Appeal from the Juvenile Court of Burleigh County, South Central Judicial District, the Honorable Thomas J. Schneider, Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Maring, Justice.
N.D. Supreme CourtInterest of A.B., a Child,
This opinion is subject to petition for rehearing. [Go to Documents][Download as WordPerfect]
Opinion of the Court by Maring, Justice.
In the Interest of A.B.Nos. 20100351 & 20100352
[¶1] A.P.B. ("father") appeals from a juvenile court's order affirming the orders of the Juvenile Referee finding A.B. ("child") to be a deprived child and terminating the father's parental rights to the child. We affirm, holding the juvenile court did not err in finding the child was a deprived child and terminating the father's parental rights. We conclude the court's findings that there is clear and convincing evidence the child was a deprived child, the deprivation was likely to continue, and the child would probably suffer harm without the termination of the father's parental rights, are not clearly erroneous.
[¶2] The child was born on March 22, 2007. The biological mother is J.B. ("mother"). The father signed a voluntary paternity acknowledgment after the child was born, making him the child's legal father. The child's biological father is unknown. At the time of the child's birth, the father was serving a sentence for an aggravated assault conviction at the James River Correctional Center in Jamestown, North Dakota. For the first three months following the child's birth, the father had weekly or biweekly visits with the child in prison. The father did not see the child for the remainder of his incarceration. On February 18, 2008, the father was released from prison. Shortly after his release, the father moved to Washington state where he currently resides with his girlfriend and their two young children.
[¶3] On March 12, 2010, the child witnessed the violent murder of his mother. The child was subsequently placed in foster care for a day and was then released to the care and custody of his maternal grandmother. However, as the grandmother was preparing to take the child to her permanent home in Nevada, Burleigh County Social Services and the Burleigh County State's Attorney's Office received reports from family members that if the child were to remain in the care of his maternal grandmother, the child would be subjected to future trauma. The reports indicated that the maternal grandmother was in an abusive relationship and that domestic violence incidents were common at her home. As a result, the State's Attorney's Office petitioned the juvenile court for a temporary shelter care order. The juvenile court granted the request and ordered the child be temporarily placed with Burleigh County Social Services for sixty days, beginning March 19, 2010.
[¶4] Burleigh County Social Services placed the child with a foster parent on March 19, 2010, and informed the father of the placement. The father did not come forward at that time to request custody of the child. On April 16, 2010, the State, in two separate petitions, asked the juvenile court to find the child was a deprived child and to terminate the parental rights of the father. The child's maternal aunt was named a party in the deprivation case and three other parties were granted the right to intervene in the deprivation and termination of parental rights cases. In May 2010, the child was removed from the care of his foster parent and was placed in the care and custody of the parents of his mother's ex-boyfriend, where he remained while waiting for the juvenile court's decision.
[¶5] The hearings on both petitions took place on August 19 and 20, 2010. The State offered testimony from a number of witnesses, including the child's foster parent, the child's therapist, and social workers from Burleigh County Social Services. The testimony of these witnesses focused primarily on the severe emotional problems the child suffered after witnessing his mother's violent murder and on the child's need for a stable, safe, and permanent living environment.
[¶6] The State presented the testimony of the child's foster parent, who is an occupational therapy assistant trained to work with special needs children and who cared for the child immediately after the mother's murder. She testified that, while in her care, the child suffered from recurring nightmares and needed to be with her at all times. In particular, she testified she had to wrap the child in a blanket and hold him like a baby for extensive periods of time to keep him calm. The foster parent further stated she received specific training from the child's therapist to address the child's special needs. The foster parent opined the child needed routine and consistency in his life to continue the healing process and noted the child should be placed in a home where domestic violence is not present.
[¶7] The State also offered the expert testimony of the child's therapist who testified about the extent of the child's emotional trauma and the details of his therapy. The therapist stated she began working with the child the day after the mother's murder. She explained that through the use of play therapy, the child shared with her that he witnessed not only the death of his mother, but also a number of domestic violence incidents in which his mother was the victim. Specifically, the child witnessed his stepfather drag his mother around the home, run water over her head in the bathtub, stab and beat her continually, and finally, violently murder her. The therapist opined that, as a result of these experiences, the child developed severe emotional trauma symptoms, including dissociation, heightened anxiety, constant fear for his safety, and a regression in childhood development activities, such as bathroom training. She testified the trauma symptoms exhibited by the child were the worst she has observed in her treatment of over 500 children with special needs and opined the child needed a consistent, stable, safe, and nurturing environment if the child were to continue the healing process. The therapist further stated the child needed a caregiver who could effectively treat the child's emotional disorders in a home environment. Lastly, she testified that if the child were not placed in the appropriate environment, the child would likely regress and suffer additional emotional harm.
[¶8] The testimony of the social workers from Burleigh County Social Services further showed the child had been exposed to a number of domestic violence incidents before witnessing his mother's murder. One of the social workers testified the father was aware of some of these incidents, but failed to take any steps to ensure the welfare of the child. In addition, the social worker assigned to the child's case after the mother's murder expressed concerns about the father's inability to meet the child's needs. She opined the causes of the child's deprivation were ...