Supreme Court Denies Parental Rights for Casper Mother Whose Baby Had Meth in its System
"When the rights of a parent and the rights of a child are on a collision course, the rights of the parent must yield," the Wyoming Supreme Court quoted in its ruling against a Casper woman trying to get her child back.
The court was citing a prior case in its ruling against Casper resident Robin Allyssa Caroline Alcorn.
According to court documents from the Wyoming Supreme Court, Alcorn's parental rights were terminated after a long and arduous process.
The story ended with the termination of Alcorn's rights as a parent to her three-and-a-half year old baby. It began when that same baby was found with meth in her system and legions on her neck.
That's according to court documents, which state that in early June of 2019, the father of Alcorn's baby asked for assistance from a neighbor because he believed "someone with a rifle was trying to kill him."
The neighbor called the Sheridan Police Department, who then performed a welfare check at the father's home, where Alcorn and her then one-month-old baby also lived.
While performing the welfare check, officers noticed drug paraphernalia and marijuana near where the child slept. The paraphernalia later tested positive for methamphetamine. Officers also noticed 'significant' open sores on the baby's neck and armpit.
Officers arrested Alcorn and her child's father under the charges of child endangerment.
The baby was taken into protective custody, and later tested positive for methamphetamine via a hair follicle test.
Court documents stated that the child was born with torticollis in her neck and had recently developed hemangiomas. The child also had 'significant difficulty with constipation.'
On June 3, 2019, the county attorney officially filed a petition that alleged Alcorn neglected her child. The following day, the juvenile court held a shelter care hearing and found 'clear and convincing' evidence that it was not in the child's best interest to return to Alcorn's home.
Alcorn agreed to let the Wyoming Department of Family Services place the child in non-relative foster care. Additionally, a multi-disciplinary team was established to Alcorn's case. Shortly thereafter the court held an adjudicatory hearing and found that the child was neglected, as defined by Wyo. Sta. Ann. § 14-3-202(a)(vii) (LexisNexis 2021).
DFS developed a 'Family Service Care Plan' in July of 2019, which was made without input from Alcorn. However, the case plan did list family reunification as the primary goal, though it also had a concurrent goal of adoption.
The case plan listed two objectives for Alcorn to address in order to be reunited with her daughter - mental health and substance abuse, and life stability and parenting skills. Each of these objectives carried with them corresponding tasks for Alcorn to complete.
The case plan also allowed Alcorn to see her baby three times a week. Alcorn "attended one in-person supervised visit that July. After her visit, Compass recommended Mother receive therapeutic/coached parenting for all future visits. Mother never attended another in-person visit."
Alcorn moved to Casper with her child's father shortly after her case began.
She was arrested in August of 2019 and charged with possession of methamphetamine and interference with a peace officer.
She also pled guilty to child endangerment and was sentenced in November of 2019 to 3 to 5 years incarceration, which was suspended in favor of a split sentence including 270 days in jail and 3 years of supervised probation. The district court also ordered Alcorn to complete residential substance abuse treatment, comply with the DFS case plan, and have no contact with her child's father.
In January of 2020, Alcorn began treatment at the Central Wyoming Counseling Center. While there, she attended counseling, parenting classes and dependency classes. She discharged in April but relapsed and began using methamphetamine. She also reunited with her child's father.
Days later, Alcorn told her probation officer that she admitted herself to the Wyoming Behavioral Institute for medication stabilization. Following that, she was admitted to a ninety-day intensive outpatient treatment at the Casper Re-Entry Center (CRC).
During a permanency hearing in late May of 2020, Alcorn acknowledged that she relapsed and contacted her child's father. Other participants testified that Alcorn had not progressed in her case plan. Therefore, the court ordered that the permanency plan be changed to the primary goal being adoption, with a concurrent goal if reunification.
Many members of Alcorn's MDT team recommended that that the permanency plan be changed solely to adoption. Alcorn did not attend the June meeting.
She completed the IOP program in July of 2020. During this time, she became employed and obtained housing in Casper. DFS allowed Alcorn weekly fifteen-minute supervised video visits with her child, who remained in non-relative foster care in Sheridan. Alcorn only sporadically participated in these visits, due to "oversleeping, attending court proceedings, forgetting, or generally failing to show up.' Eventually, this caused DFS to suspend visitation in November of 2020.
In October of 2020, Alcorn was evicted from her home after failing to pay rent. She also admitted to her probation officer that she had used methamphetamine multiple times over the previous two months. She claimed that she had found new housing, but refused to tell DFS where it was. She also lost her job at this time, but claimed she got a new one.
In December of 2020, the juvenile court held another permanency hearing and determined that Alcorn remained a health and safety threat to her child, despite the services of DFS. The court concluded that DFS made reasonable efforts to reunite Alcorn with her baby, but that they were unsuccessful. Therefore, the court relieved DFS from making further efforts to reunify Alcorn and her child.
After the hearing, Alcorn avoided her probation officer for several months and refused to provide DFS with her address. In April of 2021, Alcorn was arrested for an outstanding warrant for violating her probation. Therefore, her probation was revoked and her original sentence was imposed.
While in prison, Alcorn gave birth to another baby at the Wyoming Medium Correctional Institute in Torrington.
DFS filed its petition to terminate Alcorn's parental rights on August 16, 2021. In February of 2022, the court held a one-day bench trial in which DFS presented exhibits and testimony from many of the involved parties in the case, including the child's foster mother, the DFS caseworker, and Alcorn's former probation officer.
The court determined that DFS has presented 'clear and convincing evidence' that Alcorn's parental rights should be terminated.
Alcorn appealed the decision, and petitioned the Wyoming Supreme Court to overturn it, but the Supreme Court upheld the decision.
The Supreme Court acknowledged that Alcorn had attempted to maintain sobriety as her termination trial approached but, the Court said, her status on the eve of the trial did not change the fact that she made no meaningful progress on her case throughout the previous few years.
The Court stated that by the time the termination hearing approached, Alcorn's child had been in foster care for two-and-a-half years; 'essentially her whole life.'
The Supreme Court cited a previous case in stating that 'When the rights of a parent and the rights of a child are on a collision course, the rights of the parent must yield.'
"While parents have a fundamental right to raise their children," the Wyoming Supreme Court said, "Children have a right to stability and permanency in their family relationships."