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You can search the entire site. or go to the recent opinions, or the chronological or subject indices. Annette H. v. State of Alaska, Department of Health & Social Services, Office of Children's Services (8/30/2019) sp-7403

Annette H. v. State of Alaska, Department of Health & Social Services, Office of Children's Services (8/30/2019) sp-7403

           Notice:   This opinion is subject to correction before publication in the PACIFIC  REPORTER.  

           Readers are requested to bring errors to the attention of the Clerk of the Appellate Courts,  


           303 K Street, Anchorage, Alaska 99501, phone (907) 264-0608, fax (907) 264-0878, email  



                       THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF ALASKA                                       

ANNETTE  H.,                                                         )  

                                                                     )      Supreme  Court  No.  S-17290  

                                Appellant,                           )  


                                                                     )      Superior Court No. 3AN-16-00615 CN  

           v.                                                        )  


                                                                     )     O P I N I O N  


STATE OF ALASKA, DEPARTMENT                                          )


OF HEALTH & SOCIAL SERVICES,                                         )                                            

                                                                           No. 7403 - August 30, 2019




                                Appellee.                            )  



                      Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third  


                      Judicial District, Anchorage, Andrew Peterson, Judge.  


                      Appearances:  J. Adam Bartlett, Anchorage, for Appellant.  


                      Laura E. Wolff, Assistant Attorney General, Anchorage, and  


                      Kevin G. Clarkson, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellee.  


                      Before:  Bolger, Chief Justice, Winfree, Stowers, Maassen,  


                      and Carney, Justices.  


                      CARNEY, Justice.  



                      A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her son, who was  


found to be  a child in need of aid based on a hair follicle test positive for controlled  


substances.  She argues that without proof that her drug use caused the child's exposure,  


there  is  no  causal  link  between  her  conduct  and  any  circumstances  that  may  have  

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endangered the child.                           She also argues that the Office of Children's Services (OCS) did                                                                   

not   make   reasonable   efforts   to   reunify   the   family  because   it   failed   to   adequately  

accommodate her mental health issues. Because the record supports the superior court's                                                                                     

finding that the child was in need of aid, and because OCS's efforts were reasonable                                                                              

under the circumstances, we affirm the termination of the mother's parental rights.                                                                                                

II.           FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS            

              A.             Removal And Emergency Petition                              


                             Annette H. is the mother of Justin H., who was born in March 2014.                                                                                             

Justin's biological father is unknown; DNA paternity tests excluded both the individual  


listed on Justin's birth certificate and Annette's partner Matthew. Annette and Matthew  


live together and had been the subjects of a number of reports to OCS, none of which  


were substantiated before October 2016.  


                             In October 2016 OCSreceivedareport allegingthatAnnette, Matthew, and  


possibly guests in their home were using and exposing Justin to methamphetamine. Two  


OCS workers went to their home that day.  They saw Annette and Matthew through a  


window, but Annette and Matthew did not let them inside; the OCS workers did not see  


Justin. Later attempts to contact Annette and Matthew, including a welfare check by the  


police, were unsuccessful.  


                             OCS obtained and executed a writ of assistance to gain access to the house  


and to Justin.                     According  to  one of the OCS workers,  Annette and Matthew were  


uncooperative:   Matthew was reluctant to let them into the house, and Annette was  


"screaming, yelling, [and] not letting go of the child." Police officers accompanying the  


OCS workers found a number of guests in the home, including a convicted sex offender  


not in compliance with registration requirements. Annette and Matthew stated that they  




                             We use pseudonyms for all family members to protect their privacy.  

                                                                                          -2-                                                                                         7403  

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were unaware of their guest's sex offense conviction.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                OCS found no evidence of drugs                                                                                                                                                 

 or paraphernalia in the house, and Annette and Matthew both declined hair follicle                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      


                                                                                      The OCS workers took Justin for a physical exam, which revealed no                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

 evidence of physical abuse, and a hair follicle test; OCS returned Justin to Annette                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

pending the hair follicle results. Annette and Matthew agreed to OCS's request that they                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

participate in 30 days of random urinalysis (UA) screening and obtained bus passes from                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

 OCS for transportation to the UAs.                                                                                                                                                                                               After they both missed their first two UAs an OCS                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

worker visited them and persuaded them to allow oral swabs to test for drugs. Annette's                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

test was negative; Matthew's was initially positive for amphetamines, but further testing                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

revealed this to be a false positive.                                                                                                                                                                                         During the visit the OCS worker observed a bag of                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

marijuana on a table but no other evidence that either of them was using drugs.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Based  

 on Matthew's apparent positive test result, OCS implemented a safety plan, placing                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

 Justin with Matthew's parents and allowing Annette and Matthew to have supervised                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 


                                                                                      In early November 2016 OCS received Justin's hair follicle test results,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

which were positive for marijuana and methamphetamine. Annette and Matthew denied                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

using methamphetamine but acknowledged that they sometimes allowed friends to stay                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

with them; they suggested that one or more of their guests might have exposed Justin to                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     


                                                                                      OCS took emergency custody of Justin and filed an emergency Child In                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Need of Aid (CINA) petition the next day to adjudicate him as a child in need of aid and                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

                                                                                                                                                  2   The petition alleged that Justin was a child in need of aid based  

 for temporary custody.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

                                           2                                          See  AS  47.10.142  (governing  emergency  custody);  CINA  Rule  6  (same).  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             -3-                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           7403  

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 on neglect, parental substance abuse, and parental mental illness.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   OCS placed Justin in                                                                                                             

 a foster home and arranged visitation for both Annette and Matthew. Annette stipulated                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

to probable cause without admitting any of the allegations; the court adjudicated Justin                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

 a child in need of aid on all three alleged bases and awarded OCS temporary custody                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

pending disposition.                                                                                                                       

                                             B.                                           OCS Caseworkers' Efforts                                                                                                                    

                                                                                           1.                                          First caseworker   

                                                                                          OCS assigned the first of three caseworkers to Justin's case soon after                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

taking custody of Justin.                                                                                                                                               That caseworker met with Annette to draft a case plan.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      The  

 case plan listed as a "protective factor[]" that Annette loved Justin and could "take really                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

 good care of him" but included her acknowledgment that she could not "talk so well                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

 sometimes" and tended to "get overwhelmed."                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The case plan required her to obtain a                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

 substance abuse assessment and to follow its recommendations, obtain a mental health                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

 assessment, complete parenting courses, and comply with the visitation schedule set up                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

 for her and Justin.                                                                                                                   It noted that she was not willing to consider medication despite                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

 "admit[ting] that she has mental health issues."                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              OCS referred Annette to programs for                                                                                                                                                                                                             

the substance abuse and mental health assessments as well as for other parenting, peer                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

 support, and education services.  The caseworker gave both Annette and Matthew bus     

passes for transportation to visits and other appointments.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

                                                                                          The first caseworker later testified that, although she "worked really well"                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

with Annette, and although Annette was willing to work on her case plan, "her anxiety                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

                                             3                                            See   AS   47.10.011   (providing   child   may   be   found  in  need   of   aid   if  

 (9) "conduct by or conditions created by the parent . . . have subjected the child . . . to                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

neglect," (10) parent's "ability to parent has been substantially impaired by the addictive                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

 or habitual use of an intoxicant" resulting in "a substantial risk of harm to the child," or                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

 (11)  parent "has a mental illness . . . of a nature and duration that places the child at                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

 substantial risk of physical harm or mental injury").                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          -4-                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        7403

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really made it difficult."                                      To try to ease Annette's anxiety, the caseworker accompanied                                                                  

Annette to schedule a substance abuse assessment, but Annette did not return for the                                                                                                                          

assessment  because she did not want to go alone, and confidentiality requirements                                                                                                            

prevented Matthew from accompanying her.                                                                             The caseworker next found a place where                                                     

Annette could do a walk-in assessment to avoid having to schedule an appointment in                                                                                                      

advance, but Annette again did not complete the assessment because Matthew could not                                                                                                                                     

come with her. Annette declined the caseworker's offer to accompany her in Matthew's                                                                                                                 


place to a meeting with a substance abuse treatment provider.                                                                                                       

                                   2.               Second caseworker  


                                      In  April  2017  the  case  was  assigned  to  another  caseworker.                                                                                                           That  


caseworker had difficulty establishing a relationship with Annette or engaging her in  


completing the tasks listed in the case plan, though Annette continued to consistently  


attend visits with Justin.  The second caseworker later testified that she was unable to  


scheduleappointments for assessmentsfor Annette because Annette and Matthewwould  


only meet with her for "about 15 minutes" before they would "walk out."  At one point  


Matthewindicated that hewould scheduletheassessmentswithout OCS's assistance, but  


the record does not indicate that he ever did so.  


                                   An adjudication trial was held over two days in late July 2017.5                                                                                                    The court  


heard testimony from an OCS worker who had investigated an earlier unsubstantiated  


report of harm concerning Annette and Matthew, the OCS worker who had filed the  


emergency petition, and both caseworkers who had been assigned to Justin's case. They  


                 4                 OCS did allow                         Matthew to be involved withsomeaspectsofAnnette's                                                                                           case  

plan,despitethecaseworker'sconcernthat hewas                                                                                   "being controlling,"becausehewould                                                                  

raise Justin with Annette if she regained custody.                                                                                

                 5                 See AS 47.10.080(a) (governing adjudication hearings); CINA Rule 15  




                                                                                                             -5-                                                                                                   7403

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testified that Matthew had completed a substance abuse assessment but not followed up                                                                                                                             

with treatment and that Annette had not begun any of the required substance abuse or                                                                                                                               

mental health                        services,   largely   because she refused                                                         to   attend   appointments without   

Matthew. Annette continued to visit weekly with Justin, often without Matthew because                                                                                                                

OCS had limited his visits after DNA testing excluded him as Justin's biological father.                                                                                                                                   

                                  The superior court found that Justin was a child in need of aid based on                                                                                                        

                    6   rejecting  Annette's  argument  that  a  visitor  to  their  home  "inadvertently  


exposed" Justin to methamphetamine. The court stated that "if you're a parent, . . . [y]ou  


keep your kids away from people who are smoking meth[amphetamine] . . . [and]  


marijuana." The court also found that Justin was a child in need of aid based on parental  


substance  abuse,7   pointing  to  Annette's  and  Matthew's  acknowledged  past  use  of  


methamphetamine and marijuana and their refusal to participate in UAs, although the  


court   acknowledged   it   was   "unclear   whether   it's   the   parents   who   are   using  


 [methamphetamine] or whether there[] [are] other people who have been using it."  


                                                                                             8  the court stated that "there's no evidence that it  

Finally, as to parental mental health,                                                                                                                                                                               


creates harm to [Justin]" but nevertheless found that Justin's developmental delays and  


exposure to drugs, along with Annette and Matthew's "lack of awareness of bringing . . .  


people  into  the  home"  who  might  endanger  Justin,  "could  be  indicative  of  mental  


illness." The court further found that OCS had made reasonable efforts to offer services  


to Annette and Matthew, including providing them with bus passes and referring them  


                 6               See  AS 47.10.011(9).   

                 7               See  AS 47.10.011(10).   

                 8               See  AS 47.10.011(11).   

                                                                                                         -6-                                                                                                7403

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for assessments, mental health services, and UAs.                                                                                                                                                               The court emphasized Annette's and                                                                                                        

Matthew's lack of engagement, suggesting that OCS might not have needed to remove                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Justin "had the parents cooperated, done the UAs, proven that it was someone else" who                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

exposed Justin to drugs, and "tightened up their home policy."                                                                                                                                                                                                         

                                                        OCS filed a predisposition report in October 2017 requesting custody of                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Justin for up to two years based on what it characterized as Annette's "untreated mental                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

health issues, unstable finances, possible substance use, unstable home, and unsafe                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

environment."    The report stated that Annette "continued to refuse to meet with" the                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

assigned caseworker or accept OCS's help with completing her case plan, though she                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

regularly   attended   her   visits   with   Justin,   and   that   Matthew   had   stopped   "actively  

engaging with OCS."                                                                         

                                                        In early November 2017 the second caseworker updated Annette's case                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

plan    without    Annette.       The    caseworker    testified    that    she    contacted    Annette  

approximately one to three times per month, usually after her visits with Justin, to try to                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

get her to work on her case plan, but that Annette was not engaged.  The updated plan                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

remained largely unchanged, requiring Annette to obtain substance abuse and mental                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

health assessments, participate in UAs, and visit regularly with Justin.                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

                                                        Following   a   combined   disposition   and   permanency   hearing   later   that  

                              10  the court committed Justin to OCS's custody for up to two years, finding that  


Justin remained a child in need of aid, that OCS had made reasonable efforts to provide  


 support services, and that these efforts had been unsuccessful.  


                            9                           See AS 47.10.086(a) (requiring OCS to "make timely, reasonable efforts  


to provide family support services to the child and to the parents . . . that are designed  


to . . . enable the safe return of the child to the family home").  

                            10                          See AS47.10.080(f),(l)(governingpermanencyhearings);CINARule17.2  



                                                                                                                                                                               -7-                                                                                                                                                                  7403

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                                           3.                    Third caseworker   

                                            In December 2017 Justin's case was transferred to a third caseworker, who                                                                                                                                                       

met with Annette soon afterward.                                                                               He later testified that because Annette did not agree                                                                                                   

with her case plan, she "refused to actually comply with [it]."                                                                                                                                           

                                            In January 2018 OCS filed a permanency report changing the primary goal                                                                                                                                                         

from reunification to adoption because Annette was "not engaged in any services . . . to                                                                                                                                                                                      

address   any   substance   abuse   or   mental   health  issues."     The   court   approved   the  

permanency plan in February but, because Annette and Matthew had re-engaged with                                                                                                                                                                                          

OCS shortly before the permanency hearing, the court did not require OCS to file a                                                                                                                                                                                                   


termination petition.                                                    


                                            The new caseworker did not alter Annette's case plan, but he referred her  


to additional agencies to obtain services because she had not gone to the agencies to  


which previous caseworkers had referredher. Becausehebelieved that Annette's mental  


health issues likely would prevent her from attending a pre-scheduled appointment, he  


helped her find walk-in options for substance abuse and mental health assessments and  


provided her with bus passes.  Even though Annette generally wanted to confer with  


Matthew before following up on referrals, the caseworker testified that she agreed to go  


to the new walk-in referrals without consulting Matthew.  But she did not do so; she  


would "come up with reasons" why she had not completed the assessments, such as  


having to clean the house or Matthew's being busy.  


                                            This  caseworker  also  attempted  to  assist  Annette  and  Matthew  with  


parenting courses they could complete at home with a booklet or online, as well as in  


person, but they never completed the courses.  He also testified that, with Annette's  

                      11                   See  AS 47.10.088(d)(1), (e)(1) (requiring OCS to petition for termination                                                                                                                               

of parental rights to child in foster care for 15 of last 22 months absent compelling reason                                                                                                                                                                        

that petition would not be in child's best interests).                                                                               

                                                                                                                                        -8-                                                                                                                              7403

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permission, he at first involved Matthew in their meetings because of the "supportive                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

role" Matthew played for her.                                                                                                                                     But he testified that Matthew later became "aggressive                                                                                                                                                                                     

towards [him]" and                                                                                            would speak                                                                for   Annette at the                                                                                     meetings.     Eventually   Annette  

 stopped attending the meetings.                                                                                                                                            

                                    C.                                  Termination Trial   

                                                                       In June 2018 OCS petitioned                                                                                                                                             to terminate Annette's parental rights to                                                                                                                                                                        

Justin.    The trial was held in September.                                                                                                                                                                                       Various current and former OCS workers                                                                                                                                                       

testified,   including   all   three   caseworkers  for   Justin's   case   as   well   as   the   visitation  

 supervisor.   The first two caseworkers acknowledged Annette's anxiety and testified to                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

her unwillingness to meet with most service providers without Matthew present.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     The  

visitation supervisor also acknowledged Annette's mental health issues.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              She testified   

that Annette generally attended scheduled visits but was inconsistent in how much she                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

would engage with Justin during visits, and that she would sometimes "get[] snappy"                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

with him or                                                             "get[]   really agitated and blow[] up" when redirected.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        She expressed   

 concern that Annette would have difficulty parenting on her own. The third caseworker                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

 also testified to his efforts to assist Annette with her case plan.  He stated that because                                                 

Annette had not obtained any of the required assessments, OCS had not been able to                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

 even investigate any mental health or substance abuse issues she might have.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

                                                                       At the close of trial the court made oral findings that OCS had proven by                                                                                                                                           

 clear and convincing evidence that Justin was subjected to neglect based on the positive                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

                                                                                          12  that Annette's marijuana use substantially impaired her ability to  

hair follicle test;                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

parent,  though  it  found  that  OCS  had  not  met  its  burden  with  respect  to  proving  




                                                                       See AS 47.10.011(9).  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                -9-                                                                                                                                                                                                                7403  

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methamphetamine use;                      and that Annette suffered from mental health issues that would                                


put Justin at substantial risk of physical harm and mental injury in her custody.                                                          The  


court also found by clear and convincing evidence that Annette had not remedied the  


conduct or conditions making Justin a child in need of aid within a reasonable time,  


because the case had been pending for nearly two years.  The court found that it was in  


Justin's best interests to terminate Annette's parental rights so his foster family could  


proceed with adoption. The court issued its written order terminating Annette's parental  


rights in November.  


                      Annetteappeals, challenging both thefinding that Justin wasa child in need  


of aid and the finding that OCS made reasonable efforts.  




                       "In a case involving the termination of parental rights, we review a superior  



court's findings of fact for clear error."                          "Findings are clearly erroneous if review of the  


entire record leaves us with 'a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been  



made.' "           "[W]e will not reweigh evidence when the record provides clear support for  

                                        17  We review for clear error the factual question of "[w]hether  

the trial court's ruling."                                                                                                  

           13         See  AS  47.10.011(10).  

           14         See  AS  47.10.011(11).  

           15         Denny  M.   v.   State,  Dep't of  Health   &   Soc.   Servs.,   Office   of   Children's  

Servs.,  365  P.3d  345,  348  (Alaska  2016)  (quoting  Doe  v.  State,  Dep't  of  Health  &  Soc.  

Servs.,  Office  of  Children's  Servs.,  272  P.3d   1014,   1019  (Alaska  2012)).  

           16          Claudio P. v. State, Dep't  of Health  & Soc. Servs.,  Office of Children's  


Servs., 309 P.3d 860, 863 (Alaska 2013) (quoting Sherman B. v. State, Dep't of Health  


& Soc. Servs., Office of Children's Servs., 290 P.3d 421, 427-28 (Alaska 2012)).  


           17         Id. (quoting Sherman B., 290 P.3d at 428).  


                                                                     -10-                                                                7403

----------------------- Page 11-----------------------


a child is a child in need of aid."                             "Whether factual findings satisfy the requirements of                                           


the applicable [CINA] statute is a question of law that we review de novo."                                                                      "Whether  



OCS made reasonable efforts to reunify the family is a mixed question of law and fact." 

IV.	         DISCUSSION  


             A.	         The  Superior  Court  Did  Not  Err  When  It  Found  By  Clear  And  


                         Convincing Evidence That Justin Was A Child In Need Of Aid.  


                         In a termination of parental rights case, OCS must prove by clear and  


convincing evidence: that the child is in need of aid under AS 47.10.011; that the parent  


has failed to remedy the conduct or conditions placing the child at risk of harm; and that  


OCS  has  made  reasonable  efforts  to  provide  family  services  designed  to  enable  



reunification.                   OCS  must  also  prove  by  a  preponderance  of  the  evidence  that  



termination of parental rights is in the child's best interests. 

                         Alaska Statute 47.10.011(9) provides that a court may find a child to be a  


child in need of aid if "conduct by or conditions created by the parent, guardian, or  


custodian have subjected the child or another child in the same household to neglect."23  


Neglect is defined as "fail[ure] to provide the child with adequate food, clothing, shelter,  


education, medical attention, or other care and control necessary for the child's physical  


and mental health and development, though financially able to do so or offered financial  


             18           Theresa L. v. State, Dep't of Health & Soc. Servs., Office of Children's                                             

Servs., 353 P.3d 831, 837 (Alaska 2015).                          

             19          Id.   

             20          Sherman  B.,  290  P.3d  at  428.  

             21          AS  47.10.088(a);  CINA  Rule   18(c)(1)-(2).  

             22          CINA  Rule   18(c)(3).  

             23          AS  47.10.011(9).  

                                                                              -11-	                                                                       7403

----------------------- Page 12-----------------------

or other reasonable means to do so."                         24  


                      Annette argues that OCS failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence  


that Justin was in need of aid on any of the three grounds alleged in its petition because  


it did not establish a causal relationship between her conduct or mental health issues and  

                                             25   We need not consider each of the grounds alleged if we  


Justin's exposure to drugs. 

determine that the record supports any one of the superior court's child in need of aid  


findings; we may affirm that finding without considering the other grounds.26  


                      Annette contends the court erred by finding that her conduct subjected  


Justin  to  neglect  because   OCS   "never   established  how  the  methamphetamine  


[documented by the hair follicle test] got into Justin's system." She argues that the court  


"overlook[ed] the fact that the statute requires [OCS] to prove that the child was subject  


to neglect as a result of parental conduct."  (Emphasis added.)  OCS responds that it is  


not required to prove that Annette "actively created a drug-filled environment." Rather,  


it argues, the court was correct to find that Annette neglected Justin by failing to protect  


him from exposure to marijuana and methamphetamine by people she allowed to stay in  


her home.  


           24         AS 47.10.014.   

           25         In addition to subsection (9) of AS 47.10.011, OCS alleged that Justin was  


a child in need of aid under subsections (10) and (11), which provide that a child is in  


need of aid if "(10) the parent['s] . . . ability to parent has been substantially impaired by  


the addictive or habitual use of an intoxicant" resulting in "a substantial risk of harm to  


the child," or if "(11) the parent . . . has a mental illness, serious emotional disturbance,  


or mental deficiency of a nature and duration that places the child at substantial risk of  


physical harm or mental injury."  AS 47.10.011(10)-(11).  


           26         Payton S. v. State, Dep't of Health & Soc. Servs., Office of Children's  


Servs., 349 P.3d 162, 169 (Alaska 2015).  


                                                                     -12-                                                               7403

----------------------- Page 13-----------------------

                                 The   record   supports   a   finding   by   clear   and   convincing   evidence   that  

Annette    neglected   Justin   by    allowing    him    to    be    exposed    to    marijuana    and  

methamphetamine.   It is true that the only evidence of methamphetamine use by anyone                                                                                                                 

close to              Justin   is the positive hair                                       follicle test.                     Neither  Annette nor                                   Matthew was   

observed using, admitted to using, or tested positive for methamphetamine; their oral test                                                                                                                      

results were negative; and, aside from a bag of marijuana, no drug paraphernalia was                                                                                                                          

ever found in their home.                                         However, as the court noted, there was no suggestion that                                              

Justin had been exposed to methamphetamine "anywhere else at daycare or anything like                                                                                                                          

              27      No evidence at the termination trial indicated that Justin had spent time in  


someone else's care or had been exposed to drugs somewhere other than in Annette's  




                                 Given this, it was not clearly erroneous for the court to infer, based on the  


positive hair follicle test, that Justin had been exposed to methamphetamine while under  


Annette and Matthew's care and that conditions they created in their home had led to his  


exposure.  Nor was it error for the court to determine that, absent any indication that the  


drug exposure could have occurred outside Annette's home, the follicle test constituted  


                 27              While the court made this finding in the context of its oral findings on                                                                                                        

parental substance abuse rather than neglect, this finding also underlies the court's                                                                                                                

inference   that   Justin   was   exposed   to   drugs   in   Annette's  home,   and   that   Annette's  

decision to allow drug users to stay in her home amounted to neglect.                                                                                     

                 28              Annette and Matthew themselves speculated at one point that one or more  


visitors to their home may have exposed Justin to methamphetamine.  However, this  


evidence emerged at the adjudication trial, and the court did not rely on it for its findings  


of neglect at termination; we thus do not consider it on appeal.  See Bill S. v. State, Dep't  


of Health & Soc. Servs., Office of Children's Servs., 436 P.3d 976, 983 n.32 (Alaska  


2019)  (noting  that  on  appeal  this  court  cannot  rely  upon  evidence  not  admitted  at  


termination trial).  


                                                                                                       -13-                                                                                                7403

----------------------- Page 14-----------------------

clear   and   convincing   evidence   of   neglect,   even   if   the   specific   mechanism   of   that  

exposure could not be determined based on the available evidence.                                              

                          Because we affirm the superior court's finding that Justin was a child in                                                               

need of aid based on neglect, we need not review the court's findings regarding parental                                                               

                                                                   29   However, we remind superior courts that findings  

substance abuse and mental illness.                                                                                                                   

must be sufficient to support meaningful appellate review.30                                                           In this case the superior  


court's written findings stated only that "[t]he child, who is under [18] years of age, was  


shown  by  clear  and  convincing  evidence  to  be  a  child  in  need  of  aid  pursuant  to  


AS 47.10.011(9), (10), and (11)."   It is only because the court's oral findings made  


reference to specific facts and evidence presented at the termination trial that we are able  


to review its child in need of aid determination at all.31   We reiterate that trial courts must  


make specific findings; where the written findings are largely conclusory, as here, the  


             29           See Payton S.             , 349 P.3d at 169.                 

             30           See, e.g., In re Adoption of Hannah L., 390 P.3d 1153, 1157 n.16 (Alaska  


2017)  ("[T]he  superior  court  must  provide  findings  sufficient  to  give  a  clear  


understanding of the grounds upon which it reached its decision." (quoting Price v.  


Eastham, 128 P.3d 725, 727 (Alaska 2006))); Borchgrevink v. Borchgrevink, 941 P.2d  


 132, 139 (Alaska 1997) ("A trial court's factual findings . . . must either give us a clear  


indication of the factors which the superior court considered important in exercising its  


discretion or allow us to glean from the record what considerations were involved.").  


             31           Although we conclude that the court's findings on neglect are sufficient to  


permit appellate review and affirm on that basis, we note that its findings on parental  


mental illness under subsection (11) of AS 47.10.011 appear inadequate.   The court  


observed that Annette had an "outburst" and struggled "to control herself " during the  


trial; based on this the court "acknowledged that she ha[s] mental health issues," but it  


made no connection to any potential harm to Justin as a result.  The court stated that  


"there was clear and convincing evidence presented that [Annette] does have a mental  


illness" and that OCS had proven "both harm and mental injury . . . with respect to  


 [Justin] remaining in [Annette]'s custody or care," but it pointed to no specific facts that  


would support either finding.  


                                                                               -14-                                                                         7403

----------------------- Page 15-----------------------

court must make oral findings that are sufficiently detailed to explain the basis for the                                                                                                                                                                                                            

court's decision and to enable meaningful review.                                                                                                    

                        B.	                    The Superior Court DidNot                                                                               ErrWhenItDetermined                                                                         That OCS Made  

                                               Reasonable Efforts To Reunify The Family.                                                                                              

                                               Alaska Statute 47.10.086(a) requires OCS to "make timely, reasonable                                                                                                                                                      

efforts to provide family support services to the child and to the parents . . . that are                                                                                                                                                                                                           

designed to prevent out-of-home placement of the child or to enable the safe return of the                                                                                                                                                                                                            

child to the family home."                                                                    The statute requires OCS to:                                                                  

                                               (1)  identify family support services that will assist the parent                                                                                                                           

                                               or guardian in remedying the conduct or conditions in the                                                                                                                                             

                                               home that made the child a child in need of aid;                                                                                                          

                                               (2)  actively offer the parent or guardian, and refer the parent                                                                                                                            

                                               or   guardian   to,   the   services   identified   under  (1)   of   this  

                                               subsection; [OCS] shall refer the parent or guardian to, and                                                                                                                                         

                                               distribute                              to           the               parent                       or            guardian                             information                                      on,  

                                               community-based                                                         family                          support                            services                             whenever  

                                               community-based services are available and desired by the                                                                                                                                              

                                               parent or guardian . . . ;                                               

                                               (3)  document [OCS]'s actions that are taken under (1) and (2)                                                                                                                                          


                                               of this subsection.                                                       

The superior court must find by clear and convincing evidence that OCS has made the  


required reasonable efforts before it can order termination of parental rights.33  


                                               Annette argues that OCS's efforts "failed to address the needs of the family  


because OCS did not accommodate [her] anxiety issues."  She concedes that her first  


caseworker "tried to provide her with a stress free environment," but asserts that "later  


caseworkers did not accommodate [her] anxiety."  She argues that, because OCS must  


                        32                     AS 47.10.086(a)(1)-(3).                                                               

                        33                     AS 47.10.088(a)(3).  


                                                                                                                                                 -15-                                                                                                                                          7403  

----------------------- Page 16-----------------------


tailor its efforts to the circumstances of her case                                                                                                                          and because OCS was aware of her                                                                                 

mental health issues, efforts that "may have been sufficient for someone without an                                                                                                                                                                                                              

anxiety disorder . . . fell far short of what was needed in the present case."                                                                                                                                                                              She suggests   

that OCS should have consulted a mental health expert to determine how best to engage                                                                                                                                                                                            

with  her  "on   her   terms."     OCS   responds   that   the   record   supports   a   finding   that  

caseworkers took specific steps to accommodate and mitigate Annette's anxiety.                                                                                                                                                                                                         OCS  

blames Annette's lack of engagement for its failed efforts and emphasizes that, because                                                                                                                                                                                       

OCS has some discretion to decide what efforts to pursue, it was not required to consult                                                                                                                                                                                         

a mental health expert in this case.                                                                                    OCS further argues that because Annette refused to                                                                                                                         

complete a mental health assessment, a mental health expert would have been unable to                                                                                                                                                                                                              

identify Annette's needs or how to address them.                                                                                                                           

                                              We have held that "OCS's efforts must be 'reasonable but need not be                                                                                                                                                                               

                                35  and must be assessed "in light of the circumstances" of the case, which "can  

perfect' "                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

                                                                                                                                                                                                                           36          In  determining  the  

include  a  parent's  unwillingness  to  participate  in  treatment."                                                                                                                                                                                                                         


reasonableness of OCS's efforts, we may consider "all interactions between the parent  


and OCS" as well as "the entire history of services" OCS has provided.37   "Our case law  


                       34                     See Shirley M. v. State, Dep't of Heath & Soc. Servs., Office of Children's                                                                                                                                            

Servs., 342 P.3d 1233, 1242 (Alaska 2015) ("OCS is . . . required to take into account   

the parent's limitations or disabilities and make any reasonable accommodations.").                                                                                                                                        

                       35                      Violet C. v. State, Dep't of Health &Soc.Servs., Office of Children's Servs.,  


436 P.3d 1032, 1038 (Alaska 2019) (quoting Audrey H. v. State, Dep't of Health & Soc.  


Servs., Office of Children's Servs., 188 P.3d 668, 678 (Alaska 2008)).  


                       36                    Amy M. v. State, Dep't of Health &Soc. Servs., Office of Children's Servs. ,  


320 P.3d 253, 259 (Alaska 2013).  


                       37                     Sylvia L. v. State, Dep't of Health &Soc. Servs., Office of Children's Servs.,


343 P.3d 425, 432 n.21 (Alaska 2015) (first quoting Audrey H. , 188 P.3d at 679 n.35;



                                                                                                                                              -16-                                                                                                                                       7403

----------------------- Page 17-----------------------

and the internal policies of OCS suggest that family reunification services should be                                                                                   


provided in a manner that takes a parent's disability into account."                                                                                                    

                                                                                                                                               OCS's duty to  


"offer reunification services is fulfilled by setting out the types of services that a parent  


should  avail himself or  herself of in  a manner  that allows the parent to utilize the  

                    39   OCS's obligation does not extend to forcing an uncooperative or unwilling  


parent to engage in services, including mental health treatment.40  


                           Here the superior court found that OCS caseworkers had "gone over and  

above . . . to try and get [Annette] to engage in treatment," contacting her frequently by  


multiple means of communication and finding options for walk-in appointments after  


determining  that  her  mental  health  issues  would  make  attending  pre-scheduled  


appointments difficult.  The court also noted that Annette did consistently attend visits  


with Justin, which the court took as evidence that "she is able to get where she needs to  


go when she wants to" and that it was not her mental illness but her unwillingness to  


             37            (...continued)  


then quoting Erica A. v. State, Dep't of Health & Soc. Servs., Div. of Family & Youth  


Servs., 66 P.3d 1, 7 (Alaska 2003)).  

             38           Lucy J. v. State, Dep't of Health &Soc. Servs., Office of Children's Servs .,  


244 P.3d 1099, 1115-16 (Alaska 2010); see ALASKA  OFFICE OF                                                                   CHILDREN 'S  SERVICES,  


C H I L D            P R O T E C T I V E                  SE R V I C E S                M A N U A L                        6 . 1 .1 4 ( c)               ( 2 0 1 9 ) ,"The                                                                                   

Division shall operate each of its services, programs, and activities so that a service,                                                                    

program, or activity, when viewed in its entirety, is readily accessible to and usable by                                                                               

individuals with disabilities.").     

             39           Emma D. v. State, Dep't of Health & Soc. Servs., Office of Children's  


Servs., 322 P.3d 842, 851 (Alaska 2014) (quoting Audrey H. , 188 P.3d at 679).  


             40            Chloe O. v. State, Dep't of Health & Soc. Servs., Office of Children's  


Servs., 309 P.3d 850, 857 (Alaska 2013) (holding that OCS was not required to obtain  


court order requiring parent to participate in mental health services to satisfy Indian  


Child Welfare Act's active efforts requirement, see 25 U.S.C.  1912(d) (2012)).  


                                                                                  -17-                                                                            7403

----------------------- Page 18-----------------------


engage that prevented her fromgetting substance abuse and mental health assessments.                                                                                                            


                             The record provides ample support for the court's findings.   Although  


Annette's three caseworkers experienced varying levels ofsuccess getting her to engage,  


they all made efforts to accommodate her. They testified that they worked with Annette  


to identify walk-in services because she struggled with attending appointments made far  


in advance. The initial caseworker also offered to accompany Annette to a meeting with  


a substance abuse treatment provider when Annette refused to go without Matthew. And  


when Annette expressed discomfort with the providers  to whom OCS had initially  


referred her, the third caseworker made new referrals and attempted to make sure she  


was comfortable with following up on them.   He also gave Annette and Matthew a  


variety of options for completing the parenting classes Annette's case plan required,  


including  using  a  booklet  at  home  or  taking  classes  online  or  in  person.                                                                                                And  


caseworkers  allowed  Matthew  to  participate  with  Annette,  acknowledging  the  


"supportive role" he played in mitigating Annette's anxiety.  They also tried to engage  


with Annette alone when Matthew's influence appeared counterproductive.  


                             The record also contains ample evidence of Annette's lack of engagement.  


She completed neither a substance abuse nor a mental health assessment.   She and  


Matthew  repeatedly  cut  short  meetings  with  caseworkers  or  failed  to  attend  them  


altogether, and Annette would "walk out" when the second caseworker tried to speak  


with her after her scheduled visits with Justin.  Because she refused to get assessments,  


OCS was unable to determine the extent of her mental health or substance abuse needs  

               41            See Lucy J.             , 244 P.3d at 1117 (rejecting mother's argument that OCS failed                                                              

to accommodate her disabilities in part based on evidence supporting trial court's finding                                                                                     

that she was "capable of and has initiated programs when she want[ed] to").                                                                                              

                                                                                           -18-                                                                                    7403

----------------------- Page 19-----------------------


or how best to assist her.                                             


                                   The court therefore did not err when it found by clear and convincing  


evidence that OCS had made reasonable efforts to reunify the family, taking Annette's  


mental health issues into account.   We affirm the superior court's reasonable efforts  



V.                CONCLUSION  

                                   Because the record adequately supports the superior court's finding that  


Justin was a child in need of aid based upon neglect, and because OCS made reasonable  


efforts to accommodate Annette's mental health issues as it worked to connect her with  


services, we AFFIRM the termination of Annette's parental rights.  


                 42                See Audrey H.                       , 188 P.3d at 681 (affirming reasonable efforts finding in part                                                                                  

based on parent's unwillingness to participate in evaluations that might have allowed                                                                                                                       

OCS "to identify additional services catered to her specific needs").                                                                                                             

                                                                                                           -19-                                                                                                     7403

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