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In re Children of Christine A.

Supreme Court of Maine

April 16, 2019

IN RE CHILDREN OF CHRISTINE A.

          Submitted On Briefs: April 9, 2019

          Kristina Dougherty, Esq., Chester & Vestal, P.A., Portland, for appellant mother

          Aaron M. Frey, Attorney General, and Hunter C. Umphrey, 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] Christine A. appeals from a judgment entered by the District Court (Portland, Eggert, J.) terminating her parental rights to her two children. She challenges the court's findings of unfitness and its best interest determination, as well as the court's denial of her motion in limine to exclude the testimony of two school counselors. We affirm the judgment.

         [¶2] In February of 2016, the Department of Health and Human Services initiated child protection proceedings as to each of the mother's two children, alleging that the mother suffered from substance abuse and mental health issues and that the children were subject to an escalating pattern of neglect.[1] The court (Kelly, J.) entered preliminary protection orders placing the children in the Department's custody. After a contested summary preliminary hearing, the court (Eggert, J.) maintained custody of the children with the Department. The mother later agreed to the entry of an order finding jeopardy to the children on grounds that her mental health and substance abuse issues rendered her an unsafe caregiver for the children.

         [¶3] On May 15, 2017, the Department petitioned for the termination of the mother's parental rights to both children. The court conducted a testimonial hearing on July 9 and 10, 2018. On the morning of the first hearing day, the mother moved in limine to exclude the testimony and treatment records of two school counselors on the ground that she had not been provided with any discovery relating to their testimony or records. The court denied the motion in limine as untimely given that both witnesses were named on the Department's witness list filed on December 21, 2017, but the mother did not seek exclusion of their testimony until July.

         [¶4] By a judgment dated July 26, 2018, the court terminated the mother's parental rights to the children. In its decision, the court made the following factual findings, which are supported by competent record evidence.

         [¶5] The mother has suffered multiple crises because of her mental health and alcohol abuse issues. She was diagnosed in 2015 with an unspecified psychotic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), for which she was prescribed anti-psychotic, anti-depressant, and anti-anxiety medications.[2]Although the mother saw a psychiatric nurse practitioner to manage her medications and agreed to psychological and substance abuse evaluations, the court found that she was "in reality not doing so well and had not been maintaining her sobriety." In 2016, she was admitted to a hospital psychiatric unit after a trip to the emergency room, and she was then transferred to an inpatient mental health facility.

         [¶6] The mother then completed a residential program and was faithfully attending an outpatient program, leading the Department to consider allowing overnight visits with the children, when the mother relapsed on alcohol. Although overnight visits eventually began in January of 2017, the court found that

[the mother's] progress came to an abrupt halt later in January when she was found to be unstable and swaying as she was holding [the younger child] in her arms during an unannounced home visit on January 31, 2OI7[, ] by [the Department caseworker]. [The mother] was having trouble breathing, slurring her words, and having quick mood swings. The Crisis Team was called to the house and the children were returned to their foster care. [The mother] failed several drug tests from January 27, 2017[, ] to March 1, 2017. She was discharged from the [outpatient treatment and parenting program]. Despite these setbacks, [the Department] did not give up on [the mother] and she did not give up on herself.

         After a psycho-social assessment, the mother was diagnosed with PTSD induced by complex trauma and an alcohol use disorder, and she was referred for cognitive behavioral therapy. The court found,

During this time [the mother] seemed to regain control of herself and she began to have the children for visits twice a week on a check in basis. . . . [The mother] seemed to have a good relationship with [her behavioral therapist] and expressed her desire to work on her PTSD issues. Despite her expression, [the mother] had cancelled her May 17 session and failed to show for the next session. On July 5, [the mother] disclosed a relapse on alcohol, and then failed to show for sessions from July 12 to August 9. The pattern of failure to show or cancellations continued until [the behavioral therapist] discharged [the mother] from care on November 2, 2017. During the time in therapy [the mother] had only begun to grapple with the PTSD issues and doing so was emotionally difficult. [The mother] apparently did not have a strong enough ...

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