wanted to spend more time with Z.W.

         The fourth referral was received in May 2013, with concerns that Z.W. disclosed that the mother had put her in an ice cold bath as punishment for soiling her pants, and that the mother would hit Z.W. with a broom and lock her in the bathroom. The referring party also reported that Z.W. often waited for her school bus outside in the dark by herself. Another safety assessment was conducted, in which no injuries were observed on either Z.W. or N.W. The father admitted that he left Z.W. waiting outside for the bus one time but then realized she was too young. He denied using ice baths as a form of punishment and instead stated he used time outs, sent Z.W. to her room, and spanked Z.W. for punishment. This referral was then closed as unsubstantiated.

         The fifth referral was received in January 2014, with concerns Z.W. came to school wearing the same clothes and looked unkempt. The referral further stated Z.W. had poor toilet hygiene, missed a lot of school, and her parents did not walk her to the bus in the morning despite her age and significant developmental delays. Social workers responded to the home of the family, but were not allowed inside the home. Rather, the parents spoke to the social workers at the front door. The father stated Z.W. did not attend school because she had missed the school bus and that he bathed both children twice a week. The mother made no comments regarding the social worker's concerns. The social workers then advised the father to drive Z.W. to school if she missed the bus and to bathe the children every other day.

         The sixth referral was received on December 3, 2014, with concerns of physical injuries observed on Z.W. at school. Z.W. had welts and bruises on her back. Z.W. told the school resource officer that her injuries were the result of her father spanking her with a shoe. The school resource officer then responded with a home visit, in which the father stated that Z.W. had been acting up in school the day prior and, therefore, he spanked her about ten times with a rubber shoe insole. The father further noted that it was normal practice to hit his children until it hurt, which was usually about three strikes; however, this time he hit her ten times. Apparently, the lack of response from Z.W., while the father was spanking her, seemed to incite him to spank her more. The father was reportedly surprised when the officer showed him photographs of Z.W.'s back and stated: "Yikes. If I did that I went a little overboard." The mother was in the home when the father spanked Z.W. The mother stated that she heard Z.W. crying but was not concerned and, therefore, did not intervene. The officer noted that the mother was extremely quiet throughout the entire visit. The father further stated he would continue to spank the children. The officer then declared both children were in imminent danger and put them into foster care because of the physical abuse of Z.W. by her father, and the failure of the mother to protect the children. The father later pled guilty to felony injury to a child and was placed on probation. As a condition of the father's probation, a no contact order (which expires in 2022) was issued. The order prohibited the father from having contact with Z.W. unless his visits were supervised by the IDHW.

         While the children were placed in foster care, both parents were ordered by the court to participate in identical case plans with the same goal: to have a safe, stable, and healthy home environment for the children to grow and develop and to meet their needs for safety, permanency and well-being. While in foster care, the parents were allowed to have supervised visits with the children.

         Almost two years later, on November 23, 2016, IDHW filed a Petition for Termination of Parent Child-Relationship. The Petition alleged that both parent's rights should be terminated due to neglect, abuse, inability to discharge parental responsibilities, and chronic abuse and/or neglect. The Petition further alleged that it was in the best interest of the children to terminate the rights of both parents. On September 4, 2017, the magistrate court terminated the mother and father's parental rights on the grounds of neglect, abuse, inability to discharge parental responsibilities, and chronic abuse and/or neglect, and also found termination was in the best interest of Z.W. and N.W. The mother only challenges the termination of her right to N.W., while the father challenges the termination of his rights to both the children. The father does not appeal ...


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