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No error in admitting foster parent’s testimony at TPR grounds trial

Dunn County Human Services v. N.R., 2021AP129 & 2021AP1830, District 3, 1/28/22 (one-judge decision; in eligible for publication); case activity

The circuit court properly exercised its discretion in allowing the foster parent of N.R.’s children to testify at the grounds trial in N.R.’s TPR proceeding.

The petition alleged continuing CHIPS grounds, which meant the County had to prove that it made a reasonable effort to provide the services required under the CHIPS order and that N.R. failed to meet the conditions established by the CHIPS order for the safe return of her children to her home. The foster parent’s testimony was properly admitted because it was relevant to these elements:

¶13     …. Contrary to Nora’s argument, the court’s reasoning in permitting the foster mother’s testimony was not simply that it was relevant to show how much the children had improved in foster care—a statement it made in addressing Nora’s motion in limine on the first day of trial. The court later instructed that the foster mother’s testimony be further limited to the following areas: to present evidence of Nora’s performance, or lack thereof, in meeting her conditions for the return of the children; and to explain how the children reacted during Nora’s visits and after she failed to appear for visits. Both of these topics were relevant to the ground being tried.

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¶15     The foster mother also described the children’s conditions when they entered her care, noting that the younger child was very ill when she arrived and was suffering from severe constipation and respiratory issues. The foster mother further described that when both children arrived in her care, they were “glazed over. They were lifeless. They had no emotions.” She testified to the efforts she and the County made to help the children regain their health. The circuit court properly exercised its discretion in allowing the foster mother’s testimony at trial to establish a baseline for the children’s conditions on their removal from Nora’s care and to inform the jury about the nature of the services the County provided thereafter.

The court agrees with N.R. that the circuit court erred in admitting two photos of the chilfdren the day they were removed from her home, as they were irrelevant. But the error was harmless. (¶¶16-20).

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