State v. Nguyen
In this Oregon case, the parents appealed a judgment terminating their parental rights in their three-year-old son Matthew. They argued that the state failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that they are unfit parents, that reintegration into their home is improbable within a reasonable time because they are unlikely to change, and that termination of their parental rights was in Matthew’s best interest.
The TPR was filed after one of the parents inflicted serious abuse on Matthew’s sibling, four-month old Martha, repeatedly breaking her limbs and fracturing her skull. The lower court found that the other parent was aware of that conduct and that neither party acknowledged responsibility.
After Matthew was born, the mother and father remained together, continued to maintain that they did not know how or why Martha was abused, and refused to engage in the process of identifying and curing the problems that led to Martha’s injury.
The parents argued that they cooperated with the state and the investigation of the circumstances of the injuries sustained by Martha. Over a period of more than three years, the parents engaged in numerous services, such as parenting classes, visitation, psychiatric and psychological evaluations and individual and couples’ counseling.
The Oregon Court of Appeals found that although the case is not easy to decide and that there is a legitimate concern regarding the safety of Matthew in light of the unexplained injuries to Martha, the state failed to meet its burden by clear and convincing evidence that it is highly probable that father and mother are not presently able, or will not be able within a reasonable time, to meet the physical and emotional needs of Matthew. It denied the termination of parental rights.
The Court found that the difficulty in deciding this case was exacerbated by the inherently speculative process of predicting a risk of future harm, a process that the state’s three expert witnesses expressly refused to undertake regarding Matthew’s situation.
A lone dissenter found that the testimony established that the parent who abused Martha cannot be treated until that parent acknowledges responsibility for Martha’s injuries. He also found that the testimony established that, until the parent responsible for Martha’s injuries comes forward, further abuse cannot be avoided and Matthew’s safety is therefore at risk.