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In re Children of Christopher S.

Supreme Court of Maine

February 28, 2019

IN RE CHILDREN OF CHRISTOPHER S.

          Submitted On Briefs: February 20, 2019

          Wayne Doane, Esq., Exeter, 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.

          PER CURIAM

         [¶1] Christopher S. appeals from a judgment of the District Court (Skowhegan, Benson, J.) terminating his parental rights to two of his children[1]pursuantto 22 M.R.S. § 4055(1)(B)(2)(a), (b)(i)-(ii), (iv) (2018).[2] He challenges the court's determination that termination of his parental rights provides the children with "permanency" and is in the children's best interests. See 22 M.R.S. § 4O55(1)(B)(2)(a). We affirm the judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] The following facts, which are supported by competent record evidence, are drawn from the court's findings and the procedural record. See In re Children of Corey W., 2019 ME 4, ¶ 2, __A.3d__.

         [¶3] On December 4, 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services filed a petition for a child protection order and preliminary protection order, requesting that the court place the children in the sole custody of the mother.[3] See 22 M.R.S. §§4032, 4034(1) (2018). The petition alleged that between April of 2009 and January of 2016 the Department received many reports of concerns that the father had been physically and emotionally abusive and that the parents were not meeting the children's medical, educational, dental, and mental health needs. The court (Benson, J.) issued a preliminary protection order and placed the children in the custody of the mother.

         [¶4] In January of 2018, the court entered an agreed jeopardy order against the father based on "serious abuse and neglect [of the children], as evidenced by the threat of serious harm posed by the father's unmanaged mental health problems and domestic violence, as well as his deprivation of adequate food, clothing, shelter, supervision, care, and education." See 22 M.R.S. § 4035 (2018). Although the court also found jeopardy as to the mother based on past concerns about her parenting capabilities and the risks posed by the father, the court ordered that the children remain in her custody. The jeopardy order required the father to participate in a court-ordered diagnostic evaluation, [4] dialectical behavior therapy, and medication management.

         [¶5] Several months later, the father moved for the court to order the mother to allow him to have contact with the children. After a contested hearing, the court denied the motion, and shortly thereafter the Department petitioned for termination of his parental rights. See 22 M.R.S. § 4052 (2018). In August of 2018, the court held a hearing on the petition, where the mother, two departmental caseworkers, and the paternal grandmother testified. The father chose not to testify. The court subsequently entered a judgment terminating the father's parental rights. In the judgment, the court found by clear and convincing evidence that the father was unwilling or unable to protect the children from jeopardy and was unwilling or unable to take responsibility for the children, and that these circumstances were unlikely to change within a time that is reasonably calculated to meet the children's needs; and that he had failed to make a good faith effort to rehabilitate and reunify with the children. See 22 M.R.S. § 4055(1)(B)(2)(b)(i)-(ii), (iv). The court also determined that termination of the father's parental rights is in the children's best interests. See 22 M.R.S. § 4055(1)(B)(2)(a).

         [¶6] The court made the following factual findings, all of which are supported by competent record evidence. See In re Child of Jonathan D., 2019 ME 14, ¶ 5, __A.3d__.

Between this case and a prior one, the Department has been making every effort to work with [the father] for years. It has offered him access to all the tools he could possibly have required to rehabilitate and reunify, but, for whatever reason, he has refused to avail himself of the services offered. Finally, he has run out of time to begin trying in time to meet his children's need for permanence and stability.
. . . The Department has waited patiently for [the father] to avail himself of services, any services, and only now, at the eleventh hour, does he appear to be making a half-hearted effort to do so. There is nothing more the Department can do in discharging its responsibilities under Title 22 when a parent like [the father] whose serious, ...

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