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Shirley M. v. State

Supreme Court of Alaska

January 9, 2015

SHIRLEY M., Appellant,

Page 1234

Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Erin B. Marston, Judge. Superior Court No. 3AN-12-00379 CN.

Randall S. Cavanaugh, Kalamarides & Lambert, Anchorage, for Appellant.

David T. Jones, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Anchorage, and Michael C. Geraghty, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellee.

Before: Fabe, Chief Justice, Winfree, Stowers, Maassen, and Bolger, Justices.


Page 1235

STOWERS, Justice.


Shirley M. appeals termination of her parental rights to her child, Abigail, on the grounds that the trial court erred in finding that: (1) Shirley failed to remedy the conduct that put Abigail at risk of harm; (2) the Office of Children's Services (OCS) made reasonable efforts to provide services to reunify the family; (3) termination was in Abigail's best interests; and (4) OCS did not abuse its discretion in placing Abigail with her foster parents and not her great-grandmother, Rae. We affirm the decision of the trial court.


A. The Family And Its History With OCS

Shirley[1] is the mother of Abigail, born in April 2010. For many years violence, prostitution, reported substance abuse, and other crimes have consumed Shirley's life. Abigail is Shirley's fifth child: Haily was born in 2002, Daisy was born in 2003, Penny was born in 2005, and Andrew was born in 2008. Shirley's involvement with OCS began in April 2003, long before Abigail's birth. In March 2004 OCS received a high priority report that the father of Shirley's older children was abusing Haily. OCS removed the children but later returned them with in-home services and custody supervision. OCS made a referral for in-home services, including parenting training for both parents. Although the family participated in the services, OCS continued to have concerns. In June 2005 OCS considered removing the children from the home again after receiving another report that the father was abusing Haily. Shortly after Penny was born OCS petitioned to place the three children under supervision. Not long after that, Penny died due to asphyxiation. It was suspected that Shirley rolled over onto Penny when the family was sleeping in a tent in the yard at Rae's residence. According to the social worker who saw Haily and Daisy the day they were removed from Shirley's care, the children had low muscle tone and few speech skills. The social worker also reported that the children were generally unruly, screaming and trying to break things, and hitting and pinching each other.

OCS arranged for Shirley to complete a psychological assessment, which took place in April 2006 with clinical psychologist Dr. Michael Rose. After conducting multiple screening tests and an interview with Shirley, Dr. Rose concluded that she had a personality disorder and was not competent to parent her children effectively. According to Dr. Rose, Shirley had significant psychological problems, including issues with impulse control, difficulty with anger management, aggression, feelings of insecurity, difficulty with relationships, and mistrust. She blamed others for her problems, exhibiting anti-social, schizoid, or borderline personality features and possibly psychotic thinking processes. In spite of her attempts to present herself favorably during the evaluation, she showed elevated signs of abuse, distress, and rigidity, indicating a high risk of dysfunctional parenting; a second screening test showed a high probability of substance dependence. Dr. Rose diagnosed Shirley with adjustment disorder with mixed disturbance of emotions, and borderline personality disorder as well as severe psychosocial stressors. Dr. Rose recommended long-term individual psychotherapy, such as dialectical behavior therapy, which is a form of cognitive behavior therapy designed for individuals with borderline personality disorder or mood disorders. According to Dr. Rose, this therapy usually takes at least one year for changes to be seen, and for someone with borderline personality disorder, treatment often takes several years.

Shirley relinquished her parental rights to Haily and Daisy in 2007 and the children were adopted. Meanwhile, Shirley was running an escort service and had several women working for her.[2] Andrew was born in early 2008, but OCS ...

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