In the Matter of: JANE and JOHN DOE II, Children Under Eighteen (18) Years of Age.
JANE DOE (2018-20), Respondent-Appellant. JOHN and JANE DOE I, Petitioners-Respondents,
from the District Court of the Fifth Judicial District, State
of Idaho, Twin Falls County. Hon. Roger B. Harris, Magistrate
terminating parental rights, affirmed.
Falls County Public Defenders Office, Twin Falls, for
appellant. Laura Z. O'Connell argued.
Nielson Barini-Garcia & Platts, Twin Falls, for
respondents. Eric B. Nielson argued.
BURDICK, CHIEF JUSTICE.
Doe ("Mother") appeals the Twin Falls County
magistrate court's termination of her parental rights to
her minor children, Jane Doe II ("T.T.") and John
Doe II ("D.T."). On February 7, 2017, John and Jane
Doe I ("Guardians") filed a petition
to terminate Mother's parental rights to T.T. and D.T.
that was amended on May 17, 2017. After holding a one-day
trial, the magistrate court ("trial court") ordered
written closing arguments by both parties. Afterwards, the
termination petition was granted. The trial court found: (1)
Mother had neglected her children; (2) Mother had abandoned
her children; and (3) termination of Mother's parental
rights was in the best interest of the children. Because each
of these findings was supported by clear and convincing
evidence, the trial court granted Guardians' request for
termination. The trial court entered a final judgment to that
effect on May 11, 2018. Mother timely appeals.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
voluntarily placed T.T. and D.T. under Guardian's care in
December 2015. This voluntary placement was instigated by
Mother's desire to avoid removal of the children by the
Idaho Department of Health and Welfare ("the
Department") which would have resulted in their
placement in foster care. At the time of their placement,
both T.T. and D.T. were less than two years of age (17 and 2
months old, respectively). At the time of this appeal, both
children have remained in Guardians' exclusive care for
over two-and-a-half years.
the elder of the two children. When Mother first became
pregnant with T.T., she initially told everyone at her
workplace that she had cancer instead of explaining that she
was, in fact, pregnant. Prior to T.T.'s birth, Mother
asked one of her coworkers whether she might want to adopt
T.T., who Mother claimed was her sister's child. Once
T.T. was born, Mother would frequently leave T.T. in the care
of others-sometimes for weeks at a time-and these caretakers
would often purchase formula, food, diapers, clothing, and
other items for the child. These caretakers would also
arrange and pay for babysitting when they couldn't watch
T.T. instead of Mother arranging for T.T.'s care. When
Mother would deliver T.T. to others for supervision, T.T.
would be hungry, fussy, and dirty to the point of matted hair
and a diaper rash so severe that the child would be bleeding
and have to be bathed immediately and ointment applied to the
diaper rash. Mother appeared to show no tenderness toward the
child and was usually taking T.T. from person to person so as
to not have to care for the child herself.
the younger of the two children. D.T.'s short life thus
far has been marked by significant medical issues. D.T. was
only in Mother's care for a period of less than two
months which spanned the time from his birth until placement
with Guardians. In that short time, D.T. had already
experienced a trip to the emergency room for breathing
difficulties. D.T.'s visit to the emergency room occurred
the night before he was placed in Guardians' custody.
time D.T. was born, Mother no longer worked, had changed
housing several times, and had settled in a house with other
residents. Mother's practice of continuing to ask others
to watch the children continued at the house. When no such
arrangement could be secured, Mother would often leave the
children alone and unattended while she watched television
upstairs or went outside to smoke cigarettes. It was around
this time that Guardians began to care for T.T. and D.T.,
including caring for the children upwards of five days a
week. Eventually, Mother's pattern of inattention to her
children became a cause for concern for the residents of the
house, and this concern prompted a call to the Department.
there is some conflicting testimony as to what happened the
morning the Department became involved, what is clear is that
D.T. was left unattended in a bassinet for several hours
while Mother went to work. Mother left D.T. to attend work
but contends that she expected a babysitter to arrive shortly
after her departure. In any event, a resident of the house
awoke to find D.T. alone (T.T. was staying with Mother's
parent at the time) and unattended in a bassinet. After
discovering the newborn with no supervision, the resident,
knowing that Guardian typically cared for the children during
the week, contacted Guardian for advice. Guardian had, in
fact, previously informed Mother that she would not be able
to watch the children that morning. Eventually, the resident
decided to contact the police, prompting Guardian to depart
for the house and, after the police officer arrived, Guardian
requested that the children be placed in her custody instead
of placing them in foster care. The police officer contacted
Mother, causing Mother to come to the scene where she
eventually agreed to the children's placement with
Guardians for the immediate future. Thereafter, Mother was
given the option of placing the children either with
Guardians or in foster care. Mother selected Guardians and a
formal guardianship was put into place.
the guardianship was established, Guardians realized that
T.T. exhibited a number of alarming behaviors. It became
clear that T.T. had serious issues with hoarding food and
self-stimulation. Guardian found T.T. to be hungry-eating to
the point of pain. In addition, Guardian noticed that T.T.
would frequently masturbate, going so far as inserting
foreign objects into her vagina to the point of
injury. These sexualized behaviors were
especially alarming given that at the time the guardianship
was established, T.T. was only a year and a half old. Given
these concerns, Guardians sought the help of a licensed
social worker for counseling for T.T.
counselor observed that T.T. would masturbate daily, hoard
food, and would never stop eating if food were available-to
the point where T.T. would rummage through garbage cans
looking for food. T.T.'s counselor opined that the
child's issue with food is the result of periods of
starvation during her very early childhood. The counselor
testified that T.T.'s sexual behaviors likely stem from
being sexually abused as an infant. The social worker
testified that girls of T.T.'s age do not usually
recognize their genitals as sexual organs unless someone
shows them how to masturbate, they are sexually abused, or
they see someone else masturbating.
was less than two months old when he was entrusted into the
care of Guardians. Guardians immediately took the newborn to
see the family doctor given D.T.'s perceptible difficulty
breathing and keeping food down. D.T. has several conditions
that have required medical intervention including problems
with reflux that causes difficulties with his larynx and
trachea. He has issues keeping food down which necessitates
placement of a feeding tube. Most recently, D.T. has
developed seizures. These issues have required surgeries on
both his stomach and the top part of his
throat. As described by his doctor, D.T. is
a sort of "moving target" given that his symptoms
and conditions don't fit into well-defined syndromes or
illnesses making his future medical needs unpredictable. D.T.
currently receives nourishment from a feeding tube attached
to a small backpack that he must constantly wear. Guardians
have taken D.T. to all of his medical appointments, including
those that are a considerable distance away from home, and
paid for the portions of D.T.'s medical expenses not
covered by insurance.
the time her children were under the Guardians' care,
Mother lived a nomadic lifestyle and used methamphetamine.
For significant periods of time, Mother was homeless. While
Mother has on occasion attempted to reach out to T.T. and
D.T. during their time under Guardians' care, Mother has
never attempted to reunite with her children. Mother moved
back in with her own mother. Since then she has enjoyed some
semblance of stability in her life and secured employment.
Despite this stability, Mother is still not requesting to
reunite with or regain custody of her children. She wishes
the guardianship to continue regardless of the disposition of
have been the exclusive caretakers of T.T. and D.T. Guardians
have been present at every surgery, medical appointment, and
counseling session while taking an active role in learning
how to care for T.T. and D.T. and handle their physical and
behavioral challenges. The children have bonded with
Guardians over the course of the guardianship. The children
consider themselves part of Guardians' family. Despite
their hardships and obstacles, D.T. and T.T. have progressed
and are thriving in Guardians' home. Even though
D.T.'s medical issues are some of the most demanding his
physician has ever seen, his physician is impressed by
Guardians' ability to provide care for the infant.
Likewise, T.T. has progressed in the counseling secured by
Guardians. The children have had limited contact with Mother
since the guardianship began, but at least one visit from
Mother caused T.T. to regress in much of her progress. The
child suffered from uncontrollable bowel movements for
several weeks after the visit. T.T.'s counselor opined
that this regression was likely a negative emotional reaction
to seeing her Mother.
February 7, 2017, a little over a year after the guardianship
was established, Guardians filed a petition to terminate
Mother's parental rights to T.T. and D.T. as well as an
amended petition on May 17, 2017. Subsequent to filing their
petition for termination of parental rights and adoption,
Guardians were the subject an Investigative Report and a
Pre-Adoption Home Study Report by the Department. Both
inquiries resulted in the conclusion and recommendation that
the children remain with Guardians. After holding a one-day
trial and the submission of written closing arguments by both
parties, the trial court granted Guardians' petition on
the basis that Mother neglected and abandoned the children
and that termination was in the children's best
interests. The trial court entered a judgment to that effect
on May 11, 2018. Mother timely appeals.