In the Matter of: Jane Doe I and John Doe, Children Under Eighteen (18) Years of Age.
JANE DOE, Respondent-Appellant, and GUARDIAN AD LITEM, Intervenor-Respondent. IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND WELFARE, Petitioner-Respondent,
from the Magistrate Court of the Fifth Judicial District,
State of Idaho, Lincoln County. Hon. Daniel Dolan, Magistrate
terminating parental rights, affirmed.
L. Pittard, Attorney at Law, Burley, for appellant.
Lawrence G. Wasden, Idaho Attorney General, Boise, for
BURDICK, Chief Justice.
Doe ("Mother") appeals from a Lincoln County
magistrate court's judgment terminating her parental
rights to her minor children. The judgment also terminated
the parental rights of the children's father
("Father"). He appeals in a separate action.
children were placed in the custody of the Idaho Department
of Health and Welfare (the "Department") following
a March 2016 petition under the Child Protection Act
("CPA"). After the filing of the petition, the
parents stipulated to an unstable home environment. In June
2016, the magistrate court ordered the parents to follow case
plans provided by the Department. Roughly eight months later,
the State filed a motion to terminate both parents'
parental rights based on failure to comply with their case
plans and prior neglect. After holding a trial, the
magistrate court terminated both parents' parental
timely appeals and argues that the Department did not make
adequate efforts to reunify the family and that the
magistrate court erred by finding that the Department's
efforts were reasonable. We affirm the termination of
Mother's parental rights.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
appeal concerns the termination of Mother's parental
rights to her two minor children. Mother and Father are the
biological parents of the children. Prior to the termination
trial, the children and parents were the subjects of a nearly
two-year-long CPA proceeding. When the prosecutors first
filed a petition under the CPA, the parents were listed with
separate addresses, but were living together. However, the
parents ended and rekindled their relationship at various
times prior to and during the CPA proceeding. By the time of
the termination trial, Mother and Father were permanently
separated and Mother was residing with her parents at their
Department became involved in early March 2016 after
receiving reports of drug use and neglect involving the minor
children. Prior to this, the Department had received
referrals for the family on two prior occasions in 2013 and
2014 for the same issues. The Department's investigation
revealed that both children had been born premature, exposed
to drugs in-utero, and tested positive for methamphetamine at
birth. Based on these concerns, the Lincoln County
prosecutors filed a petition under the Child Protection Act
in March 2016.
Lincoln County magistrate court opened a CPA proceeding and
placed the children in the legal custody of the Department
under a protective order. However, the court ordered the
children to remain with their parents for the time being. A
week later, the Department and a Lincoln County
law-enforcement officer conducted an unannounced home visit.
The visit revealed that the home was in a state of disarray.
Mother was not "able to remain still" and "had
what appeared to be methamphetamine sores on her face."
She admitted to no longer living at home after an incident of
domestic violence involving Father which the children had
witnessed. She also stated that she had used methamphetamine
within the past week and picked the children up afterwards.
Declaring the children to be in imminent danger, the officer
removed the children from the parents' custody and placed
them in foster care. The children were placed with the foster
parent who ultimately would care for the children during the
CPA proceeding. At the subsequent shelter-care hearing, the
court ordered the children to remain in the Department's
custody. At the adjudicatory hearing a month later, both
parents stipulated to an unstable home environment as the
basis for the CPA proceedings and the children remained in
the Department's custody.
month after the adjudicatory hearing, Mother agreed to both
participate in and accomplish a case plan provided by the
Department. The case plan contained sixteen tasks aimed at
addressing "all original areas of concern that brought
the family to the attention of the Department" and
ensuring "the children will have a safe, stable,
sanitary and drug-free home environment." The Department
stated its primary goal was reunification and its secondary
goal was adoption. Mother preferred making the secondary goal
guardianship with her parents rather than adoption. The
Department explained that guardianships are disfavored
because they are an impermanent solution. The court indicated
(according to the court minutes) that "[g]uardianship is
something to keep in mind as they work through the
the next several months, the court held numerous review
hearings to assess the parents' progress with the case
plan and the Department's efforts to reunify the family.
In her appellate brief, Mother admits that she failed to
satisfactorily complete her case plan during this time:
Suffice it to say that the Appellant recognizes that she did
not complete her case plan. She also acknowledges that during
the pendency of these proceedings she was a single parent who
was dealing with a severe drug addiction and challenging
mental health issues.
the same timeframe, the Department's stated primary goal
was reunification but changed the secondary goal to adoption
by relative. To this end, the Department actively sought out
and evaluated various family members as possible foster-care
placements. Mother's parents applied to become foster
parents but were denied due to concerns about their
medication use. They administratively appealed the
Department's decision, but the appeal was denied for
failure to include proper medical forms. They did not appeal
the Department's decision to the district court. The
Department also looked into having the children's
paternal grandparents and maternal aunt as possible foster
parents, but their applications were also denied.
a year after the children were first placed in the
Department's custody, the court held a permanency
hearing. The Department informed the court that it was
looking into whether the children's great uncle was a
suitable placement. In its report, the Department had changed
its primary goal to adoption and its secondary goal to
guardianship in one place, but changed the goals to
reunification and adoption (nonrelative) in another. The
Department advised the court it would inquire into whether
the great uncle was a suitable foster parent, but would then
schedule a POST ("Permanency Option Selection
Team") meeting. At this hearing, Mother testified and
the court extended the disposition of the permanency hearing
for 30 days in order to allow the parents to show
improvement. However, those 30 days were extended to almost
90 days after the hearing was continued until June 2017.
after the court originally extended the permanency hearing,
the Department filed a petition to terminate parental rights.
The Department notified the court that its attempts to
contact the children's great uncle were unsuccessful. The
court accepted the Department's recommendation for
adoption as the permanent plan. The court advised the parties
to prepare for a termination trial.
termination trial was delayed while the parties inquired into
whether a guardian ad litem should be appointed for the
children's father. Mother's parents independently
filed a petition for guardianship of the minor children four
days prior to the October trial date. The court then
continued the October trial date due to lack of proof
regarding whether the parents had been properly served.
During the interim, the court heard the grandparents'
petition for guardianship. The court concluded that Idaho
Code sections 16-1604 and 16-1629(8) give the Department the
power and right to determine where and with whom the children
reside. The court dismissed the petition because the
Department did not consent to the guardianship.
in January 2018, the termination trial was split over three
days in January and March 2018. Mother did not testify. The
parties submitted written closing arguments in July 2018 and
the court issued its memorandum decision and final judgment
in October 2018.
ISSUES ON APPEAL
Should this Court inquire into the magistrate court's
approval of the Department's reasonable efforts to
reunify the children with Mother on appeal ...