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People in the Interest of S.Z.S.

2022 COA 133. No. 22CA0305. Dependency and Neglect—Termination of Parent-Child Legal Relationship—Americans with Disabilities Act—Reasonable Accommodations.

November 17, 2022

The Boulder County Department of Housing and Human Services (Department) initiated a dependency and neglect proceeding for the newborn child. Father didn’t appear, and the juvenile court adjudicated the child dependent and neglected as to father and adopted a treatment plan for him. Mother denied the allegations, and a jury found in favor of the Department. The juvenile court adjudicated the child dependent and neglected as to mother and adopted a treatment plan for her. The Department subsequently moved to terminate mother’s and father’s parental rights. Shortly thereafter, father contacted the caseworker for the first time and requested genetic testing, which confirmed his paternity. The court then adopted an amended treatment plan for father. The following month, the juvenile court held an evidentiary hearing on the Department’s termination motion. After hearing the evidence, the juvenile court terminated father’s parental rights under CRS § 19-3-604(1)(a) and mother’s parental rights under CRS § 19-3-604(1)(c).

On appeal, mother argued that the juvenile court erred by finding that the Department made reasonable efforts to rehabilitate her and reunify her with the child because the Department failed to make reasonable accommodations for her disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). To benefit from a reasonable accommodation, a parent must timely raise the issue of the ADA’s applicability. Here, mother’s counsel noted in closing that mother had psychological issues and that the Department should have made additional referrals based on recommendations in mother’s psychological evaluation. But mother and her attorney never raised the ADA issue either before or during the termination hearing, and the juvenile court didn’t make any specific findings about the ADA’s applicability for the court of appeals to review. Accordingly, mother failed to preserve this argument for appellate review.

Mother also argued that the juvenile court erred by finding that she couldn’t become fit within a reasonable time. The record supports the court’s findings that mother was unfit because of continuing mental health problems, lack of demonstrated sobriety, a history of engagement in domestic violence for which she hadn’t participated in treatment, and her inability to integrate feedback from her parenting coaches. Further, the child was very young, had been in foster care most of her life, and needed stability. Therefore, the juvenile court did not err.

Father contended that the juvenile court erred by terminating his parental rights because he didn’t have a reasonable amount of time to comply with his treatment plan. The court must allow a parent reasonable time to comply with a treatment plan only where parental rights are terminated under CRS § 19-3-604(1)(c). Here, the juvenile court terminated father’s parental rights under CRS § 19-3-604(1)(a), which does not require the juvenile court to provide a parent with a treatment plan and allow reasonable time for compliance with the plan before it can terminate parental rights. Therefore, father’s rights were properly terminated.

Father also contended that the Department failed to make reasonable efforts because it did not try to engage with him after paternity was established and immediately pursued termination. However, the court isn’t required to adopt a treatment plan under CRS § 19-3-604(1)(a), so it isn’t required to make a finding of reasonable efforts when, as here, it terminates parental rights under that subsection.

The judgment was affirmed.

Official Colorado Court of Appeals proceedings can be found at the Colorado Court of Appeals website.

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