Brief Fact Summary. Mother gave birth to a child with special needs, and mother’s current mental limitations and situation limited her ability to care for the child. Child services eventually petitioned the court for permanent termination of parental rights.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. The court erred in finding by clear and convincing evidence that the child’s integration into mother’s home was improbable in the foreseeable future due to conditions unlikely to change, even though mother was willing to work towards being a more capable mother and child services failed to provide opportunities for this.
Issue. Did the court err in determining that mother lacked the capacity to care for her special needs child?
Held. The court erred because the state failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the child’s integration into mother’s home was improbable in the foreseeable future due to conditions unlikely to change.
CSD relied almost exclusively on the two evaluations conducted 16 and 10 months earlier. One of the evaluators conceded at the proceedings that she was incapable of rendering an informed decision as to the mother’s ability to care for the child at the time of the hearing or in the foreseeable future. Mother’s counselor disputed the diagnosis that she suffered from organic personality syndrome, and testified that her organizational deficits were related to post-traumatic stress disorder, and were improving and would continue to improve. The child’s pediatrician testified that the child’s medical problems were decreasing, but her developmental needs would increase in the future. He was unable to describe these future needs with particularity. Mother testified simply regarding her child’s special needs and her ability to meet them. CSD did not present any evidence of an imminent, compelling need to terminate mother’s rights rather than continuing foster care. Testimony reveale
d that the potential for adoption of the child was low.
The state must prove by clear and convincing evidence that a parent is presently unable to meet a child’s needs, and that integration of the child into the home of the parent is improbable in the foreseeable future due to conduct or conditions unlikely to change. The question of mother’s present ability is close and difficult, but the state failed to prove the second part of this standard. The mother never had a meaningful opportunity to develop and demonstrate parenting skills. CSD’s principle evaluator acknowledged that with appropriate guidance and training, the mother might ultimately assume primary responsibility for the child. CSD never provided such assistance. Given mother’s commitment to child and her determination to be a good parent, this Court is not satisfied that the conduct and conditions of the mother are unlikely to change.
Discussion. The Court made no determination regarding the mother’s immediate ability to care for her child, but determined that the lower court erred in determining that the child’s integration into mother’s home was improbable in the foreseeable future due to conditions unlikely to change.