Submitted On Briefs: December 17, 2019
Christopher S. Berryment, Esq., Mexico, for appellant Mother
M. Frey, Attorney General, and Zack Paakkonen, Asst. Atty.
Gen., Office of the Attorney General, Augusta, for appellee
Department of Health and Human Services
SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, and
Vanessa G. appeals from a judgment of the District Court
(Farmington, Dow, J.) terminating her parental
rights to her child pursuant to 22 M.R.S. §
4055(1)(A)(1)(a), (B)(2)(a), and (B)(2)(b)(i)-(ii)
(2018). She argues that the court erred in finding
that she is an unfit parent. We affirm the judgment.
In October 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services
filed a petition for a child protection order and preliminary
protection order for the mother's newborn child.
See 22 M.R.S. §§ 4032, 4034 (2018). The
petition primarily alleged that (1) the child was born drug
affected due to the mother's drug use during pregnancy,
(2) the mother was unwilling or unable to follow an
appropriate feeding schedule for the child while at the
hospital, and (3) the mother's boyfriend was at the
hospital and appeared to be under the influence of drugs.
That day, the court [Oram, J.) entered a preliminary
protection order, placing the child in the Department's
custody. See id. § 4034(2). The mother waived
her right to a summary preliminary hearing. See id.
In January 2018, the court (Carlson, J.) entered an
agreed-to jeopardy order. See 22 M.R.S. § 4035
(2018). The court found that the child was in jeopardy based
on the mother's "substance abuse, inability to
recognize and prioritize the needs of her drug affected
newborn, and minimal demonstration of a willingness to follow
medical recommendations regarding feedings which could
seriously harm [the child]."
In the fifteen months that followed, the Department engaged
in reunification efforts with the mother. A persistent
obstacle to reunification was the refusal of the mother's
boyfriend to engage with the Department. The Department
contended that, as long as the mother and the boyfriend were
together, the child should not be placed in the mother's
custody unless the boyfriend participated in the
In a judicial review order dated July 11, 2018, the court
stated that the boyfriend "is NOT to be living [with]
[the mother] until he engages [with] [the Department]."
In a subsequent judicial review order dated December 11,
2018, the court found that "[the mother] continues to
live with her boyfriend" even though "[the
boyfriend] has a significant criminal history [and] has not
engaged with the Department's attempts at engaging him in
services to address his issues."
In April 2019, the Department petitioned to terminate the
mother's parental rights. See 22 M.R.S. §
4052 (2018). The court held a two-day contested hearing on
the termination petition in May 2019. Following the hearing,
the court issued a judgment terminating the mother's
parental rights to her child. In its written order,
court made the following findings by clear and convincing
evidence. See 22 M.R.S. § 4055(1)(B)(2) (2018).
Those findings are supported by evidence in the record.
See In re Children of Benjamin W., 2019 ME 147,
¶ 5, 216 A.3d 901.
[The mother] has made significant progress in her substance
abuse treatment, and the Court gives her credit for that
The remaining area of grave concern is [the mother's]
ability to recognize and prioritize the needs of the child
With respect to child contact, [the mother] has not
progressed beyond supervised visits with [the child]. Indeed,
[the mother] chose to reduce the supervised visits from
three-hour visits twice per week to two-hour visits twice per
week, largely because [the mother] struggled to spend a full
three hours with [the child] during the visits. She
rationalizes this choice by saying that visiting with the
child in a small room is like punishing the child, and
prioritizing the child's needs over her own requires that
she cut the visits short
Another failure to recognize and prioritize [the child's]
needs was evidenced by [the mother's] delay in
acknowledging the risk to [the child] posed by [the
mother's boyfriend]. [The mother] has been in a
relationship with [the boyfriend] for most of [the
child's] life. [The boyfriend] has a troubling history of
substance abuse and criminality, and he refuses to engage
with the Department. The Department has long made it clear to
[the mother] that it is concerned about [her boyfriend]. The
Department offered to work with [the boyfriend] if he were to
remain part of the picture with [the child]. In light of [the
boyfriend's] refusal to work with the Department, [the
mother] knew she had to choose between him and [the child].
[The mother] testified that she broke up with [the boyfriend]
early in 2019, about fifteen months into the case, which
could hardly be considered as a time frame ...