Saturday, February 1, 2014

Steal Away

In re RM, RM, and CM, 2013 VT 78

Today’s case might be entitled the appeal that wasn’t there.

RM, RM, and CM are siblings who have had it rough.  Originally raised in Winooski, the three became subject to a child in need of supervision (CHINS) petition.  This process was suspended when they left the state with their mother who moved them all to Pennsylvania.  Things did not work out well, and the three were sent back to an adult brother in Vermont.

Once the state found out about their return, the CHINS proceeding resumed, and mother and father stipulated to a determination that the children were CHINS.  This meant that the children were put into foster care, and the state was charged with creating a permanency plan.  The State’s plan was simple.  Mother needed to complete four steps (including securing stable, appropriate housing and seeking mental health treatment) and the children would be reunified with her.  The trial court agreed and adopted the plan, which called for a six-month time-frame.

Six months came and went, and mother had not made a great deal of progress on her goals.  So the state filed to modify the plan.  The new plan called for mother to meet the same four goals and still set reunification as the goal, but it also included a backup plan that if mother was not progressing after six months, the state would seek to terminate parental rights and find permanent foster homes.

Mother appealed this decision, and the SCOV’s first and biggest question is whether such a modification constituted a final decision, which would give rise to an appeal.  The SCOV after considering the various issues involved determines that such a decision is in fact a final judgment and gives rise to an appeal.  This is consistent with the SCOV’s prior permanency planning decisions and makes sense since the next step in this process will be a trial to determine which plan to follow (based mainly on the question of whether mother has met or made substantial progress on her four goals) and not a re-litigation of the plans themselves. 

With this decision made, the bulk of the decision is done.  The SCOV quickly notes that the trial court’s decision was supported by the evidence, which showed that the children needed a stable, permanent environment and could not sustain further jostling back and forth between mother and foster care. 

In brief, it was in the best interests of the children that some permanent situation be arranged and implemented.  In the face of this type of evidence, mother’s concerns that the time line was too short and was setting her up for failure are not enough to shift things the necessary conclusions.

So mother will hopefully make the changes necessary to keep her children, but as mother senses, and we can suspect given her history, this is likely not enough to overcome the momentum that arises when a dysfunctional family tries to cure itself of its ills on a narrow timeline.

1 comment:

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