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In re Child of James R.

Supreme Court of Maine

April 10, 2018

IN RE CHILD OF JAMES R.

          Submitted On Briefs: February 26, 2018

          Amy McNally, Esq., Woodman Edmands Danylik Austin Smith & Jacques, P.A., Biddeford, 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, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          REPORTER OF DECISIONS

          HJELM, J.

         [¶1] James R. appeals from an order of the District Court (Portland, Powers, J.) terminating his parental rights to his child based on the court's conclusions that he is unfit because he is unable to "meet his son's special needs and take responsibility for him in a reasonable time to meet those needs" and to "protect his son from jeopardy in a reasonable time to meet his needs, " and that termination is in the child's best interest. See 22 M.R.S. § 4055(1)(B)(2)(a), (b)(i)-(ii) (2017); M.R. App. P. 2B(c). On appeal, the father contends that the court erred in its parental unfitness and best interest determinations and that he was denied due process. We affirm the judgment.

          I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] After a two-day termination hearing, the court issued a judgment containing the following factual findings, which are supported by the record. See In re Evelyn A, 2017 ME 182, ¶ 4, 169 A.3d 914.

         [¶3] The child was born premature and drug-affected. He remained hospitalized in neonatal intensive care for six weeks after his birth.[1] Upon discharge, he was placed in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services and lived in foster care because his parents knew that they were unable to care for him. He has resided in the same foster home since then.

         [¶4] Up until several days before the child was born, the father had been using numerous drugs, including heroin, cocaine, amphetamines, and marijuana, in addition to alcohol. Since then, he has maintained sobriety. He attends Narcotics Anonymous meetings and has participated in substance abuse counseling since February of 2016. The father has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression, and, as part of a reunification plan, he has attended mental health counseling that has a domestic violence component. Since May of 2016, the father has worked with a case manager to coordinate services that include a parenting coach who began working with the father in January of 2016. Overall, the father has been cooperative with the Department and has participated in the reunification services provided to him.

         [¶5] The father has had regular visitation with the child, beginning with supervised contact at an agency and foster home, and progressing to some unsupervised contact, including overnights toward the end of 2016. Because the visits went well and the father had demonstrated progress in services, in early 2017 the parties formulated a plan to allow greater unsupervised contact that would lead to a trial placement with the father beginning on January 27, 2017. The ultimate plan was reunification of the father and the child.

         [¶6] The court described what happened next.

Unfortunately, the serious incident of January 17, 2017 directly interfered with the reunification plan, and the trial placement has never occurred. Around 11:00 a.m. on January 17, 2017 the father's parent educator ... appeared at the father's apartment as part of the visit there between father and [the child]. [The parent educator] noticed that [the child] seemed normal acting. However, he then saw red bruising on both of [the child's] cheeks. When he was asked about this, the father described two incidents the day before which might explain the bruises. [The father] was putting a new chair together, and [the child] was pushing a toy and somehow fell. The second involved both being in the shower and [the child] was at the back of the tub and slipped. The father cannot recall seeing either event but was present and assumed two falls occurred from [the child's] reaction. The father was aware of the bruising on January 17 before [the parent educator] arrived. The father did not believe either incident was serious because [the child] slept all night thereafter. He has denied slapping or otherwise causing the facial bruises since being questioned on January 17, 2017. He was the only adult there when the bruising occurred.
[The parent educator] called DHHS, which immediately scheduled an abuse evaluation for [the child] at the Spurwink Child Abuse Program. That occurred on the afternoon of January 17, 2017, with a follow up visit that took place on January 20, 2017. Numerous photographs taken at the evaluation document the obvious bruising. ...

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