IN THE MATTER OF: L.M.F., N.R.F., N.M.F., K.J.F., and K.W.F., Youths in Need of Care.
Submitted on Briefs: December 28, 2016
FROM: District Court of the Thirteenth Judicial District, In
and For the County of Yellowstone, Cause Nos. DN 14-006, DN
14-009, DN 14-131, DN 14-007, and DN 14-008 Honorable Mary
Jane Knisely, Presiding Judge
Appellant: Tracy Labin Rhodes, Attorney at Law, Missoula,
Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Katie F.
Schulz, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana Scott D.
Twito, Yellowstone County Attorney, Corbit S. Harrington,
Deputy County Attorney, Billings, Montana
McGrath, Chief Justice
Pursuant to Section I, Paragraph 3(c), 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
L.F. (Mother) appeals from the May 14, 2016 order terminating
her parental rights to her children L.M.F., N.R.F., N.M.F.,
K.J.F., and K.W.F. We affirm.
In September 2013, the Department of Public Health and Human
Services (Department) received reports of concern for
Mother's children. To increase Mother's parenting
skills the family began home visits with Barb Wood of the
Family Support Network. Wood reported the home was chaotic
including fighting, joblessness, forced evictions, and
homelessness. Mother lacked parenting skills and neglected
the children's needs. Due to her continuing crises, she
was unable to make progress in her parenting skills. The
Department received a report of alleged physical abuse in the
home by the father of one of the children in November
2013. Mother began regularly attending mental
health counselling and had an initial psychological
evaluation. The oldest two children were diagnosed with
special needs. Mother appeared to have no real emotional
connection with the children.
L.M.F., N.R.F., N.M.F., and K.J.F. were removed from
Mother's care on February 11, 2014, after Mother
displayed physical violence toward one child after losing her
temper. The Department filed a Petition for Emergency
Protective Services (EPS), Adjudication as Youths in Need of
Care (YINC), and Temporary Legal Custody (TLC). Mother
stipulated to the adjudication as YINC at the show cause
hearing in March 2014, and the children were adjudicated as
such in April 2014. The four cases were consolidated. In
March 2014, Mother had a neuropsychological evaluation, which
indicated she was mildly impaired though functional, had
depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, as well
as symptoms consistent with borderline personality disorder.
Testimony indicated Mother's mental health and
personality disorders created a high risk of harm to the
children through violence and neglect.
In June 2014, Mother participated in the creation of and
signed a treatment plan, which the District Court approved.
Neither Mother nor her counsel objected to the treatment
plan. The plan called for Mother to complete significant
activities to address her mental health, anger management,
and domestic violence issues. It required her to improve her
parenting skills, to improve and maintain her parent-child
relationships, and to internalize and show progress in those
skills. Finally, she was required to provide a safe, stable,
and healthy environment for her children. Mother completed
psychological exams, violence risk assessments, and parenting
In October 2014, Mother had a fifth child, K.W.F., who was
placed immediately with the Department, adjudicated as a
YINC, and TLC was granted. On December 20, 2014, Mother was
arrested for partner/family member assault.
The Department was concerned that Mother was not
internalizing her treatment, demonstrating sufficient
parenting abilities or lifestyle changes, and continued to be
unable to understand how her actions and stress influenced
her parenting abilities and her children. At a visitation
with the children, Mother seemed unable to engage with them.
She was defensive, inconsistent, and frustrated with the
children and unable to understand the children's needs.
However, Mother continued working on her treatment plan
through May 2015. TLC was extended multiple times based on
Mother's engagement with the Department and her ongoing
work with her treatment plan. A status hearing was held in
In December 2015, the Department filed for termination of
Mother's parental rights to her five children, based on
the fact that she had not completed the treatment plan and
her inability to "benefit from the services at a level
which allows her to safely parent her children." The
termination of parental rights hearing concluded after five
days of testimony. The District Court terminated Mother's
parental rights, finding the treatment plan was appropriate,
yet not successful, and that the condition of Mother
rendering her unfit was unlikely to change within a
This Court reviews a district court's decision to
terminate parental rights for an abuse of discretion. In
re T.S., 2013 MT 274, ¶ 21, 372 Mont. 79, 310 P.3d
538. A district court's decision to terminate a
parent's rights will not be disturbed on appeal unless
there is a mistake of law or a finding of fact not supported
by substantial evidence that ...