In re Interest of Aletha K.

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In re Interest of Aletha K.

Caselaw No.
Filed on
Thursday, January 2, 2014

SUMMARY: Juvenile court properly ordered continued custody of the child with DHHS when the State provided sufficient evidence that the parents had repeatedly abused or neglected the child’s older siblings, putting the child at a risk of harm. 

While Crystal was pregnant with Aletha (DOB 6/2013), Crystal and Matthew relinquished their parental rights to Samara (DOB 8/2005), Elijah (DOB 10/2007), Mariska (DOB 4/2009), and Natalia (DOB 4/2010). The State filed a petition the day after Aletha was born alleging that Aletha lacked proper care by the habits of her parents because her parents substantially and continuously neglected and refused to give her siblings necessary parental care and protection. The juvenile court granted a temporary custody order. The State filed two amended petitions alleging that the juvenile court had adjudicated Aletha’s siblings because their parents lacked proper parental care and that one of her siblings reported being sexually assaulted by Matthew. The State also filed a motion to terminate Crystal and Matthew’s parental rights on July 2, 2013. At a protective custody hearing on July 3, 2013, the State introduced exhibits that included pleadings from a 2005 criminal case wherein Matthew pled guilty to and was convicted of first degree sexual assault of Crystal and pleadings and orders from the prior juvenile court cases from Aletha’s older siblings. The exhibits showed that the older siblings were removed from the home in October 2010 and the parents admitted to the allegations that the parental home was in an unfit living condition. All four of the older siblings had poor dental hygiene and three had severe diaper rash that Crystal failed to address. The siblings were again adjudicated in March 2012 after Crystal and Matthew answered no contest to allegations that they continued to lack parental knowledge and failed to perform routine parental duties. Crystal and Matthew never progressed beyond supervised visitation; visitation was suspended in September 2012 because Samara was reacting with severe behavioral and sexual problems following visits. Samara disclosed to her foster parent that Matthew had sexually abused her. The case worker testified that Crystal and Matthew had not addressed any of the issues that led to the older children’s adjudications and that this placed Aletha at risk of harm. In addition, Crystal and Matthew had previously been offered 24/7 supervision in the home but had left the older siblings in DHHS’s care so the parents could go on a trip. The juvenile court ordered continued custody of Aletha with DHHS.

The Nebraska Court of Appeals upheld the temporary custody order. Relinquishing parental rights to older children did not provide the parents with a clean slate as to younger children. Crystal and Matthew had demonstrated a lack of parenting skills and knowledge and continued to refuse to perform their parental duties and responsibilities. There was no indication that anything had changed in the three months between the relinquishment of parental rights and Aletha’s birth. The State did prove by a preponderance of the evidence that custody of Aletha should remain with DHHS and that foster care was the least restrictive alternative.