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In re Termination of Parental Rights to AE

June 15, 2009

IN THE MATTER OF THE TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS TO AE AND DE, MINOR CHILDREN:
JD AND SE, APPELLANTS (RESPONDENTS),
v.
STATE OF WYOMING, DEPARTMENT OF FAMILY SERVICES, APPELLEE (PETITIONER).



Appeal from the District Court of Natrona County The Honorable W. Thomas Sullins, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Burke, Justice.

Before VOIGT, C.J., and GOLDEN, HILL, KITE, and BURKE, JJ.

[¶1] JD (Mother) and SE (Father) appeal from the district court's termination of their parental rights with their two minor children. We will affirm.

ISSUES

[¶2] Mother states two issues, which we have reworded slightly:

1. Did the State of Wyoming, Department of Family Services, establish by clear and convincing evidence that reasonable efforts were made to reunify the family, and that the health and safety of the children would be jeopardized by returning them to Mother?

2. Did the State of Wyoming, Department of Family Services, establish by clear and convincing evidence that Mother is an unfit parent?

Father raises essentially the same issues, though with regard to family reunification, he further asserts that DFS failed to follow applicable rules and statutes.

FACTS

[¶3] On April 5, 2005, DFS received an anonymous telephone call indicating that Mother and Father were selling drugs from their home. The caller also stated that the home was filthy, with dirty diapers spread around and spoiled food left on the living room floor and on the kitchen counters. DFS contacted the Casper Police Department, and requested a welfare check of the home.

[¶4] Upon arriving at the home, the police made contact with three adults, a three-year-old girl, and a two-year-old boy. Both children wore only diapers, and were described as being very dirty. In the home, a police officer observed dirty diapers, rotten food, and garbage strewn on the floors. The officer had trouble entering the children's bedroom because the doorknob was inoperable. Eventually getting the door open, he observed a single mattress with no bed frame, sheets, or bedding. The officer was struck with "a very intense odor," and observed fecal matter smeared on the mattress, walls, and furniture. The officer closed the door again because he "was actually about ready to vomit."

[¶5] In the parents' room, the officer observed blow torches lying on the bed, a bottle of weed killer on the dresser, and dirty clothes and garbage throughout the room. As the officer left the bedroom, Mother told him that he might find methamphetamine pipes under the bed. He asked for permission to search, and Mother consented. Under the bed, he found a metal box containing several glass methamphetamine pipes, and many small bags of a kind he knew were used to carry methamphetamine. Elsewhere in the house, he observed other chemicals and equipment of a kind used in manufacturing methamphetamine.

[¶6] At this point, the officer apparently made two decisions. First, he decided that the children should be taken into protective custody, and he called DFS for assistance with that. Second, he decided to call his sergeant to discuss arresting the adults in connection with the methamphetamine paraphernalia and precursor chemicals the officer had observed. While speaking to his sergeant, however, the police officer began to cough uncontrollably and vomit. The sergeant ordered the police officer to seek medical attention, and dispatched other law enforcement officials to the scene.

[¶7] Based on the police officer's request, a social worker from DFS arrived at the house to take custody of the children. She made similar observations of garbage, soiled diapers, and feces in the house, and of the children being dirty and unclothed. When the social worker asked for some clothing to take with the children, Mother placed some clothing in a plastic bag, but could not find shoes for the children. The clothing was later discarded because it was dirty and did not fit the children. The children, after being taken from the house, were delivered to a hospital for decontamination as the result of exposure to methamphetamine. Both children were found to be developmentally delayed. The younger child, for example, did not speak and could not use eating utensils. He also had respiratory and other medical problems.

[¶8] Following the search of the home, Mother and Father were arrested and charged with various crimes relating to the possession, manufacture, and delivery of methamphetamine. Their charges also related to manufacturing methamphetamine in the presence of the children. Pursuant to plea agreements, both parents were convicted on several charges. On January 4, 2006, Mother was sentenced on four counts, resulting in imprisonment for two to six years, and Father was sentenced on three counts, resulting in five to twelve years imprisonment.

[¶9] In the meantime, while the parents remained in custody, DFS filed a petition in the district court alleging child neglect, a claim later admitted by both Mother and Father. Acting on the petition, the district court ordered that the children be kept in the custody of DFS. Pursuant to the district court's order, DFS's multi-disciplinary team prepared a report on the children, recommending a case plan under which the parents would work toward reunification with the children. The parents agreed to the case plan in August 2005. The goal of the plan was family reunification or, failing that, placement of the children with relatives or other appropriate persons. The parents agreed that, once their criminal charges were resolved and they were out of jail, they would attend parenting classes, submit to urinalysis testing, and obtain suitable housing and employment. While the parents remained in jail, however, they were unable to perform the tasks called for in the case plan. Mother did write several letters to the children while she was incarcerated, and the children sent her letters and photographs. Father apparently wrote to the children only twice.

[ΒΆ10] After various status conferences and interim hearings, the district court convened a disposition hearing on January 12, 2006. Finding that the children had been in DFS custody for approximately nine months and that the parents were serving substantial prison sentences, the district court concluded that reunification of the family was no longer a realistic goal. It instead ordered a plan for termination of parental rights and adoption of the children. In response, DFS filed a petition for termination of parental rights on April 12, 2006. The hearing on this petition was not completed until March 31, 2008. The trial court concluded that DFS had established, by clear ...


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