In a recent case, the Rhode Island Supreme Court upheld a district court judge’s decision to terminate a mother’s parental rights, partially due to her mental health issues. The case began when the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) removed the mother’s newborn child after receiving a “hotline” call. The mother also had a pending case with DCYF involving the custody of her four older children. According to several DCYF caseworkers, the DCYF developed a case plan requiring the mother to accept mental health and domestic violence services, learn skills for meeting her child’s needs, and sign releases of information so DCYF could coordinate with her mental health providers. Several caseworkers observed that the mother’s behavior was erratic, inconsistent, and not acceptable in her child’s presence. She also refused to sign the releases, citing concerns over sharing her private health information. Finally, when DCYF removed her newborn, the mother suffered a mental breakdown and was committed to a hospital for mental health treatment. At the hospital, she could not see her child because DCYF determined there was no way to supervise the visit. Ultimately, DCYF discharged the mother from her reunification program because of her erratic behavior and failure to comply with the mental health services plan.
The trial court granted DCYF’s petition to terminate the mother’s parental rights. Specifically, DCYF had sufficiently proven that it offered the mother services to correct the situation that led to the separation, and the mother was unfit based on her “seriously detrimental” mental health symptoms. On appeal, the mother argued that the district court erred in finding that the DCYF made reasonable efforts at reunification when she was hospitalized. She further alleged that DCYF failed to offer services reasonably designed to address her mental health needs. However, the Rhode Island Supreme Court court rejected these claims.
The Reasonable Efforts Standard
As the court explained, DCYF must prove by clear and convincing evidence that it made “reasonable efforts to encourage and strengthen the parental relationship” before a court can terminate a parent’s rights. Rhode Island courts must determine the reasonableness of DCYF’s efforts based on the particular facts of each case.