The Court of Special Appeals affirmed the termination of a father’s parental rights, even though the permanency plan for his children in the underlying CINA case remained reunification with him.
The Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services had filed the TPR petition in September 2013, concerned over the unraveling of Quintline B. Sr.’s housing, employment and sobriety.
At the time of the filing, a permanency plan review hearing in the CINA case was scheduled for the following month. The department raised those issues at the October hearing, requesting that the children’s plans be changed from reunification with their father to adoption by a non-relative.
However, the judge in the CINA case refused to approve the change, instead affirming the plan of reunification on Oct. 30, 2013.
Nevertheless, when the father filed a motion to dismiss the TPR, the circuit court denied it. After a three-day hearing in February, the court terminated his parental rights on March 7. He appealed.
Mr. B. “contends that his due process rights were violated in two ways,” retired Judge Raymond. G. Thieme Jr. wrote for the appellate panel.
“First, because of the TPR, the Department and not the Court, in effect, changed the permanency plan in the children’s CINA case. Second, issues pending in the CINA litigation were foreclosed upon by the granting of the TPR without an opportunity for further review.”
The court disagreed, noting that the change in a CINA permanency plan is not a condition precedent to the filing of a TPR; indeed, it is just one of three actions that triggers the department’s duty to file.
The Department must also file for TPR if the child has been placed out-of-home for 15 of the past 22 months, and “when a Department determines that adoption is in the child’s best interests, they must file a TPR within 60 days,” the opinion notes.
The appellate panel found the department had properly filed the petition under the latter provision.
“Our holding here goes no further than did the Court of Appeals in Jayden G.,” Theime wrote, referring to the decision that said the juvenile court has discretion to proceed with a TPR while an appeal is pending in a CINA case. “Simply put, it was within the juvenile court’s sound discretion to consider or refuse to consider the TPR petition, notwithstanding a permanency plan remaining reunification, and father’s due process rights were not violated.”
Mr. B. also argued that there was insufficient evidence to support the TPR, since he had a long history of compliance and progress over the three to four years his children were in care and had only recently suffered some setbacks.
Again, the court disagreed, finding the juvenile court had considered the factors in Family Law §5-323(d) and determined by clear and convincing evidence that termination was in the best interest of the children.
The court found “several of the court’s findings of fact particularly persuasive,” Theime wrote.
“Though father has successfully completed drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs at Avery Road and Second Genesis, substance abuse still remains a major concern. He has evaded drug screens, and admitted to drinking and doing drugs in the months prior to the TPR hearing,” the opinion says.
“Though father completed parenting courses, he still failed to inspire confidence as a caretaker, failing to feed the children on occasion and not taking responsibility to provide diapers, wipes, and snacks for the children during visits…,” Thieme wrote. “We find the incident where father held [his son] over a second-floor railing particularly troubling.” The court also mentioned father’s “major struggle” to secure stable housing and a steady job over the prior four and a half years.
“Father’s position now is actually worse than it was when the children were put into care,” Thieme noted. “He remains unemployed, abuses drugs and alcohol, and is now homeless, where he was not before.”
The court acknowledged that Mr. B. was diligent about visiting the children, and that they were bonded to him.
However, they are also “strongly bonded to one another and their new foster parents,” the opinion says, noting that Mr. B. “indicated that the ideal situation would be for the foster parents to adopt the children and for him to have liberal visitation with them.”
“The TPR court made the specific finding that it would not be in the children’s best interests to extend the foster period,” the appellate court concluded. “We agree. For all the reasons discussed above, we are persuaded that the Department demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence, that termination of the parent-child relationship is in the best interests of the children. We affirm.”
The case is In Re: Adoption/Guardianship Quintline B. and Shellariece B., CSA No. 0092, September Term 2014. Reported Opinion Filed Sept. 30, 2014. The full text opinion is available on the court’s website and will be included in the next edition of Maryland Family Law Update.