Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Patrick J. McKay, Judge. Superior Court Nos. 3AN-12-00307/3AN-13-00100/00229 CN.
Gregory M. Heritage, Heritage Law Firm, LLC, Anchorage, for Appellant.
Jennifer A. Currie, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Anchorage, and Michael C. Geraghty, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellee.
Before: Fabe, Chief Justice, Winfree, Stowers, Maassen, and Bolger, Justices.
A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to three of her children. She contends that the trial court erred in (1) finding that the children were children in need of aid because of the mother's mental
illness, a statutory basis for termination not alleged in the petition; (2) finding that the Office of Children's Services (OCS) made the necessary efforts towards reunification; and (3) allowing two witnesses to testify as experts. We affirm the trial court's order. We hold that (1) the trial court's finding that the children were children in need of aid was supported by alternative grounds that are not challenged on appeal; (2) its finding that OCS made the required efforts to reunify the family was supported by the evidence; and (3) its acceptance of the challenged expert testimony was not an abuse of discretion.
II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS
A. The Family And OCS Involvement
Sylvia has had five children, three of whom, Daniel, Laura, and Julie, are involved in this appeal. Julie, the youngest, is an " Indian child" as defined by the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA). Sylvia has a history of mental illness and drug abuse. OCS's first contact with her, in 2002, concerned a child not involved in this appeal; Sylvia was diagnosed at that time with dysthymia, major depressive disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Daniel, the oldest of the three children, was born positive for cannabis in 2008. For his first few years he lived with Sylvia in the home of her grandmother, where he was raised by various family members, including Sylvia herself. OCS's involvement with Daniel was prompted by concerns that he was malnourished and that Sylvia could not properly care for him because of her mental health and substance abuse issues.
In March 2009 Good Samaritan Counseling Center's medical director, Dr. Jan E. Kiele, assessed Sylvia and diagnosed her with depressive disorder not otherwise specified and ADHD. Dr. Kiele found that Sylvia's prognosis at the time was good if she followed through with medical treatment and individual psychotherapy.
When Laura was born a few months later, she tested positive for opiates. From birth Laura was raised by another family and knows Sylvia as her " auntie," not her biological mother.
In June 2010 Sylvia was assessed at Counseling Solutions of Alaska and diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and ADHD. She followed through with a part of the recommendations -- edication management meetings -- but not with the individual counseling. In 2011 and 2012 she had several drug-related arrests and probation violations.
Julie was born cocaine-positive in September 2012. OCS took custody of her shortly after her birth and placed her in foster care as soon as ...