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In re T.F.

Supreme Court of Vermont

March 28, 2014

In re T.F. and B.F., Juveniles

Editorial Note:

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, Caledonia Unit, Family Division. DOCKET NO. 39/40-3-12 Cajv. Trial Judge: Walter M. Morris, Jr.

Paul L. Reiber, Chief Justice, John A. Dooley, Associate Justice, Beth Robinson, Associate Justice.

OPINION

ENTRY ORDER

[¶ 1] In the above-entitled cause, the Clerk will enter:

[¶ 2] Mother appeals the termination of her parental rights with respect to two of her children, T.F. and B.F. We affirm.

[¶ 3] Mother does not dispute any of the trial court's findings, which reveal the following facts. T.F. was born in May 2005, and B.F. was born in December 2008. Mother and T.F.'s father married in July 2005 and separated in November 2009.[*] The relationship involved chronic physical and emotional abuse of mother by the father, and the children were exposed to that abuse. Included in the household at that time were two older boys, who were also mother's biological children. One lives with his father, and the other died of cancer in early 2011.

[¶ 4] The Department for Children and Families (DCF) first became involved with the family in 2006. Over the following seven years, DCF opened three separate cases in which it offered the family services to address, among other things: (1) mother's and her partners' inappropriate use of physical discipline; (2) mother's inability to manage the children's behaviors or provide them with a safe and stable home; and (3) mother's inability to meet the children's nutritional, hygienic, and clothing needs. In March 2012, DCF filed petitions alleging that T.F. and B.F. were children in need of care or supervision (CHINS). Following an April 12, 2012 temporary care hearing, in which the parties stipulated to the CHINS allegations, the family division of the superior court transferred the children to DCF custody. DCF then placed the children with the maternal grandparents, with whom they still live.

[¶ 5] At a June 18, 2012 disposition hearing, at which DCF presented a case plan recommending concurrent goals of reunification with mother or exploration of kinship options for guardianship or adoption, the parties stipulated to continued DCF custody. The court approved the case plan, which required mother to: (1) maintain safe, stable and permanent housing; (2) meet with her social worker and openly communicate with DCF on a consistent basis; (3) participate in Family Time Coaching regarding visits with the children; (4) permit DCF to make unscheduled home visits; (5) work with support groups to address her parenting skills, including learning to recognize situations and persons posing risks to the children; and (6) sign all releases to help DCF work with service providers. The critical issues that the case plan sought to address were mother's lack of adequate supervision of the children and her association with others who posed a risk of harm to the children.

[¶ 6] Mother attended the Family Time Coaching sessions reliably, and was generally capable of managing the children during visits in a supervised setting with support from service providers. But as unsupported parent-child contact progressed, the children's behaviors regressed and mother was unable, without assistance, to manage those behaviors or to meet the children's needs. Beginning in September 2012, a weekly schedule was put in place for the children to spend a day and a night with her. As this schedule progressed, the children's behaviors became more unmanageable, and the maternal grandparents often had to go to mother's apartment to take the children home with them. In November 2012, the children were supposed to begin spending weekends with mother, but mother displayed limited insight into their challenging behaviors and little ability to address their needs, and had to call the maternal grandparents to ask them to take the children back to their home. Further, mother continued to permit people to come and go from her apartment without knowing who they were or the risks that they potentially posed to the children. In fact, some of those people did present a risk of harm to the children.

[¶ 7] In January 2013, DCF filed petitions to terminate the parental rights of mother and the fathers of T.F. and B.F. Following a two-day hearing in May 2013, the court terminated mother's parental rights. The court first found, by clear and convincing evidence, that mother's ability to parent the children had actually regressed rather than progressed in the previous sixteen months, despite her having received extensive services over a period of years to address her parenting deficiencies. The court further found that mother was unable to respond to the children's profound emotional and behavioral needs, and that the children's behaviors and emotional well-being progressively deteriorated as mother moved to more independent supervision of them during periods of unsupervised contact. Based on these and other findings, the court found that a substantial change of circumstances was established through stagnation in her progress toward reunification with the children.

[¶ 8] Addressing the best interests of the children, the court acknowledged that mother and the children loved each other and had formed a bond, and that mother was by all accounts a kind person. However, it concluded that she was unable at the time, and likely would not be able within a reasonable period of time from the perspective of the children, to provide the children with the significant physical and emotional support that they required. The court emphasized the children's pronounced and serious behavioral and emotional disorders, and their absolute and immediate need for stability, consistency, insight, patience, and endurance from their caregivers, which had been provided admirably by the maternal grandparents for the previous sixteen months. The court found that mother lacked insight into the children's needs or how her actions had affected them. The court described mother's relationship with the children as " tenuous" because of her inability to meet the children's, or her own, essential needs for emotional health and safety. According to the court, the maternal grandparents were serving as the children's physical and emotional parents, and the children required permanency in that relationship. Accordingly, the court granted the State's petition to terminate mother's parental rights.

[¶ 9] On appeal, mother argues that the court's termination order lacks a rational basis because, although the court's order notes the importance of the children's ongoing contact with their maternal grandparents, as well as with their mother, the termination order ensures neither that the children will be adopted by the maternal grandparents nor that the maternal grandparents will allow continued contact with mother. ...


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