In re R.S., C.S., J.S., D.S., B.S., S.S. and Z.S., 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.
Appeal from: Superior Court, Frank. Fam. Division. DOCKET NOS. 18/19/20/21/22/23/24-1-13 Frjv. Trial Judge: Kalfus.
Dooley, Skoglund, and Robinson, JJ.
In the above-entitled cause, the Clerk will enter:
Mother appeals from the termination of her parental rights in R.S., C.S., J.S., D.S., B.S., S.S. and Z.S. Father is deceased. Mother argues that the court erred by failing to assess the effect that the termination of her rights would have on the children. We affirm.
Mother has never been the children's primary caretaker for any extended period. In January 2013, following their father's death, the children were taken into emergency custody of the Department for Children and Families (DCF). In April 2013, mother admitted that the children were in need of care and supervision (CHINS) as she had abandoned them in May 2012, and after that, only parented them for a short time following father's death. Mother also lacked adequate housing for the children. In October 2013, DCF moved to terminate mother's rights. Following a hearing, the court concluded that termination of mother's rights was in the children's best interests.
The court made the following findings, none of which mother challenges on appeal. Mother is thirty-one and the mother of eight children. Mother became pregnant with Z.S. when she was seventeen. She dropped out of school and moved in with father and his parents. Z.S. was born in December 2000; S.S. in January 2002; B.S. in September 2004; D.S. in June 2006; J.S. in March 2008; C.S. in December 2010; and R.S. in December 2011. In addition to the children listed above, mother has an eight-month-old child with her current boyfriend. Mother has never worked nor, with the exception of the eight-month-old baby, has she ever been the children's primary caregiver for any extended period of time. Until his death in December 2012, father and his parents, along with mother's mother, provided the majority of care for the children.
In March 2012, mother reconnected with her current boyfriend and several months later, moved to Pennsylvania with him. Mother left without warning and without saying goodbye, or even informing the children of the move. Mother remained in Pennsylvania, with only a brief return to Vermont, until October 2012, when she and her boyfriend returned to Vermont. Mother and her boyfriend then lived with the boyfriend's mother until April 2013, when they were forced to leave. During this time, with mother's knowledge, the boyfriend's mother was dealing illegal drugs from the home.
Between October 2012 and father's death, mother had very little contact with and did not attempt to care for any of the children. She did allow two of the children to spend the night with her in November 2012, but mother refused a third child's request to come along, indicating that it would be too much for her.
The court found that mother functions at a very low level intellectually. Her intellectual deficits impeded her ability to meet the children's needs, particularly as the children developed. Mother attempted to have visitation with all seven children at once but this was overwhelming to her and not beneficial for the children. The visits were restructured to allow mother to visit with a few children at a time. The court found that mother continued to be overwhelmed when having to parent more than just one or two children. She was also incapable of meeting the emotional or developmental needs of children beyond the toddler stage. While mother loved the children and wanted to parent them, she lacked the ability and functioning required to do so.
The court also noted that mother had not attended father's wake; she was instead attempting to obtain father's death benefits on that day. The court found that this demonstrated mother's inability to understand the children's emotional needs. The court also recounted that mother had received $23,000 in benefits following father's death. She spent only $2,000 of this money on the children. Mother either intentionally spent the remainder of the funds in a way that did not benefit the children, or, more likely, she failed to prevent her boyfriend from taking advantage of her limitations and spending the money.
As to the children, the court found that they had been living with their paternal grandparents since 2012. The grandparents were meeting the children's needs, and the children had adjusted very well to their home. The court found it important and very beneficial for the children to remain together in the same home, particularly as they continued to address the emotional issues surrounding their father's death. The court made specific findings concerning each child's relationship with mother. Mother's relationship with some children was strained or otherwise challenging, and with others more positive. She did not play a constructive role in most of their lives, and with respect to the two children in whose lives her role was " somewhat constructive at times," mother would not be able to meet their developmental needs if they were reunified with her.
Turning to the statutory best-interest factors, the court concluded that mother could not parent any of the children within a reasonable period of time and that she had not played a constructive role in their lives. The court reiterated that separating the children from one another would be very detrimental to their well-being. It found mother incapable of providing the children with the support that they all needed and that they could provide to each other as they coped with their father's death and mother's abandonment of them. For these and other reasons, the court concluded that it was in the children's ...