August 2, 2023

AC 46140

Mother appealed the termination of her parental rights with respect to her four children. Father, who had mental health and substance abuse issues, was arrested due to an instance of domestic violence against Mother. Thereafter, the children were committed to DCF custody.  Mother was referred to a variety of services by DCF.  DCF also paid for daycare and provided Mother the opportunity to attend her children’s medical appointments, in addition to visitation. Following a trial, the court found that DCF made reasonable efforts to reunify, that Mother was unable or unwilling to benefit from those reunification efforts, and that she had failed to rehabilitate. The Court here held:

1. Mother could not prevail on her claim that the trial court erred in concluding that DCF made reasonable efforts to reunify, based upon the evidence.  There was no evidence that DCF ceased reunification efforts before the TPR petitions were filed, and, because Mother’s sole challenge to the reasonable efforts determination was premised on DCF’s conduct after the adjudicatory date, and, as Mother conceded, the court was limited to considering only those facts preceding the adjudicatory date, the Court here could not conclude that the trial court erred in finding that DCF made reasonable efforts.

2. Mother could not prevail on her claim that the trial court erred in concluding that she had failed to achieve such a degree of personal rehabilitation as would encourage the belief that, within a reasonable time, considering the ages and needs of her children, she could assume a responsible position in their lives.  The court properly considered the evidence, which was sufficient to support its finding that Mother failed to rehabilitate.  Although the court found that Mother had addressed many of her specific steps toward reunification, the court was not satisfied that she had established necessary, long-term, independent housing, and was concerned about her credibility on housing issues, as she lived with Father until well after the adjudicatory date, which was problematic given his untreated mental illness.  Although Mother argued that the court improperly relied on stale evidence in determining that she failed to rehabilitate because she had recently separated from Father, the court properly considered the report and testimony of a court-appointed evaluator whose observations with respect to Mother focused on observations before the adjudicatory date.  Moreover, although the court was not required to consider post-adjudicatory date evidence, it nevertheless did so, crediting the testimony of a visitation supervisor, who stated that Mother was apathetic and did not fully engage with the children during visits, as well as the testimony of the children’s therapists, who testified that the children suffered from various disorders and exhibited dysregulated behavior after visits.  Furthermore, contrary to Mother’s claim that the court disregarded recent evidence that she had separated from Father and gained insight into how to keep her children safe from him, the court did, in fact, consider evidence from her clinical psychologists, but gave less weight to their testimony because neither had observed Mother with the children, whereas other witnesses did, and it was not the function of the Court here to reweigh the evidence.