Recently, the Rhode Island Supreme Court issued a decision affirming the decree of a family court terminating a mother’s parental rights to her four children. The Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCFY) became involved with the family after the mother was hospitalized for mental health issues. DCFY filed a neglect petition to remove four of the woman’s children, and three were placed with their maternal grandmother, and the youngest was placed with a foster family. DCFY contends that the mother failed to fully engage in counseling and other steps to address her mental health. Further, the mother’s engagement with the children declined over several months. DCFY noted that their initial goal was reunification with the mother; however, the goal changed to termination of parental rights and adoption as time progressed.
According to the relevant part of the statute, Rhode Island General Laws 1956 § 15-7-7, explains the court shall terminate any and all legal rights of a parent to a child if the court finds:
- With clear and convincing evidence that the parent is unfit by conduct or conditions detrimental to the child
- The child has been in legal custody or care with DCFY for at least 12 months, and the parents were offered services to remedy the situation that brought the children into care.
In this case, DCFY argues that the mother exhibited seriously detrimental conduct to her children, and future appropriate care is improbable. In support of its position, DCFY presented evidence that visits with the children were chaotic. The mother resisted signing releases for the children to obtain services. She frequently missed visitations or showed up late. Moreover, the woman’s oldest child stated that he enjoyed the family he was placed with and did not desire to return to his biological mother or father.
On appeal, the court noted that while natural parents have a fundamental interest in their children’s care, custody, and management, the interest is not absolute. Parents’ rights are counterparts to the responsibilities they have assumed. Among several contentions, the mother argued that DCFY failed to establish that it made reasonable efforts to reunify. However, the court found that DCFY accomplished this standard by creating four sets of service plans and opportunities for meaningful visitation and making referrals for services. As such, the court ultimately concluded that the trial justice did not err in finding that DCFY met their burdens.
Reach Out to a Rhode Island Family Law Lawyer to Schedule a Free, No-Obligation Consultation Today
If you face the termination of your parental rights or need assistance with another family law matter, contact the Rhode Island family law attorneys at Bilodeau Capalbo, LLC. The lawyers at our office have extensive experience favorably resolving family law cases on behalf of our clients. Our firm handles cases stemming from Rhode Island custody and support matters, property division, divorce, marital agreements, modifications, paternity, and protective orders. Contact our office at 401-300-4055 to schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your Rhode Island family law matter with an experienced attorney.