IN RE CALEB M. et al.
Submitted On Briefs: January 19, 2017
Virginia Lee Holt, Esq., Holt Family Law, Saco, for appellant
T. Mills, Attorney General, and Meghan Szylvian, Asst. Atty.
Gen., Office of the Attorney General, Augusta, for appellee
Department of Health and Human Services.
SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and
More than two and a half years after Caleb M. and Ayden R.
were first removed from their mothers care because of her
substance abuse and consequent neglect, the mothers parental
rights to the children were terminated by a judgment of the
District Court (Portland, Eggert, J.). The mother
appeals, arguing that the court did not independently
exercise its judicial function, that the court improperly
relied on the reports of a guardian ad litem (GAL), and that
the evidence was insufficient to support the termination of
her parental rights. We affirm the judgment.
On November 7, 2013, the Department sought child protection
orders on behalf of Caleb M. and Ayden R. due to allegations
of neglect caused by the mothers substance abuse. By
agreement, on March 3, 2014, the court (Goranites,
J.) made a finding of jeopardy against the mother as to
each child, based on the mothers exposure of the children to
drug use, criminal activity, and unsafe individuals; and her
lack of appropriate housing. While these proceedings were
pending, the mother gave birth to a daughter who is the
subject of a separate child protection proceeding.
Judicial reviews were held on March 3 and September 3, 2014;
March 3 and September 9, 2015; and March 8, 2016, and orders
were entered by agreement after each of these reviews.
Reports of a GAL were admitted in evidence at each of the
judicial reviews. The September 9, 2015, and March 8, 2016,
judicial reviews were presided over by the same judge
(Eggert, J.) who ultimately presided over the
On December 14, 2015, the Department filed a petition to
terminate the mothers parental rights to Caleb, and on
February 18, 2016, the Department filed a petition to
terminate her parental rights to Ayden. In both petitions,
the Department alleged that the mother had inconsistently
participated in mental health and substance abuse services,
and had continued to permit unsafe individuals, including the
three fathers of her children, to be present around the
The court conducted a hearing on the petitions on May 12 and
16, 2016, during which the court heard testimony from the
mother, the mothers and the childrens providers, Department
caseworkers, and the GAL. At the conclusion of the hearing,
the court sought proposed orders from both the mother and the
Department. In a judgment entered on June 2, 2016, in which
the court largely adopted the Departments proposed order, the
court terminated the mothers parental rights to both
children. In a footnote, the court noted that
it had used the Departments proposed order
"extensively" because "the Departments
proposed findings align quite closely with the courts view of
In its judgment, the court made the following supported
findings by clear and convincing evidence. See In re
Hannah S., 2016 ME 32, ¶ 3, 133 A.3d 590. The
mother has had a substance abuse problem for several years.
She participated in various treatment programs including
outpatient, intensive outpatient, and residential programs.
Her compliance with these treatment programs was
inconsistent, and she was discharged from one program for her
failure to make progress. Needles were found in her room at
one of the treatment programs.
The mother relapsed on several occasions, and recent drug
tests performed by her doctor showed elevated levels of her
prescribed medications and indications that she was also
using nonprescribed medications. In December 2015, the mother
admitted that she overused her prescribed Suboxone. Only two
months before her parental rights were terminated, a
Department caseworker found needles in her bedside table.
The mother permitted several "unsafe men" to be
present with the children. In early 2016, a Department
caseworker making an unannounced visit to the mothers home
discovered Aydens father hiding in a closet despite the
mothers denial that he was there. Aydens father was then
arrested on outstanding warrants. In April 2016, a caseworker
visiting the mothers home noticed her infant daughters father
leaving. When the caseworker asked the mother about needles
that were found in a nightstand, she blamed the daughters
father and his friend.
Caleb was afraid of returning to live with his mother because
he worried that he would be the one who would have had to
care for Ayden and their sister. He worried about having
enough food to eat, and he regularly checked the cupboards in
his foster home to see that there was enough food. Caleb has
been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, and is on the
waiting list for more intensive in-home support, as well as
trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy. Calebs therapist
believes that returning Caleb to his mothers care would
The mother did not consistently attend visits with her
children. The visit supervisor testified that Caleb seemed to
"r[u]n the show" during visits with the mother.
When the mother misses visits with Caleb, he becomes very
upset. The Department intends to seek an adoptive placement
Ayden has been diagnosed with ADHD. In his foster placement,
Ayden thrived on structure and routine. In late 2015, the
mother was given the opportunity to have Ayden with her
again. He was returned to his mothers ...