Court Issues Guidelines For Parental Rights Cases
Elvin G.'s parental rights to his sons, then 10 and 9 years old, respectively, were terminated on Oct. 1, 2012. The children had been raised mostly by their mother who struggled with substance abuse problems. The Department of Children and Families became involved with her family in 2006 because of her drug problems and need for housing assistance.
Around that time, the mother had another child, with a different father, and tested positive for the illegal drug PCP. Later that year, DCF announced that it now considered the children to be neglected. But they remained in the mother's care under the protective supervision of DCF.
Around the time the children were born, Elvin G. was in prison on drug charges. He was later released to a halfway house, from which he escaped. He was caught and jailed again a few months later. In 2004, he was charged by federal authorities with possession of a stolen firearm. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2005.
By early 2008, due to the mother's continued substance abuse problems, DCF had taken custody of the children.
In 2010, after the children had been in foster care for two years, DCF argued that the father had failed to rehabilitate himself despite participating in prison-based parenting, substance abuse and anger management programs. DCF said the father got into trouble while in prison, including possessing marijuana and failing a drug test. This resulted in an 18-month loss of visitation rights with his children. He also did not keep DCF updated about to his prison transfers. The agency had to track him down after he was transferred from a prison in New York to one in Arizona.
The mother, meanwhile, became disabled after having an aneurysm. It wasn't until her disabling condition was confirmed by doctors that DCF and the courts refocused their efforts towards termination of parental rights and adoption. The previous plan had focused primarily on reuniting the children with their mother.
In early 2012, a termination of parental rights hearing took place over three days at which the father participated via videoconference.
At the trial, the father's lawyer argued that the court needed to give the father specific steps to follow prior to terminating his parental rights, claiming that such steps are mandated by state statute. However, Superior Court Judge Constance Epstein ruled that state statute does not require a court to issue specific steps for a parent prior to terminating their parental rights when there has been a prior court adjudication of neglect.
The father then appealed and the state Supreme Court took up the case.
Chief Justice Rogers noted in the decision, which will be officially released Nov. 12, that although specific steps must be given to parents facing the loss of their children, the parent's completion of the steps does not ensure they will prevail in a termination proceeding.