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In re Children of Amber L.

Supreme Court of Maine

April 24, 2018

IN RE CHILDREN OF AMBER L.

          Submitted On Briefs: April 10, 2018

          Rory A. McNamara, Esq., Drake Law, LLC, Berwick, for appellant father

          Caitlin Ross Wahrer, Esq., Chester & Vestal, PA, Portland, 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, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          PER CURIAM.

         [¶1] The mother and the father appeal[1] from a judgment of the District Court (Springvale, Janelle, J.) terminating their parental rights to their two children pursuant to 22 M.R.S. § 4055(1)(A)(1)(a) and (B)(2)(a), (b)(i)-(ii) (2017), as to the father, and 22 M.R.S. § 4055(1)(A)(1)(a) and (B)(2)(a), (b)(i)-(ii), (iv) (2017), as to the mother. The father challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the court's findings of unfitness as well as the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the court's finding that termination is in the best interests of the children. He also argues that the court's termination of his parental rights constituted an abuse of discretion because it failed to take into account "the negative consequences" of termination.[2] We affirm the judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] The court made the following supported findings of fact pertaining to the parents' fitness to parent their children:

The children lived with their parents in New Hampshire from the time of their births to 2008. In April of 2008, they were removed from their parents' care and placed in New Hampshire Division of Children, Youth and Families (hereinafter "DCYF") custody. ... It is not completely clear why the children were removed from their parents' home. [The mother] testified that the children were removed because of domestic violence between her and [the father]. There was also testimony that [the mother] had a substance abuse problem at one time. The children remained in foster care until February 2012, when they were returned to their parents' custody.
[The parents] were separated when the children were returned to them. [The mother] remained living in New Hampshire and [the father] had relocated to Maine, where he currently resides. From 2012 to 2015, the children went back and forth between their parents' homes. Although it is not known how much time they spent in each home, the girls were living in [southern Maine with the father], his girlfriend, ... and another roommate ... when the Department formally became involved with the family in the summer of 2015.
As of this date, [the parents] have had twenty months to engage in the services outlined in their reunification plans to alleviate jeopardy and to prove to the girls that they are now safe and reliable caregivers. Neither parent has alleviated jeopardy or arrived at the point where they can meet these girls' needs. [The mother] fails to acknowledge that her past issues have anything to do with the children's current struggles. She testified that her substance abuse, domestic violence and mental health issues are in the past and have nothing to do with what is going on now, and [that she] does not need any mental health treatments. [She] has refused counseling. She has not attended any parenting sessions, even though she maintains this is the only service that she had to do. [She] lacks sensitivity around the girls' attachment issues, as evidenced by her telling [the younger child] that [her] foster mother is just a care giver[She] has visited the children a total of three times [She] cited her work schedule, distance and car trouble as reasons for her failure to see her children. However, the Department offered transportation assistance and [a counseling agency] made changes to the visitation schedule based on [the mother's] reported changes in her work schedule. This past April, [the mother's] schedule changed and she was asked to contact [the counseling agency] to set up visits, however, this did not occur.
[The mother] has all but abandoned [the children]. Her failure to visit does nothing to show [the children] that she is a reliable caregiver and can provide a safe, stable and, nurturing environment.
Neither is [the father] in a position to parent the girls, but not for lack of contact with the girls or the Department. While [the father] has not yet found new housing, he has engaged in the other services and responsibilities outlined in his reunification plan. [He] continues to live with [his girlfriend and roommate], who he agrees cannot be around his children . . . .Despite [the father's efforts, he] continues to lack insight into the impact of his substance abuse issues on his parenting and does not know how to communicate with the girls who have significant attachment issues. . . . [The father] continues to believe that the girls need to respect him and their behaviors need to change before they will be ready to return home. In other words, [the father] blames the girls for the fact that they are in foster care. At his last visit with the girls this past May, [the father] became angry when [the younger child] would not ...

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