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In re R.L.

Supreme Court of Montana

November 12, 2019

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.

          For Appellant: Julie Brown, Montana Legal Justice, PLLC, Missoula, Montana

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Katie F. Schulz, Helena, Montana

          Joshua A. Racki, County Attorney, Valerie Winfield, Deputy County Attorney, Great Falls, Montana


          Ingrid Gustafson, Justice.

         ¶1 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 affirm.

         ¶2 We restate the issues on appeal as follows:

         1. Whether the Department engaged in reasonable efforts to prevent removal of Children and to reunite Mother with Children;

         2. 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.


         ¶3 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.[1]

         ¶4 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 publication.

         ¶5 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.

         ¶6 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.

         ¶7 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.[2] 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 ...

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