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In re Interest of M.G.

August 17, 2010

IN THE INTEREST OF M.G., A CHILD
STUART LARSON, TRAILL COUNTY STATES ATTORNEY, PETITIONER AND APPELLEE
v.
S.M., RESPONDENT AND APPELLANT DIRECTOR, TRAILL COUNTY SOCIAL SERVICES, T.G., M.G., AND CYNTHIA KESLER, LAY GUARDIAN AD LITEM, RESPONDENTS



Appeal from the District Court of Traill County, East Central Judicial District, the Honorable Steven L. Marquart, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sandstrom, Justice.

AFFIRMED.

[¶1] S.M. appeals from a district court order adopting a judicial referee's findings and decision terminating parental rights to her son, M.G. We conclude the court's findings that the conditions and causes of M.G.'s deprivation were likely to continue, that M.G. will probably suffer serious mental or emotional harm absent termination of parental rights, and that reasonable efforts were made to prevent the continued placement of the child outside the parental home are supported by clear and convincing evidence and are not clearly erroneous. We affirm.

I.

[¶2] M.G. was born in November 1999 and is currently ten years old. S.M. is his mother and T.G. is his father. S.M. and T.G. were living together when M.G. was born. They eventually married and T.G. adopted M.G. Another son was born in 2001. In September 2002, T.G. left the family home in Fargo, and the couple later divorced.

[¶3] S.M. began using methamphetamine and other illegal drugs in 2004. After several investigations by social services regarding general health and safety concerns for the children, S.M. agreed to have the children placed with T.G. A few months later M.G. was placed in the care of S.M.'s mother, but M.G. was removed from her care in August 2005 and placed in foster care. S.M. then met with a social worker to create a case plan and work toward reunification with M.G., but little progress was made because S.M. attended only four of the regularly scheduled visits. In December 2005, M.G. was found to be deprived, and S.M. agreed to have M.G. placed with T.G., T.G.'s current wife, and their children.

[¶4] S.M. continued using methamphetamine and other illegal drugs until March 2006, when she was indicted for conspiracy to deliver or distribute methamphetamine. S.M. pled guilty to the federal criminal charge in February 2007, and she was sentenced to prison for 48 months followed by five years of probation. S.M. served her sentence in federal prison facilities in Illinois and Arizona. During her incarceration, S.M. had no in-person contact with M.G., but did write letters to him. S.M.'s last phone conversation with M.G. while incarcerated occurred in August 2007.

[¶5] While living with T.G. from early 2006 through May 2008, M.G. began exhibiting signs of abnormal behavior. M.G. began hoarding food, urinating on the home carpeting, hitting and burning the other children, displaying sexualized behaviors, harming animals, threatening family members, and destroying the family's property. In May 2008, M.G. was removed from T.G.'s home and placed in the custody of Traill County Social Services. In July 2008, M.G. was again adjudicated deprived and was placed in a therapeutic foster home for special needs children where his abnormal behavior stabilized. M.G. has been diagnosed with mood disorder NOS, disruptive disorder NOS, and possible post traumatic stress disorder, and he receives medication for those conditions. M.G. has had two placements in a psychiatric facility. A petition for termination of T.G. and S.M.'s parental rights to M.G. was filed in February 2009.

[¶6] In April 2009, S.M. was released from prison and placed in a transitional residential treatment facility in Fargo. While incarcerated, S.M. earned her GED, addressed her drug addiction issues, took parenting classes and other training courses, and became a certified welder. S.M. obtained two jobs in Fargo and had plans to relocate to an apartment where she could care for M.G. Beginning in March 2009, M.G.'s behaviors became less stable. M.G.'s therapist believed the change in his behavior was attributable to M.G.'s stress about the pending court proceedings, his fear of leaving the foster home, and the resumption of contact with S.M. After receiving an "amends letter" from S.M., M.G. agreed to meet with S.M. on the condition that his foster parents would also be present.

[¶7] T.G. acknowledged he lacked the ability to provide the high level of care required for M.G. and consented to termination of his parental rights. T.G.'s consent was conditioned on the termination of S.M.'s parental rights. T.G., S.M., a friend of S.M.'s, and several social service workers who had been involved with M.G. testified at the hearing before a judicial referee. Following the hearing, the referee terminated T.G. and S.M.'s parental rights. The district court, on request for review, determined the referee's "findings in this case do not provide clear and convincing evidence that the conditions and causes of [M.G.'s] deprivation are likely to continue or will not be remedied," and remanded to the referee for additional findings on the petition for termination. The referee prepared additional findings and once again ordered termination of T.G.'s and S.M.'s parental rights. On request for review, the district court adopted the referee's amended findings and order.

[¶8] The juvenile court had jurisdiction under N.D. Const. art. VI, § 8, and N.D.C.C. § 27-20-03(1)(b). The district court judge had jurisdiction under N.D. Sup. Ct. Admin. R. 13(11) to review the referee's findings and order. S.M.'s notice of appeal was timely under N.D.C.C. § 27-20-56(1). This Court has jurisdiction under N.D. Const. art. VI, §§ 2 and 6, and N.D.C.C. § 27-20-56(1).

II.

[¶9] S.M. argues the district court erred in terminating her parental rights to M.G.

[¶10] In Interest of D.H., 2010 ND 103, ¶ 19, 783 N.W.2d 12, we recently outlined this Court's standard of review in ...


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