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Father’s Parental Rights Terminated After Failed Reunification Program

The Rhode Island Division of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) is tasked with the unenviable job of addressing abusive or neglectful parents whose conduct may put their children at serious risk. The DCYF often is involved in cases where one or both parents are suffering from mental health issues and addictions or engaging in chronic criminal activity. Before seeking to take someone’s children away and terminate their parental rights, the DCYF usually prepares a case plan to give the parent(s) the ability to improve their lifestyle, learn parenting skills, and ultimately regain permanent custody of their children. Wide discretion is given to individual DCYF employees to determine the requirements of a successful case plan. A father recently appealed the termination of his parental rights after he allegedly failed to properly follow through on his case plan.

The appellant in the recently decided appeal is the father of a young child born in 2018. Based upon existing neglect and termination proceedings concerning the mother’s other children, the DCYF immediately opened a neglect case in regard to the child once they learned of the birth. As part of the neglect case, a case plan was developed to allow the father to demonstrate his fitness as a parent. The father and mother were no longer a couple when the neglect case was initiated, so the DCYF assigned individual case plans to each of the parents. The father, who allegedly admitted to selling drugs in the past to a DCYF-referred therapist, was instructed to abstain from drugs and alcohol and enter into substance abuse treatment with random drug screenings as part of the case plan.

According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the father attempted to comply with many portions of the case plan, attending parenting classes and supervised visits with the child. The father did not, however, submit proof that he attended a substance abuse evaluation or provide drug screening results as expected. While the case plan was in effect, the father was arrested for possession of heroin and incarcerated. In response to his arrest and incarceration, the DCYF chose to pursue termination proceedings against the father. A trial was held on the matter, where the family court determined that the father was unfit to parent the child, that he was unlikely to become a fit parent in a reasonable amount of time, and that the child’s current placement in a foster home was healthy and likely to result in an adoption. Based on those findings, the family court entered an order terminating the father’s parental rights.

The father appealed the termination of his parental rights to the Rhode Island Supreme Court, arguing that the terms and conditions of his case plan were not clearly laid out and that he substantially complied with the case plan to demonstrate his fitness as a parent. The appellate court acknowledged that the father took action in compliance with the case plan and may have attempted to obtain substance abuse treatment and drug screenings, but he did not sufficiently comply with the case plan as a whole. The appellate court further found that the father’s subsequent arrest and conviction for a serious drug crime while participating in the case plan was a firm determiner as to his unfitness as a parent. As a result of the high court decision, the father’s parental rights will remain permanently terminated.

If you or a loved one has been confronted with a Rhode Island child welfare investigation or termination proceeding, the development of a case plan in conjunction with the DCYF is an important part of retaining your parental rights and regaining custody of your children. The knowledgeable family law and child welfare attorneys with Bilodeau Capalbo, LLP understand how to assist our clients in developing a reasonable case plan with DCYF, and we can ensure that your compliance with the plan is relayed to the family court. With our guidance and support, you can protect your parental rights and prevent the DCYF or courts from taking your children away. If you have questions about a Rhode Island family law issue, we’re here to help. Call us at 401-300-4055 for a free consultation.

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