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In re Children of Edward F.

Supreme Court of Maine

December 6, 2018

IN RE CHILDREN OF EDWARD F.

          Submitted On Briefs: November 28, 2018

          Christopher S. Berryment, Esq., Mexico, for appellant father.

          The Department of Health and Human Services did not file a brief.

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

          PER CURIAM.

         [¶1] Edward F. appeals from a judgment of the District Court (Presque Isle, Roberts, J.) terminating his parental rights to his three children.[1] We affirm the judgment.

         [¶2] In March 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services filed a petition for preliminary protection and a child protection petition with respect to the father's three children. See 22 M.R.S. § 4055(1)(A)(1)(a) and (B)(2)(a), (b)(i), and (iv) (2017). The petition alleged that the children were in jeopardy from their father due to an "immediate risk of serious harm due to threat of physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional maltreatment and neglect." The court granted the Department's petition for a preliminary protection order, and the children were placed with the Department.

         [¶3] In September 2017, the court (Rushlau, J.) entered a jeopardy order based on the father's issues with domestic violence, substance abuse, and inappropriate physical force used in discipline. The court's permanency planning order included requirements that the father complete a mental health assessment, substance abuse assessment, sex offender risk evaluation, psychological evaluation, and an evaluation for a batterer's intervention program. The father participated in the mental health evaluation but refused to engage in any other services.

         [¶4] The following January, the Department filed a petition for termination of the father's parental rights. On June 11, 2018, the court (Roberts, J.) held a hearing on the Department's petition. Notwithstanding proper notice being provided to him, the father failed to appear at the hearing. Counsel appointed to represent the father did appear at the hearing.

         [¶5] On June 12, 2018, the court granted the Department's petition to terminate the father's parental rights. Based on the testimony presented at the hearing and other competent evidence in the record, the court found by clear and convincing evidence that (1) the father is unwilling or unable to protect the children from jeopardy and these circumstances are unlikely to change within a time which is reasonably calculated to meet the children's needs; (2) the father failed to make a good faith effort to rehabilitate and reunify with the children; and (3) termination of the father's parental rights is in the best interests of the children. See 22 M.R.S. § 4055(1)(B)(2)(a), (b)(Y), and (iv).

         [¶6] The court based its decision to terminate the father's rights on the following factual findings, all of which are supported by competent evidence in the record.

The Court finds by clear and convincing evidence, that with respect to the father, ... the State has met its burden of proof with respect to subsections 1 and 4. [The father's] relationship with [the mother] was marred by domestic violence to a degree which would jeopardize the children's safety. The arguments between the parents with screaming, angry behaviors had an impact on the children. [The father] used a belt on his children to a degree that was excessive and abusive. [The father] became angry and potentially violent when abusing alcohol.... The impact of all this [including other forms of abuse] on the children has been to cause delays developmentally. [The oldest and middle child] have been diagnosed with [serious mental health diagnoses] resulting from their violent home life. [The father's] visits with the children were discontinued in November of 2017, due to his aggressive behaviors and emails. The Department made reasonable efforts to reunify and rehabilitate the family. Those reasonable efforts regarding the father consisted of requests that he engage in assessments and counseling. [The father] attended a mental health assessment, but declined to participate in the recommended therapy. He refused to attend appointments for assessments related to substance abuse, sex offender risk evaluation or batterer's intervention. He indicated that he would not participate in any services arranged by the Department. He has exhibited quick frustration and anger before the court. He has chosen not to engage in the services that would enable him to be reunified with his children. His failure to attend a TPR hearing demonstrates that his focus [is] on combat with the Department rather than reunification with his children. [2]
This court finds by clear and convincing evidence that DHHS offered [the father] appropriate services and referred [him] to providers. He was simply unwilling or unable to engage or make changes. This court finds that there is nothing more that DHHS could have done to assist [the father] in this case.
[The mother] attends individual mental health therapy. She has maintained employment. [The mother] is working with the children's therapist to attempt to understand and meet their emotional needs. [She] obtained a Protection from Abuse Order regarding [the father] and has called law enforcement twice regarding violations of the order. [The mother's] efforts at reunification with her children can only progress if [the father] is out of the ...

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