In re G.L., 22-AP-004

Citation22-AP-004
Case DateJune 17, 2022
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Vermont

In re G.L., Juvenile (N.P., Mother*)

No. 22-AP-004

Supreme Court of Vermont

June 17, 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, Franklin Unit, Family Division CASE NO. 232-9-19 Frjv Trial Judge: Mary L. Morrissey

ENTRY ORDER

Paul L. Reiber, Chief Justice

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

Mother appeals from the trial court's order terminating her parental rights as to her daughter, G.L. We affirm.

The court made the following findings in its termination order. Mother and father have one child together, G.L., born in April 2019. Mother and father each have another child from other relationships. In September 2019, the State petitioned the court to adjudicate G.L. a child in need of care or supervision (CHINS), alleging that G.L.'s half-brother arrived at school with a facial injury and reported that mother had hit him. That same day, the court issued an emergency order placing G.L. in custody of the Department for Children and Families (DCF). Shortly thereafter, G.L. was placed with a foster family in Montgomery, where she remained throughout the pendency of the case.

Initially, mother and father had supervised visits with G.L. Around April 2020, they progressed to unsupervised visits at their home, including over weekends, but these were shortlived. Of the approximate four-to-five unsupervised weekend contacts G.L. had with her parents, G.L. only stayed the entire weekend once or twice. On three weekends, mother asked foster mother to pick up G.L. within the first twelve-to-twenty-four hours of arrival, due to disagreements between parents for which mother did not want G.L. to be present. During one of these incidents, father pushed mother to the ground, mother punched a mirror, and father ultimately called the police. On one weekend where foster mother picked up G.L. early, she observed G.L. to be disoriented, cranky, and overly tired.

In March 2020, parents stipulated that G.L. was a CHINS based on her half-brother's unexplained injuries while in parents' care and a "history of violence in the home, that has interfered with the home life." In June 2020, DCF filed a disposition case plan with a goal of reunification with either parent by September 2020. Following a disposition hearing, the court

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adopted this plan in July 2020. Two of the goals of the case plan were for mother to engage in therapy to address her aggressive behaviors and attend all visits with G.L.

At the disposition hearing, parents sought additional time to reunify. At the same time, DCF sought to reimpose supervised visits due to violent incidents that had occurred during recent unsupervised visits with G.L., including mother punching a mirror and father pushing mother to the ground. The court denied parents' request for additional time to reunify and granted DCF's request for supervised visitation pending parents' completion of a domestic-violence assessment.

Mother and father separated in July 2020 and mother moved into an apartment with her mother and sister. Once there, she had two altercations with her sister, one of which resulted in a charge of domestic assault against mother. In discussing one of the incidents, mother reported to DCF that that her sister was "running her mouth," and mother had to "beat her ass" to make her be quiet. Following these incidents, in November 2020, mother moved out and into a motel. During one incident while living there, mother screamed at the motel owners, claiming that they had entered her room when they were not supposed to.

Between December 2020 and April 2021, mother attended only about half of her scheduled visits with G.L., not including visits that were cancelled due to circumstances beyond mother's control, such as foster parents or DCF needing to cancel. In March 2021 she worked with Pathways to move into a new apartment in St. Albans. This apartment was strategically located "around the corner" from the St. Albans DCF office where mother's visits with G.L. were occurring, because mother had previously struggled to find consistent transportation for visits.

Despite this close proximity, mother continued to miss a significant portion of scheduled visits. Mother missed visits for various reasons, including illness, violating COVID restrictions, and failing to timely confirm appointments.

In March 2021, DCF moved to terminate parental rights for both mother and father and filed an interim case plan with a new case-plan goal of adoption, based on the length of time G.L. had been out of parents' care and mother's continuing struggles with emotional dysregulation. In April 2021, mother's attorney moved the court to permit visits to occur in mother's home. The court issued an order in June 2021 providing a path for mother to progress toward visits in her home. It initially permitted supervised visits in the community. If mother attended these community visits consistently and they went well, mother could begin unsupervised visits in her home.

Mother's supervised community visits began in June 2021, scheduled for twice a week. She did not consistently attend these visits. When mother did attend, she generally came prepared with snacks and other supplies. In September 2021, mother had a scheduled visit with G.L., which she incorrectly believed was going to take place at her home. When mother questioned DCF employees about it, they referred to the June 2021 court order and explained that because of mother's lack of consistent attendance, the visits had not yet progressed into mother's home. Mother reacted by yelling insults and swearing at the DCF employees. G.L. was present and witnessed this incident, and other families were also in the DCF office.

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After that incident, mother's attendance at visits decreased further. For example, mother confirmed one visit and then did not attend. When the DCF visit supervisor contacted her, mother said that she was coughing and would not be attending the visit, but it sounded to the supervisor like mother had been sleeping. For the next scheduled visit, mother again confirmed but later said she was still sick and asked to reschedule. When the visit supervisor suggested there was still time that day prior to the scheduled visit for mother...

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