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In re Daphne

Supreme Judicial Court of Maine

February 18, 2016

IN RE DAPHNE

         Submitted On Briefs January 28, 2016.

          Dawn M. Corbett, Esq., Law Office of Dawn M. Corbett, PA, Ellsworth, for appellant father.

         Janet T. Mills, Attorney General, and Meghan Szylvian, Asst. Atty. Gen., Office of the Attorney General, Augusta, for appellee Department of Health and Human Services.

         Panel: ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          OPINION

         PER CURIAM

          [¶1] The father of Daphne[1] appeals from a judgment of the District Court (Ellsworth, Mallonee, J. ) terminating his parental rights pursuant to 22 M.R.S. § 4055(1)(A)(1)(a) and (B)(2) (2015). The father argues that the court impermissibly based its decision terminating his parental rights on his incarceration. Additionally, the father argues that the Department of Health and Human Services failed to make a meaningful effort at reunifying the father with the child.

          [¶2] Because the court properly considered the length of the father's unavailability due to incarceration in determining whether he is able to take responsibility for the child within a time reasonably calculated to meet the child's particular needs, and because the court was not required to make a separate finding regarding the extent of the Department's reunification efforts, so long as it had an adequate basis for its finding of parental unfitness, we affirm the judgment.

         I. CASE HISTORY

          [¶3] The court found the following facts by clear and convincing evidence, which are supported by competent record evidence.[2] See In re M.S., 2014 ME 54, ¶ 13, 90 A.3d 443. The father is incarcerated. His earliest possible date of release is in October 2016, approximately fifteen months after the court's July 2015 hearing. Addressing the father's incarceration, the court found: " In prison, [the father] has taken classes and participated in services to overcome his own problems--in particular his substance abuse--and to develop skill and insight as a parent." The father " presented himself in court as thoughtful and realistic. He loves his daughter, wants what is best for her, and is willing to work to provide it."

          [¶4] The child's play therapist opined that the child's play therapy indicates that she " has suffered some form of trauma in her life," [3] and she " has a particular, immediate need for stability and permanency." The therapist further recommended that " to maintain her in long-term foster care would be harmful to her." The child is in a pre-adoptive foster placement, with foster parents who " are able to provide for all of [the child]'s needs, particularly those implicated by events in [the child]'s play therapy sessions."

          [¶5] The father's brief on appeal argues that " [p]rior to the Department's involvement" he was " a typical devoted, full-time parent raising his child in a loving home." The Department's involvement in the child's life began in July 2013. At that time, the child, then a little over a year old, was hospitalized after she ingested a strip of Suboxone[4] while in her father's care. The father was prescribed Suboxone at the time. Neither of the child's parents could provide any explanation for how their child could have accessed or been given the Suboxone.[5]

          [¶6] Shortly after the child ingested the Suboxone, the father was removed from the home pursuant to a Department safety plan. About two months later, the father was arrested for drug trafficking and operating after license revocation. He remained incarcerated throughout the proceedings.

         II. LEGAL ANALYSIS

          [¶7] We review the court's factual findings for clear error, evaluated pursuant to the clear and convincing evidence standard of proof. In ...


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