IN THE MATTER OF: Q.R.K., A Youth in Need of Care.
Submitted on Briefs: April 24, 2013
APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, In and For the County of Missoula, Cause No. DN 09-53 Honorable John W. Larson, Presiding Judge.
For Appellant: Johnna K. Baffa; Van de Wetering Law Offices, P.C.; Missoula, Montana.
For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General; Katie F. Schulz; Assistant Attorney General; Helena, Montana
Fred R. Van Valkenburg, Missoula County Attorney; Diane Connor, Deputy Missoula County Attorney; Missoula, Montana
Beth Baker Justice
¶1 Pursuant to Section I, Paragraph 3(d), Montana Supreme Court Internal Operating Rules, this case is decided by memorandum opinion and shall not be cited and does not serve as precedent. Its case title, cause number, and disposition shall be included in this Court's quarterly list of noncitable cases published in the Pacific Reporter and Montana Reports.
¶2 L.R., the biological mother of Q.R.K., appeals an order of the Montana Fourth Judicial District Court, Missoula County, terminating her parental rights to Q.R.K. and granting permanent legal custody to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS or the Department). We affirm.
¶3 In September 2009, Missoula County police officers were asked to check on the welfare of a woman, L.R., who was intoxicated and unconscious at a local restaurant with her three-year-old daughter, Q.R.K. The police arrested L.R. and a social worker referred Q.R.K.'s case to DPHHS. On the ground that L.R. had abused or neglected Q.R.K., the Department filed a petition for emergency protective services. In April 2010, by stipulation of the parties, the court adjudicated Q.R.K. as a youth in need of care and awarded temporary legal custody of the child to DPHHS, which placed Q.R.K. with a foster family.
¶4 On July 27, 2010, following a hearing, the District Court approved in open court a phase-one treatment plan for L.R., which it then formally adopted on September 14, 2010. The treatment plan stated that L.R.'s history of chemical dependency and mental health issues, which were consistent with schizophrenia, had impaired her ability to effectively care for and parent Q.R.K.—a special needs child diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder (RAD). The plan provided detailed tasks and goals, as well as measures of success including, among other factors, L.R.'s demonstration of "regular and improved parenting" and "put[ting] Q.K. first." On motion of the Department, the District Court subsequently extended the order for temporary legal custody until April 2011 to allow L.R. more time to work toward completion of the treatment plan. The court also approved the permanency plan of reunification if L.R. successfully completed her treatment plan within a reasonable time and reunification was found to be in the child's best interest.
¶5 In April 2011, the Department filed a petition to terminate L.R.'s parental rights to Q.R.K. The District Court denied that petition, citing L.R.'s progress, as well as her persistence in attending counseling sessions, parent-coaching sessions and court hearings. Instead, the court approved a phase-two treatment plan, which stated in part that "[f]or reunification to occur, [L.R.] will need to demonstrate consistently that she can positively and safely parent [Q.R.K.] without any coaching or support."
¶6 DPHHS filed a second petition to terminate L.R.'s parental rights in July 2012. The Department alleged that L.R. had failed to comply with the phase-two treatment plan and that the plan had not been successful. The District Court held a termination hearing on the matter over a period of three days in September 2012.
¶7 During the hearing, the District Court heard testimony from fourteen different witnesses, including mental health counselors, social workers, and four psychologists who had evaluated both L.R. and Q.R.K. Although the psychologists generally commended L.R. for her dedication to and love for Q.R.K., they also testified that L.R. lacked basic parenting skills and that she could not adequately care for a high needs child with reactive attachment disorder. One psychologist stated that children with RAD require high levels of structure, consistency and clear feedback. L.R. was unable to provide such support due to her mental illness, but another psychologist testified that Q.R.K.'s foster parents had been able to do so. A third psychologist worried that Q.R.K. was "aging out" of the window in which attachment therapy, a means to address RAD, still would be effective.
¶8 The court also heard testimony from counselors who had provided hundreds of hours of parenting lessons to L.R. These counselors testified that L.R. could not provide the parental care that Q.R.K. needed, that any progress L.R. had made in her parenting skills was ...