Note: Decisions of a three-justice panel are not to be considered as precedent before any tribunal.

ENTRY ORDER

SUPREME COURT DOCKET NO. 2003-503

MARCH TERM, 2004

In re B.T., Juvenile

 

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APPEALED FROM:

Chittenden Family Court


DOCKET NO. 72-2-02 Cnjv

Trial Judge: David A. Jenkins

 

In the above-entitled cause, the Clerk will enter:

Mother appeals from a judgment of the Chittenden Family Court terminating her parental rights to the minor, B.T. Mother contends: (1) the court' s conclusion that she had made A great strides@ contradicts its conclusion that she is unable to resume her parental responsibilities, and required further findings; and (2) certain findings are unsupported by the evidence. We affirm.

As found by the trial court, the facts may be summarized as follows. B.T. first came to the attention of the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services in May 2001, when a joint Burlington Police Department and federal Drug Enforcement Agency search of his residence revealed syringes and bags of heroin. B.T. was ten months old at the time. SRS was informed of the situation and contacted mother, who admitted that she was severely addicted to heroin. Indeed, mother later acknowledged that she had been addicted to heroin since B.T. was two months old, and as a result had relied on relatives to care for the child. B.T.' s father had no involvement with the child, and voluntarily relinquished his parental rights in 2003.

Following the incident in May 2001, mother appointed B.T.' s grandmother, Theresa Waite, to be the child' s guardian, and SRS closed its investigation. Mother checked into a residential treatment facility, Maple Leaf Farms, in July, but left after only one week, failing to complete the course of treatment. Mother remained dependent on drugs, and continued to rely on others to care for B.T.

Almost a year later, in February 2002, Burlington police executed a search warrant at the residence where mother and B.T. were living with Theresa Waite and Richard Waite, mother' s stepfather. The three adults were arrested on drug charges, and B.T. was taken into SRS custody. B.T.' s fourteen-year old stepsister was also taken into protective custody. She told SRS that she had been the primary caretaker for B.T. and had not attended school since November 2001. She had also been caring for the adults, all of whom were addicted to heroin and experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

Based on the foregoing, the court here found that mother had effectively not parented B.T. in any meaningful way since September 2000, when the child was two months old. B.T. was almost three years old at the time of these proceedings in May and July 2003.

In March 2002, B.T. was adjudicated CHINS and placed in foster care. A probate court had earlier terminated Theresa Waite' s guardianship. Mother was released from jail about a month after her arrest, in March 2002, and afforded an opportunity to reside at the Lund Family Center and visit with B.T. at the Lund daycare center. Mother was required to leave after several days, however, when she tested positive for drugs and missed multiple appointments. She was subsequently arrested and reincarcerated, and did not see B.T. again until May. B.T. was placed with a foster family, where he has remained ever since.

Mother attended another drug treatment program in April, and thereafter was placed at Grace House, a residential center, but was forced to leave there for rule violations. Based on mother' s failure to complete any treatment plan, the child' s age, and the absence of any meaningful relationship with mother, SRS filed a petition to terminate parental rights in May. In June, following a hearing, SRS provided an amended caseplan B at the court' s request B setting forth a concurrent plan of services to attempt reunification. The plan required mother to attend a longterm residential substance abuse program and follow all treatment recommendations, comply with all conditions of release related to her pending federal drug charges, abstain from the use of drugs and alcohol, attend visits with B.T., and take part in the Easter Seals Parenting program. The record evidence B including mother' s own testimony B shows that mother clearly understood that SRS would proceed with termination proceedings if she failed to comply with the caseplan requirements.

In July, mother left the Continuum treatment program and began outpatient counseling with a counselor recommended by Champlain Drug and Alcohol Services. She also began parental counseling with an Easter Seals caseworker once or twice a week, which included supervised visits with B.T. In February 2003, after seven months of counseling and supervised child visits, Easter Seals terminated mother from the program, concluding that it had offered her all that it could. Her caseworker concluded that mother had made no significant progress in developing parenting skills, in understanding and responding to the child' s needs, or in providing consistent nurturing. Supervised visits were often problematic, with little close contact between mother and B.T. Mother has also experienced serious problems with her substance abuse program. In September 2002, she was cited for underage drinking. In December 2002 and January 2003, she had positive urine screens. She also continually missed appointments with her substance abuse counselor during this period.

B.T. has thrived in the care of his foster parents, where he has lived since the age of about 20 months. Although he initially displayed a number of behavioral problems, including aggression and hoarding of food, over time he has improved considerably. B.T. considers his foster parents to be his mother and father, and has formed a strong loving relationship with both foster parents, as well as with their infant daughter.

SRS determined to proceed with termination in light of mother' s failure to comply with the requirements of the caseplan for reunification. Following a three-day evidentiary hearing in May and July 2003, the court found that mother was unable to parent the child and would not be able to resume her parental responsibilities within a reasonable period of time. The court found that mother had not effectively parented B.T. for 34 of the 36 months that he had been alive, that despite years of counseling, intervention, and supervised visits she had not developed adequate parenting skills or learned to put the child' s needs before her own, and that although she was free on three years of supervised release in connection with the federal drug charges she had not demonstrated an ability to provide a safe and secure home for the child, whose only true and consistent home and parents for half of his life had been provided by his foster parents. Accordingly, the court found by clear and convincing evidence that it was in B.T.' s best interests to terminate mother' s parental rights without limitation as to adoption. This appeal followed.

Mother contends the court' s conclusion that she is unable to parent the child is contradicted by its final conclusion that A [a]lthough [mother] has made great strides in changing her life, they have come to[o] late for [B.T.].@ The court' s conclusion plainly reflects mother' s testimony that she had recently found an apartment, had maintained employment for several months, and was recovering from her heroin addiction. It does not, however, contradict in any respect the court' s conclusion that mother was unable to currently parent B.T., which was based on overwhelming evidence that she had no parental relationship with the child and had failed to develop parenting skills or any parental bond despite several years of counseling and intervention. See In re M.M., 159 Vt. 517, 524 (1993) (although court found that mother had made some progress in developing parenting skills, her inability to resume parenting responsibilities within reasonable time and child' s need for stability supported termination of parental rights). Mother also faults the court' s failure to enumerate the specific findings underlying its conclusion that she had made progress, but the court' s exhaustive findings and conclusions accurately reflect the overwhelming evidence of mother' s failure to parent the child for most of its life, failure to develop adequate parenting skills despite intensive counseling and intervention, and failure to remain substance free until several months before the hearing. We therefore discern no error in the omission of any specific findings to support the court' s conclusion relating to mother' s recent progress.

Mother also contends the evidence fails to support three specific findings. First, mother contends the court erred in finding that she A recognized that she was unable to meet [B.T.' s] needs.@ The court' s finding accurately conveys mother' s acknowledgment that she was virtually unavailable to B.T. as a parent from the age of two months, when she became addicted to heroin. Mother further contends the court misconstrued the evidence in finding that the Lund Family Center was unavailable as a placement for mother and B.T. The court' s finding accurately reflects the record evidence that Lund would not re-admit mother into their program. Although a Lund staff person acknowledged that there might be other residential programs that would admit her, there was no evidence as to what those programs might be.

Finally, mother contends the court erred in finding that she had not demonstrated A personal stability@ sufficient for the safe care of B.T. Mother cites a clinical psychologist' s testimony that she appeared to be heroin free, her release on probation in connection with the federal drug charge, and the fact that she had found an apartment and employment. As summarized earlier, however, the court' s finding of a lack of personal stability is amply supported by the record evidence demonstrating a long history of lapses in sobriety (the most recent a positive urine screen in January 2003, several months before the hearing), failure to attend drug counseling or complete treatment programs, and frequent moves. In a footnote, mother also criticizes the court' s reference to mother' s lack of A family stability,@ suggesting that it constitutes an inappropriate reference to the fact that she is a single mother. Nothing in the record supports this aspersion. Rather, considered in context the finding appears to reference the extensive drug and alcohol abuse in mother' s family and the almost complete lack of constructive family support for herself and B.T. Accordingly, we conclude that the court' s findings are supported by ample credible evidence, and fully support the termination order. See In re A.D.T., 174 Vt. 369, 375 (2002) (we will uphold termination order if findings are not clearly erroneous and support court' s conclusions).

Affirmed.

BY THE COURT:

 

 

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John A. Dooley, Associate Justice

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Denise R. Johnson, Associate Justice

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Paul L. Reiber, Associate Justice