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, Orleans Fam. Division. DOCKET NO. 76-10-12 Osjv. Trial Judge: M. Kathleen Manley.
Reiber, C.J., Dooley, and Robinson, JJ.
In the above-entitled cause, the Clerk will enter:
Mother and father separately appeal from the judgment of the superior court, family division, terminating their parental rights to the minor R.A. Mother contends that (1) the evidence was insufficient to prove a change of circumstances based on stagnation of her parenting abilities; (2) the evidence failed to support the court's conclusion that mother could not resume parenting responsibilities within a reasonable time; and (3) the court improperly relied on hearsay evidence. Father contends the trial court erroneously: (1) overlooked evidence that the Department for Children and Families (DCF) obstructed his progress; and (2) rejected a transfer of custody to R.A.'s maternal grandmother. We affirm.
The trial court's findings may be summarized as follows. R.A. was born in December 2011. Mother and father were unmarried and were nineteen and eighteen years old, respectively, at the time. They lived with R.A.'s maternal grandmother for the first three to six months after R.A.'s birth, and then moved to an apartment. R.A. was small at birth but gained weight until his six-month check-up, when his pediatrician became concerned about his weight loss. The pediatrician prescribed medicine for acid reflux, showed the parents how to administer it, and set up another appointment. At the next appointment, the parents indicated that they had stopped the medicine. The doctor again prescribed use of the medication and advised the parents to cut back on apple juice, replace it with formula, and begin feeding solid foods.
R.A. continued to lose weight, and was hospitalized in late September 2012, when he was nine months old, after it was determined that he was severely dehydrated and had sustained a significant weight loss. With the use of acid-suppression medication and regular feedings, R.A. gained weight rapidly in the hospital, and was discharged to his parents in early October 2012. During an office visit about a week later, however, R.A.'s pediatrician became concerned that his weight gain had slowed, and that the parents were not following the feeding regimen or understanding the child's cues. They appeared unable or unwilling to follow feeding and medication instructions, failed to recognize the child's signs of hunger, and disputed the cause of his weight loss.
The pediatrician notified DCF, which took custody of R.A. under an emergency care order. After a few days in foster care, the child was placed with his maternal grandmother. Daily contact with R.A. was made available to the parents, but they visited only sporadically during the next several months. Although R.A. thrived in the care of his grandmother, she advised DCF that she was overwhelmed by the need to care for an autistic son and could not continue. DCF suggested a residential placement at Lund Family Center for mother and R.A., but mother was unwilling. Accordingly, R.A. was placed in foster care in February 2013.
The parents stipulated that R.A. was a child in need of care or supervision (CHINS) in February 2013. The court adopted a disposition plan later that month which identified concurrent goals of reunification or adoption by June 2013. The plan called for the parents to form a bond with R.A., successfully complete a parent education program at Lund, work with Easter Seals to learn to identify and meet the child's physical, emotional and developmental needs, and learn how to feed the child in order to meet his caloric needs. Specifically, they were required to listen to those providing care for the child, learn how to read the child's cues, and meet his needs according to those cues. The plan required parents to demonstrate an ability to partner with service providers, identify and access family supports, and meet with a domestic-violence specialist concerning the dynamics in their relationship with each other that may affect R.A.'s ability to stay calm. In addition, father was to secure stable housing and employment. R.A. was found to have significant global developmental delays in cognitive, social, communication, and motor-skill functions, and services were established for his benefit as well.
Mother moved to Lund in March 2013, and after a period of gradual transition, R.A. joined her in April. During her stay, mother was initially resistant to being there. By the end of June 2013, R.A. had lost weight. Mother was responsible for ensuring that R.A. received Pediasure, which he had been prescribed to take twice a day to help with weight gain. She did not consistently feed it to him, and failed to timely refill the subscription. As a result, staff developed a new plan that included observation by staff of feeding times to ensure that Mother was feeding R.A. the Pediasure. DCF advised mother that failure to comply with the feeding regime put R.A.'s health at risk and jeopardized reunification efforts.
While at Lund, mother did make progress in the area of personal growth. However, she was resistant to parenting education in general and missed organized weekend activities such as story time at the library, playground activities, and waterfront activities, instead choosing to leave the child with a counselor and go out with father. She resisted applying sunscreen or using a sunhat for R.A., did not consistently keep food logs to track caloric intake, declined to have R.A. weighed, and declined to put R.A. into on-site day care for some period of the day so she could access recommended programs. On two occasions, mother was observed to be aggressive with R.A., dealing roughly with him after he fell. Mother also canceled an important and long-scheduled appointment with R.A.'s pediatrician because she was unwilling to walk or take public transportation to the appointment. Overall, mother was consistently non-compliant with activities that would help the child develop.
Father visited often, played consistently with R.A., and attended team meetings. However, he did not follow the plan pursuant to which he was to arrive at 8:30 a.m. to care for the child while mother attended programming. Father refused to take a parenting class, and he had angry outbursts with staff in the presence of ...