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In re Aidenj

Supreme Court of Maine

December 7, 2017

IN RE AIDENJ. Et al.

          Submitted On Briefs: November 29, 2017

          Richard W. McCarthy, Jr., Esq., Pittsfield, for appellant mother

          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: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          REPORTER OF DECISIONS

          PER CURIAM

         [¶1] The mother of Logan J., Aiden J., Marissa J., Belladonna J., and Jessie B. appeals from a judgment of the District Court (Skowhegan, Nale, J.) terminating her parental rights to her five children pursuant to 22 M.R.S. §4055(1)(A)(1)(a) and (B)(2)(a), (b)(i)-(ii) (2016).[1] She challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support both the courts finding of parental unfitness and its determination that termination is in the childrens best interests. The mother also argues that the Department of Health and Human Services failed to comply with 22 M.R.S § 4041 (2016) because it did not provide the mother with Home Community Treatment (HCT) services. We affirm the judgment.

         [¶2] Based on competent evidence in the record, the court found by clear and convincing evidence that the mother (1) is unable to protect the children from jeopardy and these circumstances are unlikely to change within a time which is reasonably calculated to meet the childrens needs; and (2) is unable to take responsibility for the children within a time that is reasonably calculated to meet the childrens needs. See 22 M.R.S. § 4055(1) (B)(2) (b)(i)-(ii). The court also found that termination of the mothers parental rights is in the childrens best interests. See 22 M.R.S. § 4055(1)(B)(2)(a). We review factual findings supporting the unfitness determination for clear error and apply the same standard to the factual findings supporting the best interest determination, although we review the courts ultimate conclusion that termination is in the childrens best interests for an abuse of discretion. See In re M.B., 2013 ME 46, ¶ 37, 65 A.3d 1260.

         [¶3] The court based its determinations on the following findings of fact:

There is ... no question that [the mother] has made some progress participating in the services that were designed to help her address her mental-health issues. . . . However, the progress that [the mother] has made in reunifying with her children over the past seventeen-to-twenty-two months is insufficient to meet these five childrens needs, as explained by [the psychologist] in his Court Ordered Diagnostic Evaluation and expanded upon in his testimony. The Court accepts [the psychologists] conclusions and assigns a great weight and credibility to his report and testimony. Based on [the psychologists] evaluation and testimony, the Court finds that [the mother] is not yet close to alleviating jeopardy.
The critical issue, for [the mother], is her ability to protect the children and take responsibility for them. The original jeopardy with regard to all five children centered around [the mothers] inability to provide the children adequate supervision and care. With regard to this, the issue of [the mothers] relative parental fitness, the Court is most persuaded by [the psychologist]. His written evaluation, in conjunction with his testimony, demonstrated to the Court the troublingly high probability that the progress she has made, such as it is, would collapse if these children were returned to her custody.
At the outset, [the psychologist] was asked to assess whether [the mother] is "capable of providing for the needs of these five children, including two [Logan and Aiden] which have been specifically identified with special needs." He answered simply: "By herself, no." Having heard from all the childrens foster parents, and the counselors for Logan and Aiden, the Court is familiar with these five childrens particular needs. The Court agrees with [the psychologist] and finds that, by herself, [the mother] is simply not capable of providing for [the children].
Based on the complete picture of the evidence before it, but particularly [the psychologists] report and testimony, the Court finds that it is essentially a full-time task for [the mother] to tend to her own high needs. The Court recognizes that, in answering "[b]y herself, no, " [the psychologist] raised the possibility that, with the assistance of a capable adult, it is conceivable that [the mother] could find some way to meet these five childrens needs someday. However, looking at all the evidence, and in particular [the mothers husbands] own live testimony, the Court is unable to find that [the mothers] husband is a person who is capable of helping her sufficiently shorten the substantial amount of time it would take her to alleviate the persistent jeopardy that was first found to exist in September of 2015.
[The mother] finds herself in tragic circumstances. In her testimony, she asked for acknowledgment that where she finds herself today is not entirely the result of choices that she has made. The Court does acknowledge that. She has been abused in her life. That is not her fault.
However, as evidenced by her own testimony, [the mother] still does not have an adequate understanding as to what effect her own mental-health challenges have already had-and are highly likely to continue having-on her children. What she must do to protect and take responsibility for these five ...

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