State of Utah, in the interest of S.M., A.M., L.M., and Y.M., persons under eighteen years of age.
State of Utah, Appellee. V.S., Appellant,
District Juvenile Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable
C. Dane Nolan No. 1114145
Michael J. Scott, Attorney for Appellant
D. Reyes, Carol L.C. Verdoia, and John M. Peterson, Attorneys
Pierce, Guardian ad Litem for A.M., L.M., and Y.M.
Judges Gregory K. Orme, J. Frederic Voros Jr., and David N.
V.S. (Mother) appeals the termination of her parental rights
to her children. We affirm.
"Whether a parent's rights should be terminated
presents a mixed question of law and fact." In re
B.R., 2007 UT 82, ¶ 12, 171 P.3d 435. "Because
of the factually intense nature of such an inquiry, the
juvenile court's decision should be afforded a high
degree of deference." Id. "Thus, in order
to overturn the juvenile court's decision '[t]he
result must be against the clear weight of the evidence or
leave the appellate court with a firm and definite conviction
that a mistake has been made.'" Id.
(alteration in original) (quoting In re Z.D., 2006
UT 54, ¶¶ 33, 40, 147 P.3d 401). Further,
"[w]hen a foundation for the court's decision exists
in the evidence, an appellate court may not engage in a
reweighing of the evidence." Id.
The juvenile court determined that several grounds supported
termination of Mother's parental rights. The juvenile
court concluded that Mother neglected or abused the children,
see Utah Code Ann. § 78A-6-507(1)(b)
(LexisNexis 2012), and was an unfit or incompetent parent,
see id. § 78A-6-507(1)(c). The court also
concluded that Mother failed in her parental adjustment
because the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) made
reasonable and appropriate efforts to return the children to
her and that Mother had been "unable or unwilling,
within a reasonable time, to substantially correct the
circumstances, conduct, or conditions that led to placement
of [the children] outside [her] home." See id.
§ 78A-6-507(1)(e). The court further concluded that the
children had been in an out-of-home placement under the
supervision of DCFS, see id. §
78A-6-507(1)(d)(i); that Mother had "substantially
neglected, willfully refused, or ha[d] been unable or
unwilling to remedy the circumstances that caused the child
to be in an out-of-home placement, " see id.
§ 78A-6-507(1)(d)(ii); and that "there is a
substantial likelihood that [Mother] will not be capable of
exercising proper and effective parental care in the near
future, " see id. § 78A-6-507(1)(d)(iii).
The juvenile court found that it was "strictly
necessary" to terminate Mother's parental rights.
See id. § 78A-6-507(1). After finding grounds
for termination, the court concluded it was in the
children's best interest that Mother's parental
rights be terminated. See id. § 78A-6-503(12).
"Utah law requires a court to make two distinct findings
before terminating a parent-child relationship." In
re R.A.J., 1999 UT App 329, ¶ 7, 991 P.2d 1118.
"First, the court must find that the parent is below
some minimum threshold of fitness, such as a finding that a
parent is unfit or incompetent based on any of the grounds
for termination" in section 78A-6-507. Id.
(citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
"Second, the court must find that the best interests and
welfare of the child are served by terminating . . . parental
rights." Id. Under Utah Code section 78A-6-507,
the finding of a single ground will support termination of
parental rights. See id. § 78A-6-507(1). The
evidence supports the juvenile court's conclusion that
Mother failed in her parental adjustment. Similarly, the
evidence supports the findings under Utah Code section
DCFS began working with Mother and her children in January
2014, after receiving numerous referrals for non-supervision
and environmental neglect, as well as educational neglect of
the oldest child, S.M. After two incidents of non-supervision
in April 2015, DCFS filed a petition and expedited motion for
temporary custody. Mother stipulated to the removal of the
children. The juvenile court adjudicated the children as
neglected by Mother. At the disposition hearing in May 2015,
the juvenile court set a permanency goal of reunification
with a concurrent goal of adoption. The court incorporated
the Child and Family Plan into a court order, requiring
Mother to maintain housing and employment, complete a
psychological evaluation and follow any resulting
recommendations, attend visits with the children, engage in
family counseling, and participate in peer parenting.
Mother received diagnoses of bipolar disorder, dependent
personality disorders, and parent-child relational problems.
The psychological evaluation recommended that Mother obtain a
medication evaluation, participate in individual therapy,
participate in parenting training and family therapy, and
participate in Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) with
S.M. Mother participated in individual therapy, but "she
made minimal progress and did not achieve any of her
therapeutic goals." DCFS helped Mother obtain six months
of medication for Mother while she was uninsured.
Mother's mental health was noticeably better when she
took her medication. In November 2015, Mother and S.M. began
PCIT. Throughout the case, Mother had a difficult time
keeping therapy appointments and often arrived late. In
response, the providers switched to providing therapy in the
evening after Mother's work, either at Mother's
apartment or a nearby DCFS office. In April 2016, the
juvenile court extended reunification services for an
additional ninety days. Mother had a difficult time
understanding and applying what she learned, but the
therapist providing PCIT testified that towards the end of
the reunification period, Mother was making a more concerted
effort and was showing progress in PCIT therapy.
When S.M. came into DCFS custody, he exhibited severe ADHD
symptoms and was not receiving medication. He was reactive
and displayed emotional outbursts and aggressive behaviors.
S.M. was placed in a proctor home, which is a specialized
foster home that provides additional structure and training.
The youngest child, Y.M., was also placed in this foster
home. S.M. attended therapy and schooling for his behavioral
issues and has an aide at school. When A.M. and L.M. came
into DCFS custody, they had behavioral issues and had delayed
language skills. Neither child reacted appropriately to being
told "no, " and they engaged in screaming fits.
L.M. exhibited a "terrible temper, " was verbally
abusive, and used vulgar language. A.M. was submissive to
L.M. These two children were placed in a separate foster home
from their siblings and attended a specialized preschool. The
foster families both provided mentoring and food assistance
to Mother. The juvenile court found that the children's
behavioral problems and developmental limitations at the time
they were placed in DCFS custody were the direct result of
Mother's neglect and poor parenting.
In May 2016, the juvenile court granted a stipulated motion
for a trial home placement, which allowed Mother to
participate in the peer parenting program. This involved only
L.M. and A.M. being in the home for a half-day one time a
week and all four of the children being in the home for a
full day on the weekend. Thus, once the trial home placement
was ongoing, Mother had the children in her home
approximately one-and-a-half days of every week, which was
when she was off work. Mother received peer parenting
services after the children were placed in the home. The
juvenile court found that Mother did not meet any of the peer
parenting goals and was not able to implement the skills she
was taught. Mother was never able to take care of the
children on a full-time basis. Mother worked ...