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Claudio P. v. State, Dept. of Health & Social Services, Office of Children's Services

Supreme Court of Alaska

September 20, 2013

CLAUDIO P., Appellant,

Olena Kalytiak Davis, Anchorage, for Appellant.

Jacqueline G. Schafer, Assistant Attorney General, Anchorage, and Michael C. Geraghty, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellee.

Page 861

Before: FABE, Chief Justice, WINFREE, STOWERS, MAASSEN, and BOLGER, Justices.


BOLGER, Justice.


The father in this case, Claudio P., has been incarcerated since before his daughter, Iris, was born and is likely to remain incarcerated for a significant portion of Iris's childhood.[1] Iris was taken into State custody in June 2010 due to her mother's substance abuse and unsafe conditions in her home. Claudio's mother requested that Iris be placed with her, but her lack of stable housing precluded that possibility until January 2012 when she found a permanent home in Texas. In October 2011 Claudio also provided the name of his father, who lives in South Dakota, as another placement option. OCS requested home studies under the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) [2] for each of Claudio's parents. Both home studies came back with positive recommendations shortly before the termination trial, which was held in August 2012. Following the trial, the trial court terminated Claudio's parental rights to Iris and noted that Iris's permanent placement would be determined at a subsequent hearing.

Claudio argues that the trial court erred by terminating his rights because OCS should have taken more action to place Iris with one of his parents. But we conclude that OCS's investigation of Claudio's placement request was reasonable and timely, and that each of the trial court's challenged findings is supported by substantial evidence.


A. Iris Is Taken Into OCS's Custody In June 2010.

Claudio has twice been convicted and incarcerated for manslaughter— from April 1994 to November 2004, and from January 2006 to the present. In the interim he fathered a child, Iris, with Sandy.[3] Claudio was in prison in May 2006, when Iris was born. He expects to be released in 2015 or 2016.

Iris has twice been in OCS's custody. The first time, beginning in 2008, was due to Sandy's problems with substance abuse and her neglect of Iris. OCS referred Sandy to substance abuse treatment, which she successfully completed. Iris was returned to Sandy in 2009, and the OCS case was closed.

In early 2010 OCS began receiving reports about Sandy and her children. [4] In June 2010, after Sandy was arrested for DUI, she voluntarily placed Iris and Dolores into State custody. At Sandy's request OCS placed the children with the Normans, licensed foster parents who had cared for Iris during her earlier time in OCS's custody. Sandy had a close relationship with the Normans, who were present at the birth of her children and who had adopted a close relative of Sandy's.

B. OCS Makes Reunification Efforts Primarily For Sandy; Claudio Participates In Services While Incarcerated.

OCS's efforts before 2012 were directed mainly at Sandy. OCS referred Sandy to Tanana Chiefs Conference Behavioral Health Service for an assessment, it referred her to Ralph Perdue Center and to Fairbanks Native Association for case management services, it set her up to participate in urinalysis testing, it assisted her in obtaining housing, it referred her to parenting classes at the Resource Center for Parents and Children family reunification program, and it offered to transport her from Minto to Fairbanks for visits with her daughters.

OCS did not offer many services to Claudio. Social worker William Downes testified

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that providing services to Claudio was difficult because of his incarceration. Downes testified that he was unable to call Claudio or send emails to him in prison. He stated that during case review meetings that Claudio attended telephonically, he stressed to Claudio the importance of communicating with OCS. However, Claudio never initiated communications. While incarcerated, Claudio participated in a program offered by the Department of Corrections that, according to Claudio, addressed anger management and thinking errors.

OCS facilitated contact between Iris and Claudio, although actual visits did not occur until late in the case. Downes testified that he began contact slowly, by means of letters, cards, and pictures, because of bonding issues that Iris had exhibited. He testified that as the case progressed his supervisor directed him to " get going on" implementing visitation between Iris and Claudio. In the months leading up to the termination trial, OCS facilitated three in-person visits between Iris and Claudio at the Palmer Correctional Center. The visits, which were paid for by OCS, occurred monthly. Downes testified that arranging visits for Iris at ...

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