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Roland L. v. State, Office of Children's Services

Supreme Court of Alaska

May 8, 2009

ROLAND L., Appellant,
v.
STATE of Alaska, OFFICE OF CHILDREN'S SERVICES, Appellee.

Angela M. Greene, Assistant Public Defender and Quinlan Steiner, Public Defender, Anchorage, for Appellant.

Laura C. Bottger, Assistant Attorney General, Anchorage, and Talis J. Colberg, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellee.

Before : FABE, Chief Justice, EASTAUGH, CARPENETI, and WINFREE, Justices.

OPINION

CARPENETI, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

A father whose parental rights have been terminated argues that the Office of Children's Services (OCS) failed to make statutorily required active efforts to reunify him with his daughter. We agree with the father that OCS failed to make active efforts during the first three months of the daughter's life. But for the next year the father went on the run from the law, and could not be found. After his re-arrest, OCS delayed proceedings to terminate his parental rights for six months to pursue active efforts, and the father did make some progress during that time. We nonetheless conclude that his desultory progress was insufficient considering his history of domestic violence and his problems with anger management, mental health, and substance abuse. We affirm the trial

Page 454

court's conclusion that OCS made active efforts to reunify father and daughter.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

A. Facts

Sherrie,[1] an Indian child, was born on May 2, 2006. Roland is Sherrie's father. He was in jail when Sherrie was born. OCS identified Sherrie as a child in need of aid shortly after birth. OCS identified Roland as Sherrie's father within a few weeks of her birth. But Sherrie's social worker did not contact Roland at the jail except to send someone to obtain a specimen for paternity testing and to give Roland her card.

Roland got out of jail in July 2006, and on August 8 he called Sherrie's social worker and asked for visitation with Sherrie. Sherrie's social worker set up visitation for Wednesday mornings from nine to ten, but at first she could not contact Roland to tell him because he did not give her his contact information. A few weeks later, he contacted her and she told him about the visitation. At the termination trial, the social worker testified that for three weeks in a row, Roland failed to show up at the visitations. She testified that when he was telephoned,[2] Roland said that he just woke up because he was working the night shift as a janitor, and he lived too far away to get there in time, so he would have to miss the visitation.

In October Sherrie's social worker talked to Roland about a case plan, but he refused to participate. The social worker testified that in that conversation Roland said he was " not going to work a fucking case plan." She also testified that he referred to Sherrie as " the damn baby." Roland's testimony differed, but the trial court believed the social worker's version of events, finding that in 2006 Roland " told the social worker in no uncertain terms he would not work a case plan."

The social worker had no further contact with Roland after that. She explained: " He was on the run. His probation officer and I were talking and we had an agreement if he were found, if ... I found out where he was, I would let him know or if he found out, he would let me know." Roland later testified that he had been staying with a friend at the Alaska Senior Center. He agreed that he had been " on the run," and if law enforcement had found him he would have gone back to jail.

Roland was arrested and re-incarcerated in September 2007. The social worker learned his whereabouts in late November or early December 2007, when Roland ...


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