IN RE KAYLEIGH P. et al.
Briefs: April 27, 2017
Wille, Esq., DeGrinney Law Offices, Portland, 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
The father of Kayleigh P. and Mikaela P. appeals from a
judgment of the District Court (Portland, Powers,
J.) terminating his parental rights to the children
pursuant to 22 M.R.S. § 4O55(1)(B)(2) (2016). Because,
contrary to the father's contention, the evidence
supports the court's factual findings and the court did
not abuse its discretion in determining that termination is
in the children's best interest, we affirm the judgment.
The court found by clear and convincing evidence that the
father was unable to protect the children from jeopardy or to
take responsibility for them within a time reasonably
calculated to meet their needs, and that it was in the
children's best interest for his parental rights to be
terminated. 22 M.R.S. § 4055(1)(B)(2)(a), (b)(i)-(ii);
see In re Caleb M., 2017 ME 66, ¶ 27, ___ A.3d
___, The court made its determination based on the following
findings of fact that are supported by evidence in the
record. See In re Logan M., 2017 ME 23, ¶ 3,
155 A.3d 430 (stating that factual findings supporting the
trial court's unfitness determination are reviewed for
clear error); In re Caleb M., 2017 ME 66, ¶ 33,
___ A.3d ___ (stating that factual findings supporting the
trial court's best interest determination are reviewed
for clear error).
In October 2014, after the Department of Health and Human
Services obtained a preliminary child protection order
granting it custody of the children upon discovering that
they had been neglected and "generally mistreated"
while in the care of their mother, the Department contacted
the father and his partner, who herself has a serious child
protection history, concerning whether the father could care
for the children. The father, who had not seen the children
since January 2014, was unable to do so. The Department
placed the children with a foster family, where they remain
more than two years later. After the Department took custody
of the children, the father had visits with them that were
always supervised. Based on the testimony of visit
supervisors, the court found that the father "does an
average job [of] parenting ... during these two hour visits,
" and that he was "not particularly
empathetic" toward the children.
When a February 2016 termination petition was withdrawn,
giving the father extra time to seek reunification, the
Department developed an updated, detailed reunification plan.
After that plan was instituted, the father's attendance
at the girls' medical appointments became worse. He did
not understand their medical needs and diagnoses, or know
their therapists' names. He made no progress in meeting
the reunification plan's requirement that he utilize a
parenting coach. The plan also required the father to get
mental health treatment for issues that included an anger
problem and depression. He felt no need for counseling or
dealing with his anger issues, however, even though his
counselor testified that he still had depression and
unresolved PTSD and ADHD diagnoses. The counselor
acknowledged that the focus of his work was on the
father's personal issues, not on his parenting skills.
The court found that the Department was justifiably concerned
that the father did not act as his children's primary
parent, instead relying on his partner to provide most of the
care for his "challenging" girls, and that a
separation between the father and his partner, which had
occurred at least once during their relationship, would
endanger the girls' well-being. The court also found that
the children-although they still have significant emotional
and medical needs-are doing well, in contrast to the
"out of control and destructive" behavior that they
exhibited when they first entered foster care, and that they
have benefitted from the long-term counseling and frequent
in-home services that they have received.
The GAL recommended termination. The court found persuasive
the GAL's opinion that (1) the father cannot safely care
for the children given their "high level of needs,
" (2) the children do well where they reside and need
permanency, and (3) that need could be met by adoption.
See In re Caleb M., 2017 ME 66, ¶ 27, ___ A.3d
___ ("The weight and credibility of the testimony and
other evidence, including GAL reports, is for the
fact-finder's determination." (quotation marks
Weighing all of the evidence, the court found that
"[t]here is no evidence that the ... unfitness issue
will resolve anytime soon enough to allow the father to
protect and care for the girls." Given the court's
supported factual findings, and giving its judgment the
"substantial deference" to which it is entitled,
id. ¶ 33 (quotation marks omitted), the court
did not err in finding "by clear and convincing
evidence at least one ground of parental unfitness, "
id. ¶ 27 (quotation marks omitted), and did not
abuse its discretion in determining that termination of the
father's parental rights was in the children's best
interest, see id. ¶ 34.