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#320 Third Department Caselaw Round-Up for March 8, 2012, Part 3 of 3

320 Post 03-08-12, Part 3 Third Department March.pngWhenever you see the statute SSL §384-b cited in a case, it’s a sure bet that parents of children just had their parental rights to those children terminated. And that is the case here. While a parent has a right to a child, that parent also has a responsibility for that child. If you abdicate your responsibility, then your right will be taken away. It’s that simple; it’s very difficult to have one without the other.

320 Post-2 Ulster County.pngCase #187 #511557
In the Matter of Summer G.
Ulster Family-Meddaugh Issues: Best Interests; Clear and Convincing Evidence; Credibility; Domestic Violence; Drug Abuse; Permanent Neglect; Removal; Surrender; Termination of Parental Rights Cited statutes: SSL §384-b Affirmed

This case pertains to the appeals from 5 orders.

The parents had 2 children together. The father also had another child. Based upon the parents’ history of drug abuse and domestic violence, all three children were removed from their home and they were placed in the care and custody of DSS, where they remained. After a hearing, the children were adjudicated to be permanently neglected and the parents’ rights were terminated.

The parents appealed.

No deal says the Third Department. Why? For the most part, the parents “failed to maintain contact with the children or plan for the children’s future for a period of at least one year or 15 of the most recent 22 months since the children were placed” in DSS’ custody. Once that magic number is reached, it is only a matter of time before parental rights are terminated.

In this case, the parents failed to cooperate with DSS insofar as they failed to substantially engage in any of the many services offered to them by DSS. While the parents did enroll in domestic violence counseling and several substance abuse treatment programs, they apparently failed to complete any of them. “Moreover, [the parents] admitted to relapsing multiple times and continuing their relationship despite their history of domestic violence and various treatment recommendations to remain apart.”

Furthermore, the parents failed to plan for their children’s future and any progress that they made in this area was minimal at best, since the children remained in DSS’ custody for over a year after the removal.

I’ve seen this sort of thing played out time and time again. It usually involves young or poor parents (or both) who are homeless, unemployed, drug abusers or mentally ill, with dysfunctional or non-existent families, or some combination of any or all of those. At first, they seem incredulous that DSS can simply “waltz in” and take their kids away. In the first phase, it’s all about them and their outrage at DSS for “stealing” their kids. In the next phase, it’s all about lack of compliance with the terms and conditions that DSS has set forth for the children to be returned to the parents. The third phase often involves half-hearted and long overdue attempts on the part of the parents to at least partially comply. The fourth and final phase is often relapse and resignation over the likelihood that they will lose their children.

All the while, there is zero acceptance of responsibility while the children’s stay in foster care drags out from a month to several months to over a year. Before you know it, the children are not only used to foster care, they are thriving in it, bonding with their foster parents. And it doesn’t take much to make the leap from foster parent to prospective adoptive parent.

Take care of your children. Or you will lose them.