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In re S.C.L.

Supreme Court of Montana

March 19, 2019

IN THE MATTER OF: S.C.L., A Youth in Need of Care.

          Submitted on Briefs: January 9, 2019

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, In and For the County of Missoula, Cause No. DN-16-153 Honorable John W. Larson, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Kelly M. Driscoll, Montana Legal Justice, PLLC, Missoula, Montana

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Mardell Ployhar, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana

          Kirsten H. Pabst, Missoula County Attorney, Jessica Finley, Deputy County Attorney, Missoula, Montana

          OPINION

          Ingrid Gustafson Justice.

         ¶1 A.C.L. (Mother) appeals from an order of the Fourth Judicial District Court, Missoula County, terminating her parental rights to her child S.C.L. (Child). We affirm.

         ¶2 The issue on appeal is:

         Whether the District Court abused its discretion in terminating Mother's parental rights.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         ¶3 In October 2016, Mother delivered Child in a hospital bathroom. Child tested positive for methamphetamine at birth and the Child and Family Services Division of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (Department) removed Child from Mother's care. Mother told the Department who she believed the Child's father (Father) was, but paternity was never confirmed. The Department eventually lost contact with him. At the time of Child's removal, Mother had three prior children, none of whom resided with Mother. Two of the children were placed with their maternal grandmother through a guardianship proceeding and the other child was placed with his paternal grandparents through a private parenting plan.

         ¶4 On October 25, 2016, the Department filed a Petition for Emergency Protective Services (EPS), Adjudication of Child as a Youth in Need of Care (YINC), and Temporary Legal Custody (TLC) of Child. The District Court granted EPS on October 26, 2016. In December 2016, the District Court found that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) did not apply to Child. On December 21, 2016, the District Court adjudicated Child as a YINC and granted the Department TLC. Mother was not present and the court entered her default. On March 7, 2017, the court found Mother's treatment plan appropriate and ordered her to complete it. Over the next several months, Mother failed to meet with the Department to go over her treatment plan and did not complete any of the required tasks. Mother failed to attend many of the hearings in this matter.[1]

         ¶5 On December 4, 2017, the Department petitioned to terminate Mother's and Father's parental rights to Child. In its petition to terminate Mother's parental rights, the Department cited that Mother failed to complete the treatment plan, that Mother was unlikely to change the conduct or condition rendering her unfit to parent Child within a reasonable time, and that Mother abandoned Child. Section 41-3-609(1)(b), (d), (f), MCA. On December 7, 2017, Mother failed to attend a permanency hearing. The District Court scheduled a termination hearing on February 2, 2018, for which Father was served by publication and Mother was hand-served while incarcerated at the Missoula County Detention Facility. Mother attended the termination hearing and testified on her own behalf. On April 18, 2018, the District Court issued a thirty-page order terminating Mother's and Father's parental rights to Child. The District Court terminated Mother's parental rights pursuant to § 41-3-609(1)(f), MCA. The District Court found Mother failed to complete her treatment plan and the condition or conduct rendering her unfit, unwilling or unable to parent was unlikely to change within a reasonable time. The District Court found:

The conduct or condition of Mother renders her unfit, unable or unwilling to provide adequate parental care to [Child]. This conduct or condition is unlikely to change within a reasonable time as demonstrated by Mother's history of substance use and chemical dependency, Mother's history of not being in a safe position to care for her older children, Mother's abandonment of [Child] for nearly 8 months during this proceeding, Mother's lack of engagement in the reunification process, Mother's unwillingness to comply with the main objectives of her Treatment Plan, Mother's unwillingness to follow through with treatment services and service providers, Mother's ...

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