IN THE MATTER OF: X.B. and I.B., Youths in Need of Care.
Submitted on Briefs: May 2, 2018
FROM: District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, In and
For the County of Missoula, Cause Nos. DN 14-113 and DN
14-114 Honorable Robert L. Deschamps, III, Presiding Judge
Appellant: Katy Stack, Stack & Kottke, PLLC, Missoula,
Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Katie F.
Schulz, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana, Kirsten
H. Pabst, Missoula County Attorney, Kelly D. Henkel, Deputy
County Attorney, Missoula, Montana
S.B. (Father) appeals from two orders of the Fourth Judicial
District Court, Missoula County, terminating his parental
rights to his minor children, X.B. and I.B. We affirm and
address the following issues:
1. Did the District Court abuse its discretion in
determining that Father failed to successfully complete an
appropriate treatment plan?
2. Did the District Court err in concluding that
Father's conduct or condition rendering him unfit to
parent was unlikely to change within a reasonable amount of
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
W.L. (Mother) and Father are the natural parents of I.B.,
born in 2012, and X.B., born in 2014. Mother voluntarily
relinquished her rights to the children and this appeal only
concerns the District Court's termination of Father's
parental rights. In October and November 2014, the Department
of Public Health and Human Services, Child and Family
Services Division (the Department) received reports that
Mother and Father used drugs, specifically methamphetamine
and marijuana; failed to adequately supervise the children;
kept an unsanitary home; and did not ensure the children
received medical care. After completing a present danger
plan, the Department removed the children and placed them in
kinship foster care in Missoula. In December 2014, the
Department filed a Petition for Emergency Protective Services
(EPS), Adjudication as Youth in Need of Care (YINC), and
Temporary Legal Custody (TLC). The District Court granted EPS
and subsequently conducted a show cause hearing on January
22, 2015. Father agreed to adjudication of the children as
YINC and the court granted the Department TLC for six months.
In the spring of 2015, the children moved to a different
kinship foster care placement in Helena.
In March 2015, the District Court approved Father's
Treatment Plan, to which he stipulated. The Treatment Plan
specifically required Father to complete a psychological
evaluation within two months or as soon as possible; complete
a chemical dependency evaluation within two months; complete
parenting classes within two months and participate in
parenting coaching sessions; apply for housing assistance and
obtain safe and stable housing within three months;
participate in counseling or therapy sessions; not use or
possess any alcohol or non-prescription drugs; submit to
random alcohol and drug testing; regularly visit the
children; and obtain steady employment.
Initially, Father struggled to comply with his Treatment
Plan, only participating in a few supervised visits before
the children moved to Helena. In July 2015, Father failed to
attend a status hearing, at which the Department asked to
extend TLC for another six months. The children's Court
Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) disagreed with the
Department's request to extend TLC. The CASA noted that
Father had made no effort to complete his Treatment
Plan-Father did not have housing, did not comply with drug
testing, and missed his scheduled psychological evaluation.
The CASA suggested that the Department move for termination,
noting that the children's kinship foster placement
provided them stability and permanence. The Department's
social worker noted that, based on the children's needs
and Father's complete disengagement from the process,
early termination may be in the children's best interest.
The District Court noted Father's lack of motivation and
considered not extending TLC, but ultimately decided to
extend for six months.
In August 2015, Father was arrested for possession of
methamphetamine with intent to distribute. Father was
released the following month and started misdemeanor
probation and pretrial supervision. Father's pretrial
supervision officer found Father difficult to get along with
at that time. Father continued to use marijuana, had a poor
attitude, and failed to follow through with his tasks.
Father began to engage in recommended services in October
2015, when he completed a chemical dependency evaluation. The
evaluator diagnosed Father with stimulant use disorder,
methamphetamine type, severe, and a secondary diagnosis of
cannabis use disorder, moderate. Father subsequently began
intensive outpatient treatment to address his drug problems.
He stopped using drugs and began passing his drug tests.
Father also improved his attitude and expressed a desire to
get his children back. Father started to make payments on his
financial obligations to the court, which included
restitution, fines, and other fees.
The District Court held another status hearing in November
2015, at which Father appeared and demonstrated that he had
started to work on certain portions of his Treatment Plan.
Father was living with his mother (Grandmother) at her home
in Missoula. Father obtained employment, was still
participating in intensive outpatient treatment, and
scheduled his psychological evaluation. Father started to
attend parenting classes, but reported that he would have to
restart the course at a later date because the classes
conflicted with his drug treatment. The court noted
Father's efforts and the Department agreed that Father
was taking appropriate steps.
Father completed his psychological evaluation on November 24,
2015. The evaluator noted that Father needed to accomplish
and maintain sobriety, recommending that Father continue with
intensive outpatient treatment and random drug testing. The
evaluator also discovered that Father struggled with
depression and suggested that he consider antidepressant
medication and cease marijuana use to help his mood. Father
also needed to maintain employment and obtain ...