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In re Child of Amber L.

Supreme Court of Maine

July 5, 2018

IN RE CHILD OF AMBER L.

          Submitted On Briefs: June 27, 2018

          Erik T. Crocker, Esq., Farrell, Rosenblatt & Russell, Bangor, 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, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          PER CURIAM

         [¶1] Amber L. appeals from the judgment of the District Court (Bangor, Campbell, J.) that terminated her parental rights to her child pursuant to 22 M.R.S. § 4O55(1)(A)(1)(a), (B)(2)(a), and (b)(i)-(ii) (2017).[1] The mother contests the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the court's findings of parental unfitness. She further challenges the court's determination that termination of her parental rights is in the best interest of the child, arguing that because the kinship placement for the child provides sufficient stability, the court was required to order additional time for her to attempt to rehabilitate herself and reunify with the child. We conclude that clear and convincing evidence supports the court's finding that the mother is unfit as a parent and that the court acted within its discretion in determining that termination is in the child's best interest. We therefore affirm the judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] After a two-day hearing in early February of 2018, the court found that the mother is unwilling or unable (1) to protect the child from jeopardy and (2) to take responsibility for him and that both of these circumstances are unlikely to change in a time reasonably calculated to meet the needs of the child. See22M.R.S. § 4O55(1)(B)(2)(b)(i)-(ii). After carefully considering the record, the court ultimately determined that terminating the mother's parental rights was in the child's best interest. See 22 M.R.S. § 4O55(1)(B)(2)(a). To support its findings of parental unfitness and its best interest determination, the court made the following factual findings based upon clear and convincing evidence in the record:

In this case, custody of [the child] was properly removed from the parents and granted to DHHS on October 21, 2016.
... Mother clearly loves [the child] very much, and she has a bond with him. Mother has also made progress in some areas, for which she deserves credit. For example, mother has consistently engaged in supervised visits with [the child], and the visits have generally gone very well. Mother also regularly attends [a clinic] for replacement therapy, and she has not used opiates. . . . Unfortunately, however, despite the progress mother has made in some aspects of this case, many of the very serious jeopardy concerns remain.
. . . Throughout the case, DHHS has attempted to assist mother with her substance abuse and mental health issues. Despite this, mother has continued to self-medicate with marijuana, and she has been very inconsistent in her mental health therapy. Mother has also continued to make very impulsive and irresponsible decisions, and she continues to maintain contact with unsafe people.
... Mother [has] long-standing problems with a cannabis use disorder, personality disorder . . ., and complex post-traumatic stress disorder.... Mother has [a] limited ability to self-correct and learn from the consequences of her behavior and acting out. According to [the court-ordered psychologist], without appropriate treatment, mother's ability to safely parent as well as reunify with her children is guarded. [The psychologist] believes that mother's mental health diagnoses tend to be resistant to change and historically require long-term and committed involvement in treatment. Mother's prognosis is further guarded because of her tendency to self-medicate with marijuana.
Although the [termination petition] had already been filed, mother did not follow through with her therapy [provider]. Rather than seeing her [therapist] twice a week, mother met with [her therapist twice between August and November of 2017]. . . . Although [her therapist] reports that mother has made progress since November 3rd, mother still does not regularly attend her appointments. . . . Mother has only attended her [dialectical behavioral therapy] groups three times, twice in December and once in January. Mother attended individual therapy twice, once on December 11, 2017, and once on January 29, 2018.
Mother's level of commitment is unacceptable. [Her therapist] testified that mother still has a lot of work to do. According to [her therapist], mother's [dialectical behavioral therapy] will take a year from November 3, 2017. (This assumes that mother will be fully committed to her therapy, which, at this point, has not been the case.) ...

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