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Supreme Court Affirms Finding that Two Minor Children are CHINS

In In re J.C. & T.F., Juveniles, 2016 VT 9 (January 22, 2016), the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s adjudication of two minor children as Children in Need of Services (CHINS).

Issue: Mother resided with her husband who was the father of one of her minor children, T.F. Mother had a second child, J.C. born of a prior relationship; her husband, and the father of T.F., also had an additional child, K.P. Mother’s two children, T.F. and K.P. were found to be CHINS and at the time of the Court’s decision a separate action concerning K.P. was pending. Mother argued that the evidence and findings failed to support the judgment entered by the trial court. She argued, among other things, that the origin of the CHINS proceeding was based on the observations of an in-home service provider regarding her treatment of K.P., the subject of a different CHINS proceeding. Evidence was presented at trial that Mother had told K.P. she “didn’t want her anymore” and that she had paddled her until she bled. It was also alleged that she did not allow K.P. to drink any fluids for two days as a punishment for “stealing” food from the refrigerator. The trial court found that Mother had abused K.P. and further concluded that the evidence demonstrated her general inability to care for J.C. and T.F. Based on these findings the trial court adjudicated J.C. and T.F. CHINS. Mother appealed.

Holding: The Court affirmed the trial court’s findings that J.C. and T.F. are CHINS. Although the Court described the trial court’s findings regarding J.C. and T.F. as “truncated,” they were deemed sufficient to support a finding of CHINS. The Court reasoned that the facts found by the trial court regarding Mother’s “vicious cruelty” toward K.P. in the presence of J.C. and T.F, as well as her general agitation and stress level, were sufficient to support the conclusion that she had a general inability to care for J.C. and T.F

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