In re J.W., J.W. and G.W., Juveniles
This decision has been designated as "Supreme Court of Vermont Appeals Disposed of Without Published Opinion or Memorandum Decision." table in the Atlantic Reporter
APPEALED FROM: Superior Court, Windham Fam. Division. DOCKET NO. 49/50/51-5-12 Wmjv. Trial Judge: Katherine A. Hayes.
Reiber, C.J., Dooley, and Skoglund, JJ.
In the above-entitled cause, the Clerk will enter:
Father appeals the termination of his parental rights with respect to his three daughters, G.W., J.W., and J.W. We affirm.
Father does not challenge any of the family court's findings, which reveal the following facts. G.W., J.W., and J.W. were born in October 2003, July 2005, and September 2006, respectively. The children were briefly placed in the custody of the Department for Families and Children (DCF) in 2011 during a period in which their mother was incarcerated and father allowed a registered sex offender to live in the family home. The children eventually were returned to the mother's custody under a conditional custody order, which was vacated upon dismissal of DCF's petition alleging that the children were in need of care or supervision (CHINS).
A second CHINS petition was filed in May 2012 based on allegations of neglect and abuse. At the time, the mother and father were heroin addicts who engaged in criminal activity to support their habit. The mother's younger sister, who was living with the family while she was finishing high school, reported that the parents left the children alone unsupervised and that father physically and verbally abused the children and the mother. In July 2012, the parents stipulated to the CHINS petition and the facts alleged in support of the petition, including specific incidents of child abuse by father. Father stipulated that he was an active heroin addict who had a significant history of criminal convictions and was subject to pending criminal charges.
The children were frightened and in poor physical condition when they were taken into state custody. The oldest child, who was nine at the time, had taken on a parental role. The children exhibited sexualized conduct and reported being forced to watch mother have sex with men. The children also reported witnessing and experiencing father's physical violence while they lived together as a family.
In August 2012, the family court issued a disposition order providing for continued DCF custody with concurrent goals of reunification and adoption. Among other things, the case plan required father to attend visits, participate in team meetings, actively engage in and benefit from individual therapy, successfully complete intensive substance abuse treatment, not engage in criminal activity, demonstrate financial stability by maintaining employment for at least six months, and maintain safe and stable housing for at least six months. Later, DCF added a requirement that father complete and show benefit from a batterer's intervention program.
Meanwhile in June 2012, father pled guilty to retail theft charges stemming from incidents in February 2012. In December 2012, father pled guilty to additional charges of embezzlement and retail theft from earlier incidents. As a result of these convictions, father was incarcerated for a period during the summer of 2012 and from December 2012 through February 2013, when he was furloughed with a minimum release date of October 2, 2013 and a maximum release date of January 20, 2016.
In March 2013, DCF filed a petition to terminate the mother's and father's parental rights with respect to the three children. Mother voluntarily relinquished her parental rights on April 29, 2013, and an order to that effect was issued in May 2013. The termination hearing concerning father was held over two days in September and October, 2013. Following the hearing, in a December 16, 2013 decision, the family court terminated father's parental rights.
On appeal, father argues that the family court erred by determining whether he deserved a continuing relationship with the children rather than whether a continuing relationship between him and the children was in their best interests. According to father, in assessing two of the statutory best-interest factors concerning the children's relationships with other people in their lives, see 33 V.S.A. § 5114(a)(1), ...