from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third
Judicial District, Superior Court Nos. 3PA-15-00163/
00164/00165 CN Palmer, Gregory Heath, Judge.
Higgins, Law Office of Kevin Higgins, Anchorage, for
Fox, Assistant Attorney General, Anchorage, and Jahna
Lindemuth, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellee.
Levitt, Assistant Public Advocate, and Chad Holt, Public
Advocate, Anchorage, Guardian Ad Litem.
Before: Stowers, Chief Justice, Winfree, Maassen, Bolger, and
biological father of three children validly consented to
their adoption in the face of parental rights termination
proceedings. Five months later he sought to withdraw his
consent. The superior court determined that withdrawal of the
father's consent to adoption would not be in the
children's best interests and denied the father
permission to withdraw his consent. The father appeals,
arguing that the superior court clearly erred in finding that
withdrawal of his consent was not in his children's best
interests. Because the superior court did not clearly err in
this factual determination, we affirm its decision.
FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS
and Emily S. are the biological parents of three
children, born in 2003, 2004, and 2007. The Office of
Children's Services (OCS) became involved with Dean and
Emily's family in 2005 when the oldest child was a year
old and the middle child about four months old; the youngest
was not yet born. OCS received unsubstantiated reports that
the children were not being supervised and that the parents
were abusing substances. OCS continued to investigate abuse
and neglect reports, most of which were unsubstantiated, over
the next seven years. OCS ultimately took emergency custody
of the children in November 2012.
worked his case plan, and OCS later returned the children to
his care. Emily did not cooperate with OCS and had only
intermittent contact with the children. In August 2015 OCS
received new reports that Dean was having suicidal thoughts,
abusing substances, and neglecting the children. The oldest
child, then age 11, reportedly was the primary caregiver for
the two younger children. The children were voluntarily moved
to Dean's brother's home, but OCS again assumed
emergency custody after Dean threatened to remove them.
petitioned for emergency adjudication of the children as in
need of aid. The superior court granted OCS
temporary custody. OCS established an initial permanency
goal of reunification. The children were first placed with
Dean's brother, then moved to Dean's sister in May
petitioned to terminate Dean's and Emily's parental
rights in August 2016. The superior court found that neither
parent had made substantial progress toward remedying the
conditions placing the children in need of aid and that the
appropriate permanency plan for the children was adoption.
Dean executed a valid consent to adoption in November
2016; in December, Emily did the same.
moved to withdraw his consent in May 2017. The superior
court held an evidentiary hearing in August to determine if
withdrawal would be in the children's best interests.
Dean testified on his own behalf and a caseworker testified
for OCS. Emily did not contest the adoption.
testified that he wanted "full custody" of his
children. He wanted to work together with his sister to
"decide the route now that we have a clear vision of
what needs to be done to raise the kids in a . . . healthy
environment, " and he thought his custody was preferable
to adoption in case his sister died. Dean said he had
attended parenting classes, grown closer to his spiritual
advisers, addressed his hoarding problems, found a
life-skills coach, and identified private agencies that could
provide therapy services. Dean conceded living in protective
housing with four people to a room, but he believed he could
quickly work a "fair" case plan to achieve
permanency for his children. Dean also said that he and his
sister had been in regular contact but that OCS had tried to
"cut off his contact with her.
caseworker testified that the children had bonded with
Dean's sister and were "comfortable, relaxed"
and "thriving." The caseworker said they were doing
well in school, the middle child no longer had debilitating
tantrums, and the youngest child had become a
"mainstream kid" who no longer needed a
"shadow" assistant or "had great difficulty at
school." The caseworker also said that Dean's sister
knew where the children needed to be, got them to school,
spent time with them "to build self-esteem and
individuality, " was a "guiding parent"; the
children were affectionate toward her, and they had built a
strong family unit. The caseworker indicated that, if Dean
retained parental rights and diligently worked his case plan,
it likely would take him a year to achieve permanency.
superior court denied Dean's motion to withdraw his
adoption consent in September 2017. The court cited S. O.
v. W.S.'s best interests standard and found
that Dean's sister's adoption of the children was in
their best interests. The court credited the caseworker's
testimony that the children were thriving, comfortable,
relaxed, doing well in school, enjoying where they were
living, and in a stable, happy home. The court found Dean had
not shown that withdrawal of ...