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Diana P. v. State

Supreme Court of Alaska

September 1, 2015

DIANA P., Appellant,
v.
STATE OF ALASKA, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH & SOCIAL SERVICES, OFFICE OF CHILDREN'S SERVICES, Appellee

Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Fourth Judicial District, Fairbanks, Bethany S. Harbison, Judge. Superior Court Nos. 4FA-12-00096/ 97/98/99 CN.

J. Adam Bartlett, Anchorage, for Appellant.

Miranda L. Strong, Assistant Attorney General, Anchorage, and Craig W. Richards, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellee.

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

OPINION

Page 542

STOWERS, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her four daughters, all Indian children under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).[1] She argues that the trial court erred in finding that the Office of Children's Services (OCS) proved beyond a reasonable doubt that placing her children in her custody would likely put the children at risk of serious harm. We affirm the trial court's decision.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

This case involves Diana and her daughters: Natalie was born in 2008; Selah was born in 2009; Ava was born in 2010; and Drew was born in 2011.[2] The children's father has relinquished his parental rights. OCS has been involved with this family since 2009 because of the parents' behavior when they drink. The children were adjudicated children in need of aid in March 2013. Following a trial in the summer of 2014, the trial court terminated Diana's parental rights to the children after finding them subject to conduct or conditions described in AS 47.10.011(6),[3] (9),[4] and (10).[5] Diana appeals.

Page 543

A. The Evidence

Diana has struggled with mental illness and substance abuse since she was a teenager. When she was eight or nine years old and living with her father, he committed suicide. She went to live with her mother, who was an alcoholic. Diana has been diagnosed with and treated for bipolar disorder, and she has also been treated for substance abuse at least ten times. Diana has shown a pattern of drinking alcohol while pregnant, abstaining once she learns she is pregnant, and then resuming drinking after the child is born. She admitted at trial that she drank during three of her previous pregnancies. Ava was born with cocaine in her system, but Diana said she did not know how it got there. She speculated that someone put something in her drink one night.

At the time of trial Diana lived with and was financially supported by her boyfriend. She was 23 weeks pregnant with her fifth child and abstaining from intoxicating substances. Diana was focused on healthy activities, such as fishing, hunting, hide tanning, beading, and learning Athabascan. She testified that she had become a totally different person over the past eight or nine months; she was much happier, more patient, and no longer " closed off," and did not " think [in] black and white." Diana testified that her boyfriend did not have a drinking problem, although he was found to be driving under the influence in 2013 and drank with her in December 2013 when she relapsed.

Diana presented testimony from friends who described her past several months of abstinence and the changes she had made since she moved to a new village five months before trial. The witnesses stated that Diana had shown tremendous growth, was leading a productive, sober life, and was trusted with people's children. One of Diana's witnesses testified that she did not believe Diana had a drinking problem, but ...


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