IN THE MATTER OF: R.L., K.S. and T.S., Youths in Need of Care.
Submitted on Briefs: September 25, 2019
District Court of the Eighth Judicial District, In and For
the County of Cascade, Cause Nos. ADN 17-396, ADN 17-397, and
ADN 17-398 Honorable Gregory G. Pinski, Presiding Judge.
Appellant: Julie Brown, Montana Legal Justice, PLLC,
Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Katie F.
Schulz, Helena, Montana
A. Racki, County Attorney, Valerie Winfield, Deputy County
Attorney, Great Falls, Montana
S.L. (Mother) appeals from the termination of her parental
rights to R.L., K.S., and T.S. (Children) issued March 4,
2019, by the Eighth Judicial District Court, Cascade County.
We restate the issues on appeal as follows:
Whether the Department engaged in reasonable efforts to
prevent removal of Children and to reunite Mother with
Whether the District Court erred in determining the conduct
or condition rendering Mother unfit, unable, or unwilling to
parent was unlikely to change within a reasonable time.
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Prior to this case, the Montana Department of Health and
Human Services, Child and Family Services Division
(Department) had a history of prior intervention with this
family, including a four-month period in late 2016 when
Children were placed in foster care. At that time,
Mother's use of drugs was of concern to the Department as
such interfered with her ability to manage R.L.'s
diabetes. In early November 2017, R.L. required
hospitalization in treatment of diabetic ketoacidosis, again
raising concern that Mother was neglecting R.L.'s medical
needs. While investigating the situation, Mother exhibited
behavior indicative of drug or alcohol use including fast,
slurred, and tangential speech; erratic moods; and dilated
pupils. Mother refused to do a UA or participate with the
Department without a court order. T.S. and K.S. reported drug
use and related drug activities in the home and expressed
they did not feel safe in Mother's care. Given prior
intervention with the family regarding the same issues,
R.L.'s medical situation, T.S.'s and K.S.'s
reports, and Mother's refusal to work with the Department
on an informal basis, on November 21, 2017, the Department
filed petitions for Emergency Protective Services (EPS),
adjudication of Youth in Need of Care (YINC), and Temporary
Legal Custody (TLC) for all three Children, alleging physical
and medical neglect.
The show cause hearing was initially set for December 20,
2017, but the Department was unable to personally serve
Mother, requiring a continuance. Thereafter, CPS Julie Bass
attempted to conduct a home visit but was denied entry. She
set an appointment with Mother for the following day, but
Mother failed to appear. She also attempted to confirm Mother
had received the petition and notice of the show cause
hearing, but Mother refused to admit receipt of such.
Ultimately, the Department had to serve Mother through
In early 2018, the Department offered Mother a family group
decision making meeting but Mother did not follow through
with this. Mother did not appear for the hearing on February
14, 2018, at which the court adjudicated Children as youths
in need of care, or for the dispositional hearing on March
28, 2018. At this hearing, Mother's counsel reported that
she had not talked to Mother and had not been able to discuss
the Department's proposed treatment plan with Mother. At
the conclusion of this hearing, the District Court granted
the Department TLC for a period of six months and approved
the Department's proposed treatment plan for Mother.
Mother's treatment plan required her to complete a mental
health evaluation and follow the recommendations thereof;
complete an anger management evaluation and follow the
recommendations thereof; attend parenting classes; utilize a
family-based service provider; apply for Medicaid; sign
releases of information for the Department; and remain in
weekly contact with the Department.
The Department provided Mother with contact information and
referred her to Gateway and Misfits in Great Falls for a
mental health evaluation and additional counseling or
treatment if recommended. The Department also requested
Mother sign releases so the Department could obtain
information from these service providers. Mother did not
report receipt of any services from these providers and
failed to sign releases for any service providers.
Mother failed to appear at the status hearing on June 20,
2018. Mother's counsel was provided contact information
for Amanda Big Head, the new CPS worker assigned to the case.
In July 2018, Mother met with CPS Big Head and reported she
was moving to Idaho and wanted the case transferred
there. CPS Big Head advised Mother that if she
moved to Idaho, Mother would need to provide her contact
information and also would need to maintain contact with her
so she could assist Mother in implementing services necessary
to complete Mother's treatment plan in Idaho. At that
time, Mother did not indicate confusion or lack of
understanding as to ...