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In re Children of Jessica D.

Supreme Court of Maine

May 14, 2019

IN RE CHILDREN OF JESSICA D.

          Submitted On Briefs: April 24, 2019

          Wayne Doane, Esq., Exeter, for appellant mother

          Aaron M. Frey, 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, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          PER CURIAM

         [¶1] Jessica D. appeals from a judgment entered by the District Court (Skowhegan, Benson, J.) pursuant to 22 M.R.S. § 4O55(1)(B)(2)(a), (b)(i)-(ii) (2018) terminating her parental rights to her three children. She challenges the court's determination that she is parentally unfit and that termination of her parental rights is in the best interests of the children. We affirm the judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] The Department of Health and Human Services initiated child protection proceedings as to the mother's three children on May 17, 2017, alleging chronic substance abuse and significant neglect. See 22 M.R.S. § 4032 (2018). The court issued a preliminary protection order, placing the children in the Department's custody. See 22 M.R.S. §4034 (2018). On August 30, 2017, the court entered a jeopardy order, finding that the children were "in circumstances of jeopardy in the care of their mother ... due to her substance abuse and past neglect[And the mother is] unable to remain clean and sober and safely care for her children." See 22 M.R.S. § 4035 (2018). The court's jeopardy order specifically found that the mother failed to engage and follow through consistently with the medical and mental health treatment of the children, all of whom have high needs. The court also outlined the services and steps the mother needed to take to ameliorate the jeopardy, including engaging in dual-diagnosis counseling and medication management; obtaining a court-ordered diagnostic evaluation (CODE); taking parenting classes; maintaining a safe, stable, and sanitary home free of domestic violence, drugs, and alcohol; and refraining from criminal conduct.

         [¶3] Despite the mother's participation in some of these services, on June 26, 2018, the Department petitioned the District Court to terminate the mother's parental rights.[1] See 22 M.R.S. § 4O55(1)(B)(2)(a), (b)(i)-(ii). At the termination hearing on September 20, 2018, the court heard testimony from a physician who examined two of the children, a child psychologist, the guardian ad litem, the Department social worker, the children's current foster parent, the mother's clinical counselor, and the mother. On November 8, 2018, the court entered an order terminating the mother's parental rights, finding, by clear and convincing evidence, that the mother is unable to protect the children from jeopardy and unable to take responsibility for the children within a time reasonably calculated to meet their needs, and that termination of her parental rights is in the best interests of the children. See id. The court based its decision on the following findings, which are supported by competent record evidence.

While [the mother] has been engaged in services throughout the pendency of this child protection proceeding she has not made any measurable progress in reunifying with her children.
[The mother] has historically struggled with maintaining safe and stable housing for herself that is suitable for reunification with the [children] and that struggle is ongoing. ... [A] DHHS permanency social worker ... went to the [mother's] home shortly after the mother had moved in and noted safety concerns including gaps between the walls and the exterior of the home and use of a homemade woodstove.
[The mother's] substance abuse and poorly managed mental health led to numerous Department involvement[s] dating back to 2013. On more than one occasion the children were safety planned out of [the mother's] care because her substance abuse and mental health deteriorated, and the children were neglected. When residing with [the mother] the children were hungry so frequently at school that reports were made to the Department and plans were made by the school to provide the children with extra food during the school day. On three occasions, [the mother] was not present to pick the children up from the bus stop and school officials weren't able to reach her for lengthy periods of time. Every time the children were planned out of [the mother's] care their behaviors improved drastically, their academic performance improve[d], services [were] re-established, and their medical appointments [were] met. [The mother] has historically been able to achieve sobriety, engage in mental health treatment and stabilize [, ] allowing the children to be returned to her care. When the children are returned to her care[, ] however, she has stopped mental health treatment, her attendance in her services has also stopped and she has relapsed on illicit substances.
[The mother] has no insight into her substance abuse issues, and, at the hearing, she downplayed the impact it had on her children. She testified that she didn't use [drugs] when her children were home and ignored the obvious neglect the children were subjected to. [She] disputes using [c]ocaine despite her [positive] March 2018 drug screen . . . and the [c]ourt concludes that that [test] result was the result of a relapse. Despite the approximate 5 months of sobriety, [her] longstanding and cyclical struggle with substance abuse reveals she is only at the beginning of her recovery.
[The mother] also has little or no insight into the extent her mental health has impacted her ability to parent and led to the neglect previously found ...

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