No “Reasonable Efforts” to Reunite Oregon Sex Offender with His Son
by Mark Wilson
The Oregon Court of Appeals held on July 3, 2013 that a juvenile court improperly assessed whether the Department of Human Services (DHS) had made reasonable efforts to reunite an incarcerated sex offender with his minor son.
At the time, DHS maintained custody of a child identified as R.W., who was born in 2007. His father, M.K., sentenced to prison for sex offenses involving a 15-year-old girl, was not scheduled for release until November 2013. M.K. participated in a parenting course and other programs while incarcerated.
Pursuant to ORS § 419B.476, at a juvenile court permanency hearing the court must “determine whether [DHS] has made reasonable efforts ... and whether the parent has made sufficient progress to make it possible for the ward to safely return home.”
At an October 2012 permanency hearing, a DHS caseworker testified that the department wanted M.K. to visit with R.W., but required the father to complete a psychosexual evaluation to determine whether he could safely visit his son, in prison or following release, before approving visitation.
The caseworker noted that M.K. had not been evaluated but said she had located a doctor willing to perform the evaluation at the prison. However, the doctor’s fee was “$5,000 to perform the psychosexual evaluation while [the] father was incarcerated, in comparison to the ‘less than $1,000’ that DHS usually would pay for such an evaluation.”
The juvenile court held that DHS was not required to pay $5,000 to have M.K. evaluated and found that DHS had made reasonable efforts to reunite R.W. with M.K. “Reasonable efforts do not require [DHS] to offer [the father] a psychosexual evaluation while he is in prison if the cost is $5,000,” the court found. Ultimately, the juvenile court concluded that M.K. had not made sufficient progress toward reunification with his son because he “is a sex offender and needs a psychosexual examination to determine whether he presents a danger” to R.W.
The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the juvenile court failed to consider the totality of the circumstances in making its reasonable efforts determination.
“Put bluntly,” the appellate court held, “when a parent contends that DHS’s efforts have not been reasonable because the agency has declined to provide a particular service, the court’s ‘reasonable efforts’ determination should include something resembling a cost-benefit analysis, at least when ... the agency itself has deemed that service to be ‘key’ to the reunification plan.”
Such an analysis was not conducted by the juvenile court. Rather, it “appears to have considered only the cost of performing the psychosexual evaluation while the father is incarcerated,” the Court of Appeals found. “Given the importance of the psychosexual evaluation to the reunification plan, the juvenile court should have considered the extent to which the family might benefit if [the] father received a psychosexual evaluation promptly, instead of waiting a year to be evaluated after his release.” The juvenile court’s ruling was reversed. See: DHS v. M.K. (In re R.W.), 257 Ore. App. 409 (Or. Ct. App. 2013).
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Related legal case
DHS v. M.K. (In re R.W.)
|Cite||257 Ore. App. 409 (Or. Ct. App. 2013)|
|Level||State Court of Appeals|