Case Summaries: Termination of Parental Rights: Defining 'Reasonable Efforts' Alabama: I. Relevant Statutory Provisions A. Requiring 'Reasonable Efforts' CHINS (Children in Need of Supervision): When the court is considering terminating parental rights, it must take into consideration that reasonable efforts by the Department of Human Resources leading toward the rehabilitation of the parent has failed. (Ala. Code § 26-18-7 (a) (6) (1975)) In addition, when the court issues an order removing a child, the order must contain evidence that reasonable efforts were made to prevent the removal of the child, and that reasonable efforts will be made to reunite the child with his/her family. (Ala. Code § 12-15-65 (g) (1975)) A. Statutory Definition: “As used in this chapter, “reasonable efforts” refers to efforts made to preserve and reunify families prior to the placement of a child in foster care, to prevent or eliminate the need for removing the child from the child's home, and to make it possible for a child to return safely to the child's home. In determining the reasonable efforts to be made with respect to a child, and in making such reasonable efforts, the child's health and safety shall be the paramount concern. If continuation of reasonable efforts is determined to be inconsistent with the permanency plan for the child, reasonable efforts shall be made to place the child and to complete whatever steps are necessary to finalize the permanent placement of the child.” (Ala. Code § 12-15-65 (m) (1975)) B. Services must be: Alabama has no statutory services requirement; however, there is case law that suggests that what services are required is a fact dependent inquiry, and the only requirement considered “reasonable” that must be followed in all circumstances is that the child’s health and safety are of paramount concern. (“…the efforts actually required by DHR in each case, whether the court is considering rehabilitation or reunification, depend on the particular facts of that case, the statutory obligations regarding family reunification, and the best interests of the child.”) (J.B. v. Jefferson Co. Dept. of Human Res. 2003 WL 21489415, *6 (Al. Civ. App.) (awaiting publication, opinion dated June 30, 2003)) 'Reasonable Efforts' Not Required Under Circumstances Involving: 1) Egregious Harm: A court of competent jurisdiction has found that a parent “…subjected the child to an aggravated circumstance, including but not limited to, abandonment, torture, chronic abuse, substance abuse, or sexual abuse.” (Ala. Code § 12-15-65 (m)(1) (1975)) a. Abandonment: “That the parents have abandoned the child, provided that in such cases, proof shall not be required of reasonable efforts to prevent removal or reunite the child with the parents… In any case where the parents have abandoned a child and such abandonment continues for a period of four months next preceding the filing of the petition, such facts shall constitute a rebuttable presumption that the parents are unable or unwilling to act as parents. Nothing in this subsection is intended to prevent the filing of a petition in an abandonment case prior to the end of the four- month period.” (Ala. Code § 26-18-7 (a)(1), (c) (1975)) b. Abandonment defined: A parent is deemed to have abandoned a child if he/she has voluntarily and intentionally relinquished the custody of her child; if he/she has withheld his/her presence, love, and care from the child without good cause or excuse; or if he/she has failed to claim his/her rights or to perform his/her duties as a parent . (Ala.Code § 26-18-3(1)(1975)) 2) Prior Termination of Parental Rights: “Reasonable efforts shall not be required to be made where the parental rights to a sibling have been involuntarily terminated…” (Ala. Code § 12 15-65 (m) (1975)) 3) Commission of Crime: Where a court of competent jurisdiction has found that a parent of a child committed, aided, abetted, attempted, conspired, or solicited to commit murder or voluntary manslaughter of another child of that parent, or committed a felony assault resulting in the serious bodily injury of either that child or another child of that parent. (Ala. Code § 12-15-65 (m) (1)-(4) (1975)) II. General Case Law Provisions A. Alabama Court of Civil Appeals Cases i. J.B. v. Jefferson Co. Dept. of Human Res. 2003 WL 21489415, *6 (Al. Civ. App.) (awaiting publication, opinion dated June 30, 2003)) “It would be illogical to require DHR to make reasonable efforts to rehabilitate a parent in a case where DHR has no concomitant duty to attempt to reunite the parent and the child, or where reunification is not practicable. (For example, DHR has no statutory obligation to assist a parent in overcoming a drug addiction if that parent has been convicted of murdering the child's sibling and the best interests of the child would be served by termination of the parent's parental rights.)” III. Conditions/Circumstances Affecting ‘Reasonable Efforts’ A. Parents 1. Chemical Dependency (i) B.R.M. v. State Dept. of Human Resources, 626 So.2d 648 (Ala. Civ. App. 1993): The trial court found that when the mother placed her children in foster care, she and a DHR caseworker established a case plan by which the mother would work toward regaining custody. The mother entered several drug rehabilitation programs but never completed one, that she never attended counseling sessions, and that she failed to utilize the rehabilitative services DHR made available to her, and thus reasonable efforts were met. 2. Mental Illness/Instability/Low Intellectual Functioning (i) J.M. v. State Dept. of Human Resources, 686 So.2d 1253 (Ala.Civ.App. 1996): Juvenile court did not abuse its discretion in ordering psychological evaluations of mother, whose well-being was directly related to her ability to care for children, finding children dependent, and awarding temporary custody to grandparents; psychological evaluations of mother indicated that she was suffering from range of emotional problems, including depression, anxiety, and emotional instability, and psychologist recommended after counseling sessions with mother and children that children remain with grandparents with plan for eventual reunification. (ii) T.L.W. v. State Dept of Human Resources 678 So.2d 128 (Al. Civ. App. 1995): The juvenile court's finding that the mother was unable or unwilling to discharge her responsibilities to her children, that the mother's conduct or condition rendered her unable to properly care for the children, and that such conduct or condition was unlikely to change in the foreseeable future, is also supported by the record. Her psychologist testified that the mother suffered from major depression, addictive disease problems, and a personality disorder that made it unlikely that she would ever be able to care adequately for her children. Evidence of a mental deficiency is a significant factor for the trial court to consider. (iii) McCullough v. State Dept. of Human Resources 536 So.2d 68 (Ala. Civ. App. 1988): The mother has historically failed to provide proper care for her children. The five other children were taken for the mother's failure to have the children immunized, and her failure to send the children to school. She abducted her five older children while they were in the custody of DHR and removed them from Alabama Under the Child Protection Act, (Ala. Code §§ 26-18-1 through -10, (1975)), the le gislature provided a nonexclusive list of factors which the courts should consider, including emotional or mental illness or mental deficiency. (Ala. Code § 26-18-7(a)(2), (1975)). The statute does not require a showing of permanency but rather a showing that the condition is "of such duration or nature as to render the parent unable to care for needs of the child." (Ala. Code § 26-18-7(a)(2) (1975)). There was evidence within the record that indicated the mother suffered a borderline psychological difficulty. This evidence of a mental deficiency was a factor for the trial court to consider. B. Children 1. Failure to Thrive (i) Daniels v. State Dept. of Human Resources, 530 So.2d 841 (Ala.Civ.App. 1988):Where the evidence showed that an unmarried teenage mother had either refused or neglected to properly care for her child even when helpful services were provided to her, and that because of her habits the child had failed to receive proper parental care and the conditions in which he was kept constituted a danger to his health, termination of parental rights was proper 2. Prolonged Periods of Out of Home Placement (i) S.C.D. v. Etowah County Dept. of Human Resources, 2002 WL 31270285 (Ala.Civ.App.2002): Evidence supported the juvenile court order terminating mother's parental rights; the department of human resources had been involved with the family for more than four years before it petitioned to terminate mother's parental rights, the children were in foster care for 40 months before mother was able to care for the children, and mother was unable to care for her children for more than six months after they were placed in her home. 3. Special Medical Needs (i) T.M.S. v. Elmore County Dept. of Human Resources, 647 So.2d 746 (Ala. Civ. App. 1994): Termination of mother's parental rights was supported by evidence that the child had multiple and special medical needs, that his general and special care had been neglected, and that mother's attitude toward Department of Human Resources assistance was non-responsive, when DHR had attempted for over a year to assist the mother and other family members to provide a stable environment to meet the needs of the child and the mother ha failed to make use of available programs to meet the needs of her child. C. County Actions 1. Out of State Parent: (i) D.S.S. v. Clay County Dept. of Human Resources, 755 So.2d 584 (Ala.Civ.App.1999): In a proceeding to terminate father's parental rights, evidence did not support a finding that county department of human resources (DHR) had made reasonable efforts toward rehabilitation of father; he lived outside of state, but DHR had made no effort to investigate whether father was in need of rehabilitation or had failed to take advantage of rehabilitative services 2. Failure to Contact (i) S.A.B. v. Mobile County Dept. of Human Resources, 2002 WL 1397997 (Ala.Civ.App.2002) (NOT YET RELEASED FOR PUBLICATION): Evidence did not support finding that Department of Human Resources (DHR) made reasonable efforts to rehabilitate alleged father before termination of his parental rights; caseworker testified that, other than two contacts with father, she had no other communication with father, and also acknowledged that DHR did not offer father any services and made no efforts to prevent removal, promote reunification, and avoid termination of parental rights after father admitted paternity 3. Search for “viable alternatives” before terminating rights (i) (J.A.H. v. Calhoun County Dept. of Human Resources, 2003 WL 21205854 (Ala.Civ.App.2003) (NOT YET RELEASED FOR PUBLICATION): Evidence that incarcerated father presented county department of human resources (DHR) with only a list of first names of possible relative placements, that list provided by father did not contain last names, phone numbers or addresses, that DHR nonetheless investigated several of father's family members, that father's child was placed with her aunt and uncle who one month later returned child to DHR's custody, that paternal grandmother had poor health, financial difficulties and allegations of child abuse and neglect made against her, and that brother indicated he was financially unable to care for the child, was sufficient to establish that DHR searched for viable alternatives before terminating father's parental rights 4. Exhaustion of “Reasonable Efforts” (i) Ezekiel v. State Dept. of Human Resources, 562 So.2d 524 (Ala.Civ.App.1990): One factor which the trial court must consider when making a decision whether to terminate one's parental rights is whether reasonable efforts to rehabilitate the mother were exhausted prior to terminating her rights and whether such efforts failed (ii) E.J.W. v. State Dept. of Human Resources, 709 So.2d 57 (Ala.Civ.App.1998): The county department of human resources was found to have exhausted all reasonable efforts to rehabilitate child's mother before moving to terminate her parental rights; department offered mother drug treatment, employment assistance, housing arrangements and parenting classes, all of which she refused.