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In re Child of Charles

Supreme Court of Maine

October 23, 2018

IN RE CHILD OF CHARLES V.

          Submitted On Briefs: October 10, 2018

          Aaron B. Rowden, Esq., Waterville, 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: SAUFLEY, C.J., and MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          PER CURIAM.

         [¶l] Charles V. appeals from a judgment of the district court (Skowhegan, Fowle, J.) terminating his parental rights to his child.[1] He argues that the record does not support the court's finding of parental unfitness. We affirm the judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] In 2017, when the child was two weeks old, the Department of Health and Human Services filed a child protection petition and a request for a preliminary protection order. See 22 M.R.S. §§ 4032, 4034 (2017). The petition alleged that there had been several reports from medical professionals and Department caseworkers that there was a threat of physical abuse and verbal aggression by the father. Additionally, the petition alleged that the father's home was unsanitary and unsafe for the child's continued habitation.

         [¶3] The court [Benson, J.) entered a jeopardy order, by agreement, placing the child with a foster family in September 2017. See 22 M.R.S. § 4035 (2017). As part of the jeopardy order, the father was to participate in medication management; participate in mental health counseling with an anger management component; complete a court-ordered diagnostic evaluation (CODE); participate in random drug screens; establish a safe and sanitary home; and allow unannounced home visits by the Department.

         [¶4] From the time of the jeopardy order until December 2017, the father stopped almost all visitation with the child. In addition, the father ceased his mental health counseling in October 2017, resuming only after the Department petitioned for termination of his parental rights on February 2, 2018. See 22 M.R.S. §4052(2017).

         [¶5] A hearing on the petition was held by the court [Fowle, J.) on April 26, 2018. Following the hearing, the court entered a judgment granting the petition to terminate the father's parental rights after making comprehensive findings of fact by clear and convincing evidence. See 22 M.R.S. § 4O55(1)(B)(2)(b)(i)-(ii); In re Thomas D., 2004 ME 104, ¶ 21, 854 A.2d 195.

          [¶6] The court's decision was based on the following findings of fact, all of which are supported by competent evidence in the record.

In the present case, the court is concerned that the TPR petition was filed on February 2, 2018, or approximately seven and one half months following the removal of the child from the home, and slightly less than five months following the issuance of the jeopardy order. Ordinarily, the court would expect that more time would elapse before the petition for termination was filed. At first glance, this process seems to be moving very quickly, leaving one to wonder whether [the father] has been given sufficient time and opportunity to reunify with his child. The TPR hearing itself was held 10.5 months following the removal of the child. Additionally, the uncontroverted evidence presented at hearing established that the Department had been working with the [father] and [the mother] for several months prior to the removal of [the child] from the custody of her parents in June of 2017. While [the mother's older child] is not the biological child of the father in the present case, it is noteworthy that the Department was working with both parents in an effort to keep [the older child] safely in their home. According to court documents filed in conjunction with this case, the Department was quite concerned over [the father's] treatment of [the older child], as a number of instances of disturbing conduct by [the father] toward [the older child] are described. Thus, in considering parental fitness factors described at 22 M.R.S. [§] 4055, it is appropriate to do so in the context of well over one-year involvement by the Department with [the father] and [the mother].
The evidence at hearing, including the testimony of the father, established conclusively that [the father] made very little effort toward reunification until February of ...

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