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Trevor M. v. State

Supreme Court of Alaska

March 11, 2016

TREVOR M., 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, Third Judicial District, No. 3AN-14-00036 CN Anchorage, Frank A. Pfiffner, Judge.

Olena Kalytiak Davis, Anchorage, for Appellant.

Joanne M. Grace, Assistant Attorney General, Anchorage, and Craig W. Richards, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellee.

Before: Fabe, Winfree, Maassen, and Bolger, Justices. [Stowers, Chief Justice, not participating.]

OPINION

MAASSEN, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

The Office of Children's Services (OCS) took custody of a young girl due to her mother's neglect and substance abuse. The father was incarcerated at the time, but on his release he made limited efforts to participate in his case plan. OCS filed a petition to terminate his parental rights, asserting that he had abandoned his daughter, and the superior court granted the petition and terminated his rights. The father appeals, arguing that he did not abandon his daughter and that if he did he was not given enough time to remedy the problem. Because the superior court's findings are not clearly erroneous, we affirm.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

Maya S. is the three-year-old daughter of Sarah S. and Trevor M.[1] Trevor's criminal history includes a number of assault charges and domestic violence restraining orders involving different victims;[2] he has also struggled with substance abuse. He testified that he "rarely got to see" Maya while she was a baby because it was up to Sarah to decide "when she felt like bringing [him his] daughter." He also testified, however, that he "always call[ed] [Sarah] to check on [his] daughter" and that he gave "her money plenty of times for whatever she needed."

OCS twice removed Maya from Sarah's custody after receiving reports of neglect - once in October 2012, when Maya was five months old, and again in December 2013. Each time OCS placed Maya with her maternal grandparents, Dennis S. and Sylvia E. The second time OCS took custody, Maya had cocaine in her system at such a high level that it was determined she had probably ingested the drug. Trevor was in jail at the time for assaulting Sarah. Since then, Maya has remained with her maternal grandparents.

In February 2014 OCS assigned caseworker Rick Mitcham to Maya's case. Mitcham met with Trevor a few weeks later, after Trevor's release from prison. Trevor said he was willing to participate in anger management classes; also included in his case plan were a substance abuse assessment and regular urinalyses (UAs).

Mitcham and Trevor met again on March 1. Mitcham described Trevor as "receptive to engaging in services" at that time, and after the meeting Mitcham made a referral for supervised visitation. For the rest of the month Mitcham and another OCS worker tried to contact Trevor to follow through with the referral, but Trevor never answered the phone or returned messages. On March 27 Mitcham made an unannounced visit and found Trevor at home; he talked to Trevor "about the case and about . . . setting up the family contact." According to Mitcham, Trevor still seemed willing to engage with his case plan.

But Trevor failed to show up for an April meeting with Mitcham, and they did not meet again until May. At that time they discussed Trevor's case plan again, but Trevor was reluctant to pursue it because he believed he was likely to be reincarcerated soon, making his efforts pointless. Around this time another OCS worker made a number of attempts by telephone to facilitate visitation, but Trevor's phone was disconnected.

Trevor and Mitcham met again in early June. By this time Trevor had learned he was not going back to jail, and he again seemed willing to follow his case plan and to submit to the required UAs. He signed the plan and records releases for anger management classes and a substance abuse assessment. But after this meeting OCS was ...


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