In the unanimous published decision of Ronan F. v. State of Alaska, Department of Family & Community Services, Office of Children’s Services, the Alaska Supreme Court granted an appeal filed by Attorney Horowitz and reversed the termination of a father’s parental rights.
Based on Attorney Horowitz’s arguments, the Court found that OCS had failed to make active efforts to reunify father with his children and that the trial court’s conclusion on that point were erroneous. In part, the Court wrote:
OCS’s failure to make efforts toward Ronan after the reassignment of the first caseworker is similarly egregious. There is no evidence that the second caseworker made any efforts. And the third caseworker’s “overly rigid” insistence on working with Ronan only if he was willing to meet with her at his home — in spite of his documented PTSD and repeated requests to meet elsewhere — resulted in her making no other efforts to assist him. OCS must prove by clear and convincing evidence that it made active efforts toward Ronan, yet it presented no evidence that either the second or third caseworker attempted to “tak[e] [Ronan] through the steps of [his] reunification case plan.”
OCS argues that the superior court properly considered Ronan’s noncooperation in finding that active efforts were met. But as we recently reiterated in Mona J., “[a] parent’s lack of cooperation or unwillingness to participate in treatment does not excuse OCS from making active efforts and proving that it has made them.” While we recognized that there are limited circumstances under which a parent’s noncooperation can be considered, an active efforts finding “turn[s] on OCS’s efforts” rather than a parent’s actions, and “OCS must always show that it made active efforts in the first place.”
The second caseworker’s failure to provide any evidence or testimony about any efforts and the third caseworker’s refusal to work with Ronan unless and until he consented to her visiting him at home were not “minor failures.” Rather than working to overcome the mistrust called to OCS’s attention by the psychiatric evaluation it had required of Ronan, the third caseworker’s overly rigid approach exacerbated it. OCS proved that it made active efforts for seven months of the three years that it was required to provide them to Ronan. By failing to make active efforts for the vast majority of that time, OCS failed to make active efforts toward Ronan. We therefore reverse the termination of his parental rights.
A PDF of the full decision is available below.