In re A.K., 22-AP-066

Citation22-AP-066
Case DateJuly 14, 2022
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Vermont

In re A.K., Juvenile K.K., Mother*

No. 22-AP-066

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, Windham Unit, Family Division CASE NO. 90-7-19 Wmjv Trial Judges: Michael R. Kainen, Katherine A. Hayes

ENTRY ORDER

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, A.K. We affirm.

The trial court found in relevant part as follows. Mother has two children with different fathers, A.K. (born 2012) and M.G. (born 2015). Until 2018, mother was the primary caregiver for both children, and moved several times between Maine and North Carolina in various residential situations, including homeless shelters, friends' couches, and with M.G.'s father.[*]Mother described M.G.'s father as abusive and mean toward her and the children, but she lived with him for an extended period of time because she could not afford to go elsewhere. She struggled to provide adequate housing and food for the family, and the living spaces were generally in an unsanitary and chaotic condition. Mother also struggled with mental health issues. In July 2018, shortly after North Carolina child protective services began an investigation into the condition of the residence where mother and the children were living, mother admitted herself to a psychiatric hospital, and arranged for A.K. and M.G. to live with their respective paternal grandparents.

1

As a result of mother's arrangement, M.G. moved to Maine. In August 2018, A.K. moved to Vermont to the home of grandfather and his long-term partner. Mother and grandfather never established any formal guardianship over A.K., but they found a form on the internet that mother signed, which was sufficient for grandfather to enroll A.K. in school in Vermont. They initially agreed that A.K. would stay in Vermont for only a couple months, but mother later indicated that she would need additional time to get her own affairs in order before taking A.K. back.

A.K. needed to repeat kindergarten because she had missed so much school while under mother's care and was not ready for first grade. She also struggled emotionally and socially. The school psychologist in Vermont diagnosed her with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder, which impaired her daily functioning. The court found it was unclear what specific trauma A.K. had experienced, but whatever it was, it had occurred while she was in her mother's care. Grandfather worked with the school service providers to establish a consolidated services plan to address A.K.'s behavioral and emotional issues. Grandfather also established medical care for A.K., including a mental-health counselor outside of school in addition to the services she received in school.

After mother left the psychiatric hospital, she moved into a hotel in Maine to be closer to M.G. She called regularly to talk to A.K. but did not express interest in A.K.'s mental health or education. In spring/summer 2019, mother indicated to grandfather that she wanted A.K. to come live with her again. Grandfather stated that the hotel would not be a good environment for her. Mother threatened to come retrieve A.K. and bring her back to Maine, at which point grandfather notified A.K.'s therapist about his concerns regarding mother's mental health and the unsuitability of the hotel. The therapist made a report to the Department for Children and Families (DCF). In July 2019, DCF sought and received an emergency care order. Mother did not attend the temporary care hearing held the next day. Mother also did not attend the merits hearing in October 2019, where A.K. was adjudicated a child in need of supervision (CHINS).

DCF proposed a case plan to which mother objected. Mother participated through counsel at a contested disposition hearing, offering several modifications to the proposed plan. The court entered a disposition order in February 2020, which set a goal of reunification with mother by June 2020. It included goals related to securing stable housing, engaging with treatment providers on mental health issues, identifying unsafe individuals, signing all releases requested by DCF, and engaging with A.K.'s school and related service providers. Because mother indicated that Covid restrictions were making it difficult to accomplish case plan goals, the court extended the reunification date to December 2020.

In December 2020, DCF moved for termination of parental rights based on mother's lack of progress in achieving case plan goals. The court held three days of hearings in June, July, and August 2021, and issued an order terminating mother's and father's parental rights in March 2022.

The court found...

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