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APPELLATE COURT FINALLY CLEARS THE WAY FOR ADOPTION OF GIRL IN SEX-ABUSE CASE

A dozen years after the fact, the Utah Court of Appeals has upheld termination of the parental rights of a woman who allegedly sexually abused her then 4-year-old daughter.

The decision clears the way for the girl, now 15, to be adopted by her foster mother."It is extremely unfortunate that the state has allowed this case to linger for 11 years," the appeals court noted in its recent ruling. The appellate court had not yet been created when the case first came up in 1984.

In the case, appellate judges examined whether state officials are obligated to rehabilitate parents who have sexually abused their children.

The girl's mother argued the state was required to provide "reasonable assistance" to correct her unfitness as a parent.

The court found that argument without merit.

"The law in this area is very clear: The state owes no duty to offer rehabilitative services to parents in cases of obvious physical abuse, neglect or abandonment," Presiding Judge Gregory K. Orme wrote.

Judges Russell W. Bench and Judith M. Billings agreed with Orme's conclusion. Bench added a cautionary note, however.

"I am concerned that a rigid application of this rule runs the risk of denying services to parents who might respond positively to such treatment in a manner that would allow the family unit to remain intact," he declared.

State officials had offered counseling to the mother between 1984 and 1986, but then sought to end her rights as a parent.

A juvenile court judge found evidence of sexual abuse but declined to terminate the mother's rights since the woman was complying with therapy. Counseling continued and the court reviewed the case every few months.

In 1988, the judge heard testimony that visitation with the mother was having a detrimental effect on the girl. The court limited and eventually ended the mother's visits in May 1988. The case was reviewed eight times between August 1989 and May 1993.

The state filed a second request to end the mother's rights not long after that, and after a January 1994 trial, 2nd District Juvenile Court Judge Kent Bachman terminated the mother's parental rights.

State officials said there was extensive testimony documenting two years of sexual abuse by the girl's mother and another unidentified person.

"Such a prolonged pattern of egregious physical abuse is precisely the type of conduct for which the state has no duty to offer rehabilitative services," Orme wrote.

The court also rejected the mother's argument that since the state gave her counseling in 1984, it could not seek to end her parental rights now without first giving her "meaningful assistance."