In re C.L., M.L., D.L. & C.L., Juveniles
This decision has been designated as "Supreme Court of Vermont Appeals Disposed of Without Published Opinion or Memorandum Decision." table in the Atlantic 2nd Reporter
Appealed from: Superior Court, Frank. Fam. Division. DOCKET NOS. 37/38/39/40-3-12 Frjv. Trial Judge: Martin A. Maley.
Reiber, C.J., Dooley, and Robinson, JJ.
[¶ 1] Mother and father separately appeal an order terminating their respective parental rights concerning their four children, C.L., M.L., D.L., and C.L. We affirm.
[¶ 2] The record reveals the following facts. The four children who are the subject of these proceedings were born to mother and father in June 2003, September 2004, October 2009, and July 2011, respectively. The Department for Children and Families (DCF) has been involved with the family since 2007 as the result of reports concerning domestic violence in the presence of the children, abuse of the children, the parents' substance abuse, and the inability of the parents to meet the children's medical, physical, emotional, and developmental needs. In August 2009, DCF opened a family case in response to further reports of unsafe and unsanitary conditions in the home, the children's poor personal hygiene, and the parents' failure to supervise the children. Since 2009, DCF has provided the family with various services, including Intensive Family Based Services, Children Integrated Services, individual counseling, and support both at home and in school.
[¶ 3] In the fall of 2009, shortly after his birth, D.L. was readmitted to the hospital because of a failure to gain weight. There was a domestic altercation at the hospital and father did not live with the family again until the fall of 2011. Father has an extensive criminal history and was incarcerated at times during the instant proceedings.
[¶ 4] On March 19, 2012, father was arraigned on charges of driving while intoxicated, reckless endangerment, careless and negligent driving, driving with a suspended license, domestic assault, and interfering with emergency services. Conditions of release included no contact with mother. Father was eventually acquitted of the domestic assault charge.[*]
[¶ 5] On March 21, 2012, DCF filed a petition alleging that the children were in need of care or supervision (CHINS) following an incident four days earlier in which the youngest child, then an infant, was injured during a domestic altercation between mother and father. Mother reported to police that father pushed her while she was holding the infant, causing her to fall and the child to strike her head. When police arrived, father had left, but the police observed garbage piled knee-to-waist high on the back porch and rooms so cluttered that some doors could not be opened. Decaying garbage and diapers were found in the driveway and on the front porch, and the kitchen floor was covered with dirt and dried food. Choking hazards littered the floors, and D.L. was seen placing objects in his mouth and eating food off of the floor.
[¶ 6] On March 22, 2012, the family division of the superior court issued a temporary care order placing the children in DCF custody. The order included factual findings stating that the family home posed health hazards, and that the parents were unable to keep the children safe. In May 2012, mother moved to the Lund Home with the youngest child, while the other children remained in foster care. Mother was discharged from the Lund Home in August 2012 under a safety plan that included her agreement that she stay away from father.
[¶ 7] At a merits hearing in June 2012, the parties submitted stipulated findings, upon which the court based its CHINS adjudication. At the August 30, 2012 disposition hearing, the court approved DCF's plan of services with concurrent goals of reunification or adoption. The parties understood that DCF would attempt to facilitate reunification first with mother, and if unsuccessful, with father. The parties agreed to the disposition and the plan of services, but father filed specific written objections to factual findings in the disposition report. Father did not request a hearing to contest any of the facts stated in the report but rather wanted a record of his objections, particularly to findings of his abusive conduct and need to engage in a batterer's intervention program.
[¶ 8] Due to concerns about mother's mental health issues, which affected her ability to maintain her own stability and meet the needs of her children, DCF had a psychologist evaluate her in September 2012 to provide some clarity as to her mental status and its impact on her ability to parent her children. The psychologist diagnosed mother with borderline personality disorder, observing a persuasive pattern of interpersonal instability, reactive and cycling mood disturbances, periods of crisis of self-image, reckless substance abuse, gross affective instability and anxiety, an unstable temper marked by anger and impulsivity, and numerous efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. The psychologist noted mother's highly unstable emotional presentation, opining that it was unlikely she could achieve the stability required to meet the extreme needs of her children.
[¶ 9] In December 2012, DCF removed the youngest child from mother's care because mother had been in contact with father. In January 2013, mother filed a motion to modify the disposition order, and the following month, DCF filed a petition to terminate mother's and father's parental rights with respect to all four children. DCF's petition was heard over four days between July and September of 2013. The court denied mother's motion and granted DCF's petition, concluding that both parents' ability to ...