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In re C.L.

Supreme Court of Vermont

July 29, 2014

In re C.L. and S.L., Juveniles

APPEALED FROM: Superior Court, Caledonia Unit, Family Division. DOCKET NOS. 53/54-5-13 Cajv. Trial Judge: M. Kathleen Manley.

Paul L. Reiber, Chief Justice, John A. Dooley, Associate Justice, Marilyn S. Skoglund, Associate Justice, Beth Robinson, Associate Justice, Geoffrey W. Crawford, Associate Justice


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In the above-entitled cause, the Clerk will enter:

[¶1] Mother appeals from a disposition order of the superior court, family division placing the minor children C.L. and S.L. in the care and custody of the Department for Children and Families (DCF). She contends the trial court " lacked critical information to make a responsible, rational custody decision" based on a provision in its order requiring DCF to submit a revised case plan with an updated plan of services within thirty days of the decision. We affirm.

[¶2] The facts and procedural history may be summarized as follows. In late May 2013, DCF filed a CHINS petition alleging parental neglect of the minors C.L. and S.L., who were ten and three years old at the time. The petition followed a long history of DCF involvement with the family. In 2012, an older brother, J.L., was transferred to DCF custody due to medical neglect and placed in another home under a guardianship.

[¶3] The court held a preliminary hearing in June 2013. Although DCF requested a temporary care order transferring custody of C.L. and S.L. to DCF, and the court expressed serious concern about the children's developmental delays, the court ultimately issued a conditional care order maintaining parental custody with " stringent conditions" requiring that the parents continue to engage in mental health services and ensure that the children attend school and daycare, arrange transportation necessary for the children to attend therapy, medical appointments, and other services, and follow through on all recommendations of service providers regarding the needs of the children.

[¶4] At a hearing in July 2013, the parents stipulated to an adjudication of CHINS based on the children's excessive absences from school and daycare, their " destabilized" living situation, and the parents' failure to adequately utilize special education services for the children. DCF's disposition case plan, filed with the court on August 27, 2013, recommended that custody be transferred to DCF with concurrent goals of reunification or adoption. The parents objected to the stated goals at the initial disposition hearing in late August 2013, and the court scheduled an evidentiary hearing for early October. The hearing extended over several additional days in late October and early November 2013, and concluded on January 9, 2014. The court issued a written decision later that month.

[¶5] In summary, the court found that both parents face a number of difficulties in providing adequate care for the children, for which they have received numerous services. Mother has significant cognitive impairments for which she receives assistance from Developmental Services, as well as mental health issues, including depression which has led to hospitalizations, for which she receives counseling through Northeast Kingdom Health Services. These challenges have led to serious problems of child safety and neglect, including extremely unhygienic conditions in the home, the children attending school in unwashed clothes and smelling of dirt and feces, poor nutrition, chronic school absences, missed medical, dental and therapy appointments, lack of appropriate toilet training, and inability to communicate with the children. A caseworker with NKHS who had worked with the family

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since 2008 noted that mother was attentive but not able to independently implement suggestions or instructions, and that her motivation to continue with services tended to evaporate over time.

[¶6] Evidence was also adduced that both children had significant developmental delays. C.L., who was eleven at the time of the hearing, has a full scale IQ of sixty-one and receives extensive special services at school. Her testing and conduct indicated that expected improvements in cognitive and adaptive skills have not occurred, raising concerns about her ability to live independently in the future. Necessary supports for C.L. at home include reading to her, and helping her to identify and count coins, select appropriate clothes, and ensure adequate bathing and hygiene -- none of which was happening at the time of the CHINS petition or hearing.

[¶7] S.L. was four years old at the time of the hearing. He was not toilet trained, and continued to attend school in a diaper. The disposition case plan noted that he was still largely non-verbal, communicating primarily with grunts and gestures. The court noted that testing in the fall of 2013 had resulted in a diagnosis of childhood apraxia, a condition in which the brain does not transmit the necessary signals to facilitate speech. An expert in speech and language pathology testified that she started working with S.L. in November 2013, and performed tests that resulted in the apraxia diagnosis. She indicated that the preferred therapy to facilitate communication in such cases was through use of a speech-generating device that would allow S.L. to express himself, supplemented by intensive speech therapy. The speech pathologist emphasized the need for consistent attendance by the child's caregiver at every ...

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