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In re Child of Walter C.

Supreme Court of Maine

July 25, 2019

IN RE CHILD OF WALTER C.

          Submitted On Briefs: July 18, 2019

          Philip Notis, Esq., Portland, for appellant father

          Aaron M. Frey, Attorney General, and Zack Paakkonen, 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, and HJELM, JJ.

          PER CURIAM

         [¶1] Walter C. appeals from a judgment of the District Court (Portland, Powers, J.) terminating his parental rights to his child. He contends that the court erred in its determination that he is parentally unfit and that termination of his parental rights is in the best interest of the child. We affirm the judgment.

         I. CASE HISTORY

         [¶2] In November 2017, sixteen days after the child was born, the Department of Health and Human Services filed a petition for a child protection order and a request for a preliminary protection order. See 22 M.R.S. §§ 4032, 4034 (2018). The petition alleged that the father struggled with substance abuse and untreated mental health issues that manifested in him burning himself. The court (Janelle, J.) granted the request for a preliminary protection order, granting custody to the Department, and the child was placed in foster care.[1] On February 5, 2018, the court [Powers, J.) entered an agreed-upon jeopardy order, and custody of the child remained with the Department. See 22 M.R.S. § 4035(1)-(2) (2018).

         [¶3] The Department petitioned for termination of the father's parental rights on November 30, 2018.[2] See 22 M.R.S. § 4052 (2018). The court held a single-day hearing on the petition, see 22 M.R.S. § 4054 (2018), and, on February 27, 2019, found by clear and convincing evidence that the father is unwilling or unable to protect the child from jeopardy or take responsibility for the child within a time that is reasonably calculated to meet the child's needs, and determined that termination of the father's rights is in the best interest of the child, see 22 M.R.S. § 4055(1)(B)(2)(a), (b)(i)-(ii) (2018).

         [¶4] The court based its decision on the following findings, which are supported by the record.

The family's issues involved untreated marijuana and alcohol misuse, untreated mental health problems, and relationship issues. The child was not safe in the care of either parent.
[The father] is 29 and has lived in a one-bedroom . . . apartment for three months. He was homeless before then from February 2018
The father admits to a lengthy history of excessive alcohol and marijuana use. ... He was assessed for [a] . . . substance use program in March 2018, entered it in April, and completed the program at the end of August 2018. The program included regular intensive outpatient treatment for substance use and parenting education sessions with some individual counseling late in the program.
Drug testing was [also] part of the program. His testing showed [marijuana] use during each of the 21 weeks. [The father] would typically admit his ongoing use of marijuana. He also had positive alcohol tests for the first few weeks and then negative test[s] for the last four months .... The [substance use program] clinician had concerns about [the father] at [the] program's end ...

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