In re N.R. and L.B., 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, Windsor Fam. Division. DOCKET NO. 107/108-6-14 Wrjv. Trial Judge: Harold E. Eaton, Jr.
Reiber, C.J., Dooley, and Robinson, JJ.
In the above-entitled cause, the Clerk will enter:
Mother appeals from a family court order adjudicating the minors N.R. and L.B. to be children in need of care and supervision (CHINS). Mother contends the evidence was insufficient to show that she harmed the children or placed them at risk of harm. We affirm.
This case arose when the Department for Children and Families (DCF) filed a CHINS petition on June 6, 2014 as to the minors L.B., who was then just two days old, and N.R., his older sister, who was nearly seven. The court held a merits hearing over the course of two days in August and September 2014 and issued a written decision, granting the petition and adjudicating the children to be CHINS, in October 2014. The court's findings, and the record evidence, may be summarized as follows.
Mother has a lengthy history with DCF. Her parental rights to three older children were terminated by court order in June 2006, although evidence relating to that judgment was not introduced and the trial court accordingly gave it no weight in this proceeding. More recently, two cases concerning N.R. were opened, one in 2011 and a second in 2013. The 2011 matter involved a sexual assault of N.R., who was then four years old. The assault was committed by a friend of mother's boyfriend. The perpetrator was subsequently convicted of sexual assault. Mother did not immediately notify the police of the assault and resisted DCF's recommendation to obtain counseling for N.R., who was experiencing fears relating to the assault. Mother told the therapist in front of N.R. that counseling was unnecessary, that she was there only because DCF required it, and that it was best for N.R. to forget about the assault. Although the therapist believed that it was benefiting N.R., mother terminated the counseling in 2013.
The second DCF case resulted from a June 2013 incident, in which mother was charged with domestic assault against her boyfriend. The investigating officer found mother to be in a highly volatile and hostile state; she slipped out of her handcuffs several times, threatened emergency services personnel, and grabbed a bottle of windshield washer fluid and drank from it before being restrained. The child's paternal aunt subsequently called DCF to express concerns about mother's emotional stability, her statements expressing extreme hostility and threats toward DCF personnel, and plans to move to a secret location with N.R to avoid DCF involvement.
While mother was in the hospital for L.B.'s birth in June 2014, a birthing-center nurse observed that mother was often agitated and made threats against DCF and hospital personnel. When mother became agitated, she was unable to cope with the baby. The nurse heard mother state that crying babies frustrated her, that she hated children, and that she was going to run away with her children so that DCF could not find them. A visiting nurse who attended to mother almost daily during the last six weeks of her pregnancy observed that mother often seemed angry, upset, and disconnected from the baby; made a statement to the effect of " I have a life, brat" ; and threatened to have the baby on the kitchen floor. A social worker with DCF who met with mother the day after L.B. was born recalled mother stating that she hated children and threatening to flee the state to avoid DCF involvement. About one week later, mother tested positive for marijuana.
A Family Time coach from Easter Seals who worked with mother following L.B.'s birth recalled that mother often made hostile remarks about DCF social workers while N.R was present, stating that they were evil and stole children and sold them to the highest bidder on the black market. Mother told N.R. not to talk with social service providers, used extensive profanity during visits, and made threats of physical harm to DCF social workers. While agitated, mother's attention to the children waned. During one visit in July 2014, mother specifically threatened the Easter Seals coach, threatened to follow workers home and set their houses on fire, and threatened to hurt her DCF social worker. While the children were present, mother referred to obtaining guns and hurting people, comments that the Family Time coach believed were emotionally harmful for N.R.
Mother testified that she had sought counseling for mental health issues and denied most of the allegations that she threatened social service providers or engaged in threatening behavior in front of the children. The trial court found that mother's testimony in this regard was not credible.
Based on the foregoing, the trial court found that, while there was no showing that mother had acted on her numerous threats of harm or subjected the children to physical abuse, there was ample evidence that she had exhibited bizarre and emotionally volatile behavior and unpredictable mood swings, and had made bizarre, threatening, and improper statements -- particularly against service providers -- in front of the children. The court found that, when thus agitated, mother was not responsive to the needs of the children; that her ability to provide the children with essential emotional support and stability was lacking; and that her extreme hostility and distrust of all service providers had been harmful to the children by undermining their opportunity to access services. ...