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In re Termination of Parental Rights to SRJ

July 28, 2009

IN THE MATTER OF THE TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS TO SRJ AND CDJ, MINOR CHILDREN:
MDW, APPELLANT (RESPONDENT),
v.
HOT SPRINGS COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF FAMILY SERVICES, APPELLEE (PETITIONER).



Appeal from the District Court of Hot Springs County, The Honorable Dan Spangler, Judge.

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

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

[¶1] Mother, MDW, appeals the district court's decision terminating her parental rights. We affirm.

ISSUES

[¶2] Mother lists two issues:

1. The district court erred in finding clear and convincing evidence existed to terminate the parental rights of Appellant under Wyo. Stat. § 14-2-309(a)(iii) (LexisNexis 2007). The evidence was not sufficient to establish "reasonable efforts" to rehabilitate the family by the Appellee.

2. The district court erred in finding clear and convincing evidence existed to terminate the parental rights of Appellant under Wyo. Stat. § 14-2-309(a)(v) (LexisNexis 2007). The evidence was not sufficient to establish Appellant was an "unfit parent" at the time of the hearing.

FACTS

[¶3] MDW is the biological Mother of SRJ, born in 1994, and CDJ, born in 1997. In 2005, Mother lost her job and her apartment in Casper, Wyoming, and she and her daughters moved in with relatives in Thermopolis. There, she began telephoning the local police chief about concerns for her daughters' safety and her own. On October 13, 2005, Mother met with the police chief, and one of several fears she expressed was that someone was poisoning her food. Mother agreed to testing at the hospital. She tested positive for methamphetamine. Based on Mother's positive drug test, her unusual behavior that he perceived as paranoid, and her expressed concern about the daughters' safety in their current residence, the police chief took the children into protective custody.

[¶4] In subsequent court proceedings, Mother conceded allegations of child neglect made by the Department of Family Services. The daughters were placed in foster care, and the Department began working with Mother on a case management plan with the stated goal of family reunification. Plan objectives for Mother included maintaining a residence and stable employment, completing psychological and substance abuse evaluations and treatments, and engaging in appropriate visitation with the daughters. After nearly two years, the Department concluded that Mother had not made satisfactory progress under the plan. It petitioned to terminate her parental rights. Following two days of testimony on July 28 and 29, 2008, the district court granted the petition. Mother appealed.*fn1

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶5] Our standard of review in cases involving termination of parental rights has been stated as follows:

Due to the tension between the fundamental liberty of familial association and the compelling state interest in protecting the welfare of children, application of statutes for termination of parental rights is a matter for strict scrutiny. As part of this strict scrutiny standard, a case for termination of parental rights must be established by clear and convincing evidence. Clear and convincing evidence is that kind of proof that would persuade a trier of fact that the truth of the contention is highly probable. Rigorous though this standard may be, we apply our traditional principles of evidentiary review when a party challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting termination. Thus, we examine the evidence in the light most favorable to the party prevailing below, assuming all favorable evidence to be true while discounting conflicting evidence presented by the unsuccessful party.

MN v. Department of Family Servs., 2003 WY 135, ¶ 5, 78 P.3d 232, 234 (Wyo. 2003) ...


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