In re G.D., 22-AP-005

Citation22-AP-005
Case DateJune 17, 2022
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Vermont

In re G.D. & R.P., Juveniles (A.D., Father* & K.P., Mother*)

No. 22-AP-005

Supreme Court of Vermont

June 17, 2022


Note: 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, Franklin Unit; Family Division CASE NOS. 144-9-20 Frjv; 196-11-20 Frjv Trial Judge: Martin A. Maley

ENTRY ORDER

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

Parents appeal the termination at initial disposition of their parental rights to two-year-old R.P. and one-year-old G.D. We affirm

The Department for Children and Families (DCF) has been involved with mother and father for many years. Both parents were placed in DCF custody when they were children. R.P. was born to parents in August 2019. Immediately after R.P.'s birth, the Grand Isle State's Attorney filed a petition alleging that she was a child in need of care or supervision (CHINS). That petition was dismissed by the court. A month later, the State filed a second petition, which resulted in the court issuing emergency and temporary-care orders transferring custody of R.P. to DCF. A merits hearing was originally scheduled for January 2020 but was continued twice. A case plan was prepared in March 2020 and a permanency plan was filed in August 2020.

Meanwhile, in September 2020, G.D. was born. By that point, parents had moved to Franklin County. The State filed a petition alleging G.D. was a CHINS because mother had a previous sexual-assault substantiation and had not engaged in treatment, G.D.'s sibling R.P. was in DCF custody due to mental-health concerns and substance abuse, parents had not met R.P.'s nutritional needs when she was a baby, and neither parent had made progress in mental-health treatment or parenting skills. The court granted an emergency care order transferring custody to DCF. In October 2020, the parties agreed to transfer R.P.'s case to Franklin County.

A permanency hearing was held in December 2020 at which the court adopted a goal of reunification with both parents by February 2021 and adopted the permanency case plan submitted by DCF with certain modifications.

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Later in December 2020, the court commenced a merits hearing, but the hearing did not conclude because the State indicated it needed more time to present evidence. In June 2021, parents stipulated to the merits of both petitions. The facts supporting the stipulation as to R.P. were that R.P. was admitted to University of Vermont Medical Center for poor weight gain and systolic heart murmur. Neither parent had engaged in the plan of services requested by DCF, placing R.P. at risk. The facts supporting the stipulation as to G.D. were R.P.'s hospital admission as well as parents' lack of acceptable housing and failure to make sufficient progress in counseling or parenting skills. In August 2021, DCF filed petitions to terminate parents' rights to both children. No timely disposition hearing was held.

The court held a one-day hearing in November 2021. Mother appeared remotely, and her attorney was present in the courtroom. Father appeared late due to a medical issue. Based on the testimony presented at the hearing, the court found that neither parent had adequately addressed the issues that led to the children entering DCF custody. It stated, "[w]hile there was insufficient court oversi[ght] in these matters this court observes that DCF worked diligently to support the parents and provided a clear outline of goals and expectations for the parents to achieve reunification with their children."

The various case plans prepared by DCF had similar action steps. Among other recommendations, parents were expected to engage in a Nurturing Parents course and Family Time Coaching, follow provider recommendations for feeding the children, attend all medical and dental appointments, obtain safe and stable housing, continue substance abuse treatment, and engage in mental-health counseling. In addition, mother was expected to apply for and attend the Lund program. The court noted that parents had continued to engage in substance abuse treatment, but found that parents had otherwise failed to meet most of the case-plan expectations. Both parents admitted that they had significant mental-health issues, including schizophrenia for father and PTSD for mother. However, DCF was unable to determine whether father ever engaged in treatment and mother did not begin therapy until 2021. Parents were also expected to maintain safe and stable housing. In July 2020 they were living in a small, crowded, and unsafe trailer in the backyard of father's parents' home. Later in 2020, they moved into father's parents' unfinished basement, which DCF determined was not suitable for children. Mother's application to the Lund program was denied in February 2021 after mother indicated that she did not want to attend that program. By the time of the hearing, mother was residing in a motel.

Various services were provided to help mother and father improve their parenting skills. Visits with the children were interrupted for two months in 2020 due to the pandemic, but by the summer of 2020 parents had supervised visits three times a week. Visits became more frequent for a period after G.D. was born. However, parents subsequently became inconsistent in their attendance. Parents' visits were eventually separated to allow them to build skills independently and to reduce aggressive behavior between them.

Mother successfully completed Family Time Coaching after two years. However, mother's visits with the children decreased over time and at the time of the hearing she was having one visit per week with the children. Father did not attend Family Time Coaching consistently and was terminated from the program. Father had not seen the children since June 2021. Mother and father were frequently late to visits and required significant support to care for R.P. The foster parents reported that the children had sleep disturbances and other behaviors after visits. After one visit in July 2021 R.P. returned home very upset, biting, screaming, and acting aggressively toward her sister. After another visit with mother in September 2021, R.P.

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was completely nonresponsive. The foster parents were sufficiently concerned that they called DCF for assistance and sought medical intervention. R.P. eventually recovered and appeared to be her normal self.

Neither parent attended any of the children's medical appointments. Mother refused to follow some of the pediatrician's recommendations for feeding R.P. Parents had not been consistently able to interact safely with each other, and therefore were unable to coparent the children. They were not able to independently provide services for the children and had not developed a financial plan for their support.

The court found that mother and father did not have a consistent and healthy relationship with the children and did not play a constructive role in their lives. In contrast, R.P. and G.D. were strongly bonded to their foster parents and each other, and the foster parents were committed to adopting both children. The court found that...

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