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Amy M. v. State, Dep't of Health & Soc. Servs.

Supreme Court of Alaska

November 8, 2013

AMY M., Appellant,

Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, William F. Morse, Judge. Superior Court No. 3AN-12-00028 CN.

Olena Kalytiak Davis, Anchorage, for Appellant.

Megan R. Webb, Assistant Attorney General, Anchorage, and Michael C. Geraghty, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellee.

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

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BOLGER, Justice.


A young mother had four children who tested positive for cocaine at birth. After her fourth child was born, the Office of Children's Services (OCS) took custody of the child and placed him with his maternal grandmother. Based on the mother's history of untreated substance abuse, OCS filed a petition for termination of the mother's parental rights three months after the child was born. After trial, the superior court concluded that: (1) the mother's substance abuse placed her child in need of aid; (2) the mother failed to remedy the conditions that placed her child in need of aid within a reasonable time; (3) OCS had made reasonable efforts to reunify the family; and (4) termination was in the best interests of the child. The mother appeals, arguing that she was not given a reasonable time to remedy her substance abuse issues, that OCS did not exercise reasonable efforts over the short period prior to termination, and that termination eight months after birth was not in her child's best interests. We affirm the decision of the superior court because it properly considered the mother's history with OCS, her conduct after the child's birth, and the best interests of the child.


A. Facts

Kadin M. [1] was born in February 2012 to Amy M. and Sherman B. This appeal concerns the termination of Amy's parental rights after a termination trial was held when Kadin was eight months old.

1. Background

Amy has a long history of substance abuse. She began drinking and using crack cocaine at age 16. Amy has four children; Sherman

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is the father of her three youngest children. All four children tested positive for cocaine at birth.

Amy had her first child, Talia, at age 17. After Talia was born, Amy participated in a substance abuse program through Dena A. Coy for six weeks. But she left before completing the program and began using crack cocaine again. Amy's mother Vallerie began to care for Talia when she was nine months old. Vallerie took Talia to her father, and Talia now lives in South Carolina with him.

In September 2007, Amy gave birth to Georgina, her first child with Sherman. When Georgina was about one year old, Sherman took her to a relative's home out of state. [2] Georgina ended up living with another relative in New York who has cared for her since she was fifteen months old. [3]

Darcy was born cocaine and marijuana positive in March 2009. OCS assumed emergency custody of Darcy and placed her with Vallerie. While Amy was in the hospital, an OCS caseworker offered to refer her to a substance abuse treatment program. But after Amy was discharged she had no contact with OCS until September, when OCS discussed a case plan with her. This initial case plan required her to: (1) have an updated substance abuse assessment and follow recommendations for treatment; (2) abstain from using alcohol or drugs; (3) complete a mental health evaluation and follow the recommendations; and (4) complete an anger management class. [4] In April 2010, Amy attended an orientation session at a substance abuse treatment program but she did not complete the substance abuse assessment necessary to be admitted. OCS again lost contact with Amy.

In December 2010, Amy was arrested. While incarcerated at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center, Amy participated in a substance abuse assessment. Amy admitted that she had been using " a $50 piece [of crack cocaine] daily" for the past six months. The substance abuse assessment recommended long-term residential treatment, and Amy began a residential treatment program while she was incarcerated. Amy did well in residential treatment, but she was released before completing the program. Amy again dropped out of contact with OCS and resumed using crack cocaine.

OCS filed a petition to terminate Sherman's and Amy's parental rights to Darcy in October 2011. [5] A termination trial was held in January 2012 before Superior Court Judge William F. Morse. On the first day of trial, Amy's attorney presented a signed relinquishment of her parental rights. [6] The trial court terminated Sherman's parental rights, and this court affirmed the termination judgment in Sherman B. v. State, Department of Health & Social Services. [7]

2. Kadin

Kadin was born in February 2012, one month after the termination trial regarding Darcy. After Kadin's birth, the hospital notified OCS that he was born cocaine positive. At the hospital, OCS spoke with Amy about her substance abuse issues and her relationship with Sherman. [8] Amy admitted to using cocaine during her pregnancy. [9] OCS assumed emergency custody of Kadin and placed him with his grandmother, Vallerie.

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After OCS assumed custody, Amy's OCS caseworker, Leslie Johnston, scheduled a team decision-making meeting. Amy did not attend the meeting, but Amy and Sherman began family visits with Kadin twice a week at OCS, and Amy reported that she also visited Kadin at her mother's house.

Sherman and Amy were evicted from their residence in mid-February, and Johnston had difficulty contacting Amy. Johnston was able to schedule a case planning meeting with Amy by attending a family visit at OCS. At the meeting, Johnston discussed Amy's drug use and her need for treatment. Based on the 2011 substance abuse assessment from Hiland Mountain, Johnston recommended that Amy enter long-term residential treatment. But Amy stated that she only needed outpatient treatment. Amy told Johnston that she planned to go to New York to get Georgina and that she could attend outpatient treatment there. Amy refused to sign a release of information to enable Johnston to complete referrals for treatment.

Johnston developed a case plan which required Amy to: (1) complete an updated substance abuse assessment and follow the recommendations; (2) refrain from substance abuse and illegal activity; and (3) sign a release of information to allow Johnston to complete referrals on her behalf. Johnston scheduled two meetings to discuss the case plan, but Amy did not show up. [10] In June, Amy stopped attending family visits, and OCS lost contact with her.

In August 2012, Amy turned herself in for a probation violation and was again incarcerated at Hiland Mountain. While incarcerated, Amy participated in GED classes, a parenting class, and weekly Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings. When Johnston found out Amy was incarcerated, she left messages for Amy's probation officer to ...

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