Rhode Island residents have the right to care for and parent their children as they choose, with some restrictions. In situations where a parent is unable or unwilling to safely care for their child, the state of Rhode Island may get involved. The Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) has the authority to take temporary or permanent custody of children who are in danger of abuse or neglect. Permanently depriving a parent of their parental rights to a child is the most severe response to child abuse or neglect. This is generally reserved as a decision of last resort when efforts to encourage a parent to safely care for their child have failed. The Rhode Island Supreme Court recently affirmed a lower court’s ruling that terminated a natural father’s rights to his daughter after a years-long child welfare proceeding.
According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the child who is at issue in this case was born in July 2013 and was brought to the attention of the DCYF shortly after her birth. The child was born with high levels of addictive substances in her system, and she required medical care as a newborn to prevent withdrawals. For the first several years of her life, the child would go between living with her parents and living in temporary foster homes, as the DCYF worked with the parents to assist them with learning how to care for their daughter.
After several years of back-and-forth, and a continual 12-month time period where the DCYF heard nothing from the father while his child was in foster care, the agency decided to seek permanent termination of the father’s parental rights. After a trial, the father’s rights were terminated. The trial judge determined that the father was not cooperative enough with the agency in making behavioral changes to allow him to safely care for his daughter. Additionally, the judge noted that the daughter was thriving in her foster home and wished to stay there permanently. With these findings, the court entered an order terminating the father’s rights, which would set up the child to be adopted by her foster family.