In re B.T., 22-AP-068

Citation22-AP-068
Case DateJuly 14, 2022
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Vermont

In re B.T., Juvenile (H.T., Mother* &M.T., Father*)

No. 22-AP-068

Supreme Court of Vermont

July 14, 2022


In the case title, an asterisk (*) indicates an appellant and a double asterisk (**) indicates a cross-appellant. Decisions of a three-justice panel are not to be considered as precedent before any tribunal.

APPEALED FROM: Superior Court, Bennington Unit, Family Division CASE NO. 20-JV-00192 Trial Judge: Kerry Ann McDonald-Cady

ENTRY ORDER

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

Parents appeal from the termination of their rights in daughter B.T. We affirm.

B.T. was born in June 2019. Parents initially lived with B.T. in New York, and New York Child Protective Services (CPS) had concerns about parents' homelessness and their inability to safely care for B.T., including their use of physical discipline. Parents moved to Vermont while a New York CPS assessment was pending. The Vermont Department for Children and Families (DCF) began working with the family in July 2020. In September 2020, father was arrested for allegedly assaulting B.T. The criminal division found probable cause for an aggravated domestic assault charge against father based on reports from two witnesses. These witnesses observed father scream obscenities at B.T. while parked in a McDonald's parking lot. Father exited the car, still screaming, and shook and punched B.T., who was in her car seat. Mother was in the front seat during the alleged assault. The criminal division imposed a condition of release prohibiting father from having any contact with B.T., which remained in place throughout the juvenile proceedings.

B.T. was taken into the emergency custody of DCF and remained there following a temporary-care hearing. Father was extremely resistant to meeting with the DCF caseworker; he refused to meet in person and would not return phone calls. When the DCF caseworker did connect with father, he was angry and difficult to calm down or redirect, which made it difficult for her to discuss case plan goals with him. In March 2021, parents admitted that B.T. was a child in need of care or supervision (CHINS). While parents denied that father assaulted B.T., they acknowledged that father was charged with assaulting her and that witnesses reported that mother failed to protect B.T. Mother also admitted that, due to her health, she relied upon father to assist her in caring for B.T.

DCF prepared disposition case plans that contained numerous steps for parents with a goal of reunification with parents in six months. The court adopted the disposition report and

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approved the reunification goal. By August 2021, DCF changed the goal to adoption and moved to terminate parents' rights. Following a hearing, the court granted its request.

The court's findings are essentially unchallenged on appeal. Mother and father are a couple who live together. They denied that they posed any safety risks to B.T. and they denied that father assaulted B.T. Parents had unstable housing and moved between hotel rooms. They declined housing that was offered to them. Parents made little progress in addressing the caseplan goals. Father's anger presented a significant issue in this case. B.T. was visibly afraid of men. Father was very angry in all his interactions with the DCF caseworker, and he could not deescalate; he also left the case worker angry voicemail messages. Service providers declined to work with father due to his angry and menacing behavior. Father consistently denied all safety concerns raised with him by the caseworker. Father took a parenting class but gained no insight from it; he told the DCF caseworker that he learned not to hit your kid because you would leave bruises. Father accepted no responsibility for B.T.'s removal from parents' care; he did not ask the caseworker about B.T. Father stopped participating in an anger-management class because he did not think he needed it. He also failed to complete a developmental assessment.

Mother similarly failed to make progress in addressing the case-plan goals. She was not bonded with B.T. and had limited interactions with her during visits. When mother approached B.T. for a hug, B.T. physically pushed mother away. Mother lacked insight into what she needed to work on, despite having completed a parenting class. She struggled during supervised visits and was at times rough with B.T., causing the child distress. She did not call B.T. by name, despite prompting. By June 2021, Family Time Coaching was terminated due to mother's lack of progress, and Easter Seals services were also closed. Mother's contact with B.T. was reduced to two days per week of supervised visits. Mother stopped participating in mental-health treatment after May 2021. She did not complete a developmental assessment. She did not follow through with her medical doctor to ascertain what was causing her physical discomfort. The caseworker observed, however, that mother's mobility issues did not appear to interfere with her parenting; instead, it was mother's lack of a bond with B.T. and her lack of parenting skills that had a negative impact on her visits with B.T.

At the time of the termination hearing, parents lived in a rodent-infested motel room, which they acknowledged was unsafe and inappropriate for B.T. Father's anger remained uncontrolled at the time of the termination hearing. When a DCF caseworker visited parents at their motel room, father became frustrated when their dog whimpered in excitement. When the caseworker asked if she could pet the dog, father told the dog to shut up, said he would shove the dog in the bathroom, and then became even angrier and raised his hand as if to strike the dog. The dog stopped whimpering and began to cower. Father become very tense and red in the face, and he moved from a sitting position to a...

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