Anna S. v. State, S-18152

CourtSupreme Court of Alaska (US)
PartiesANNA S., Appellant, v. STATE OF ALASKA, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH & SOCIAL SERVICES, OFFICE OF CHILDREN'S SERVICES, Appellee.
Docket NumberS-18152,1918
Decision Date31 August 2022

ANNA S., Appellant,
v.

STATE OF ALASKA, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH & SOCIAL SERVICES, OFFICE OF CHILDREN'S SERVICES, Appellee.

No. S-18152

No. 1918

Supreme Court of Alaska

August 31, 2022


UNPUBLISHED See Alaska Appellate Rule 214(d)

Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Palmer, Kristen C. Stohler, Judge. Superior Court No. 3PA-19-00174/ 00175/00176 CN

Megan M. Rowe, Alaska Legal Drafting, Anchorage, for Appellant.

Mary Ann Lundquist, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Fairbanks, and Treg R. Taylor, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellee.

Before: Winfree, Chief Justice, Maassen, Carney, Borghesan, and Henderson, Justices.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND JUDGMENT [*]

I. INTRODUCTION

At the conclusion of a termination trial, the superior court found by clear and convincing evidence that three children were in need of aid because of their mother's substance abuse. The court also found by clear and convincing evidence that the Office of Children's Services (OCS) had made reasonable efforts to reunify the mother with her

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children. And the court found that the mother had failed to remedy her conduct because, although she made some progress in the months immediately before trial, she had refused to work with OCS for the first fourteen months her children were in custody. The court terminated the mother's parental rights. The mother appeals and we affirm the termination.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Removal And Emergency Petition

Anna S.[1] is the mother of five children. Her three minor children are the subject of this appeal.[2]

In October 2019 OCS responded to a report that Anna was neglecting her children due to her substance abuse. Anna was having visual hallucinations when the caseworker arrived at her home. Anna told the caseworker that "little people were running around the house," that "people could sexually abuse her children through the television," and that there were letters in her son's stool which she had collected in a bag and put by the door. Anna agreed to a drug test which was positive for methamphetamine, amphetamine, and opiates. The caseworker attempted to create a safety plan with Anna, but Anna was not capable of doing so at that time. While the caseworker was at the home, police officers arrived to conduct a welfare check. They had to use flashlights to see inside because most of the lights did not work. After Anna's step-father arrived to pick up the children, the police took Anna to the local emergency

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room.[3]

The following day OCS filed a petition for emergency custody of the three children.[4] The petition alleged that the children were in need of aid due to abandonment, physical harm, neglect, parental substance abuse, and parental mental illness.[5] In an emergency hearing the superior court found probable cause that the children were in need of aid based on each of the five allegations in the petition and awarded OCS temporary custody.

B. OCS's Efforts To Reunify Anna With Her Children

The assigned caseworker notified Anna by text about the initial emergency hearing and asked her to call the OCS office. Anna responded with an expletive and did not attend the hearing. Shortly after the hearing, the caseworker made referrals for urinalysis (UA) and family visitation. The caseworker informed Anna she could begin UAs and visitation once she contacted the caseworker. The caseworker contacted Anna again the following month to try to arrange visits with the children. Anna missed the visits that were scheduled in November and December.

In January 2020 another caseworker was assigned. In an attempt to better accommodate Anna's schedule, the caseworker set up a new visitation schedule and sent a new referral for visitation. The caseworker also tried to arrange an in-person meeting

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with Anna, but Anna neither responded to the caseworker nor attended the meeting. The caseworker then emailed Anna's attorney to attempt to contact Anna. The caseworker made further attempts to contact Anna in January and February, but to no avail.

The caseworker made a case plan for Anna in February. The case plan listed three goals: to live a safe and sober lifestyle; to become a safe parent capable of meeting the physical, emotional, and developmental needs of her children; and to build and maintain a relationship with her children that would help them process their past trauma. The plan also outlined specific steps to help Anna achieve those goals, including signing releases of information with her providers, participating in an integrated substance abuse and mental health assessment and a domestic violence assessment, attending UA appointments and visits, and enrolling in a parental education course and a childhood development course.

The caseworker was finally able to contact Anna in March and held a case planning meeting. The caseworker gave Anna a copy of her case plan, a services resources guide, a calendar, and contact information for services. Anna told the caseworker that her car was not running. She denied using illegal drugs and told the caseworker that the incident described in the emergency petition did not happen. Following the meeting, Anna attended a scheduled hearing and stipulated that her children were in need of aid without admitting any facts. About a week after the meeting, the caseworker provided Anna with five hundred dollars worth of cab fare vouchers to enable her to attend UAs, visits, and other case-related activities.

A third caseworker was assigned in May 2020. That caseworker tried repeatedly to contact Anna by text message and phone call. He met Anna at her home and provided her with another copy of the case plan. He asked Anna whether there were problems that were keeping her from working on her case plan, and provided her with bus passes as an alternative to the cab vouchers. He stressed that her case plan required

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her to have a mental health and substance abuse assessment and encouraged her to schedule one.

The case worker contacted Anna again the following month to try to set up another in-person meeting. By then Anna had not provided any UAs in March, April, or May and had missed most of the scheduled visits with her children. The caseworker explained the OCS policy to cancel UAs or visits if a parent missed four in a row, and warned Anna that if she continued on her current path UAs and visits would be cancelled.

The caseworker continued to attempt to reach Anna throughout the summer. He met with her in person in early July. He gave her the case plan, encouraged her to "start with three things that she can accomplish" and to tell him if there was anything he could do to help arrange visits. Since the children's grandparents lived over an hour away, and Anna was often late or did not attend family visits, OCS implemented a policy requiring her to show up an hour before the children were scheduled to arrive. OCS explained the policy was also designed to minimize the emotional trauma the missed visits caused Anna's children. Because Anna was not able to comply with the policy, visitation was suspended in August. The caseworker notified Anna about the suspension of visits and later about an upcoming court date.

In October Anna was arrested for driving under the influence and drug possession. Following her release from jail, Anna sent the caseworker long text messages, but did not answer her phone when he tried to call her. The caseworker continued to try to reach her by text and phone calls to encourage her to work on her case plan. He also informed her by phone of court dates.

OCS filed a permanency report in October, changing the goal for the children from reunification with Anna to adoption by their grandparents. At a permanency hearing, the court found that the children remained in need of aid, that

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OCS's recommendation of adoption was an appropriate permanency plan, and that OCS had made reasonable efforts. Anna opposed the children's adoption and reserved the right to contest the court's permanency findings at a termination trial.

In December 2020 she tested positive for several illegal substances. Anna completed a substance abuse and mental health assessment. She met with the caseworker a few days later, and provided him the assessor's recommendations for a psychological evaluation, group therapy, and parenting and relapse prevention classes. The assessor had also diagnosed Anna with opioid dependence and recommended that she participate in intensive outpatient substance abuse treatment. Anna began attending classes at her church.[6] Anna also continued to maintain that the incident that led to OCS's custody of the children never occurred and that she had not taken prescription or illegal substances. When the caseworker asked about her October DUI and positive UA, Anna stated that she had used substances for a two-month period right before that event but never used them again. Later in December Anna tested positive for oxycodone.

By January 2021 Anna moved in with a friend and began attending counseling arranged by OCS. She kept some of her UA appointments - one UA was positive for oxycodone, two were negative, and she missed two. She continued attending church and classes arranged by the church. She also began attending outpatient substance abuse treatment. The caseworker was able to stay in contact with Anna during the following three months.

In March 2021 Anna asked if she could begin a trial home visit with the children because she was about to complete her outpatient treatment. The caseworker explained she had not made enough progress in her case plan and explained additional

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steps she needed to complete, including being honest about her past substance abuse. In April they had a similar discussion. The caseworker also continued to encourage Anna to complete the psychological evaluation, but she did not.

C. Termination Trial

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