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Vermont Supreme Court Finds Child is In Need of Supervision, Despite Having Grandparental Care

In In re B.G., Juvenile, 2016 VT 10, the Supreme Court affirmed a finding of CHINS on the basis that a mother abandoned her child, even though she had arranged for the child’s grandparents’ to care for him.

Issue: Mother struggled with a history of substance abuse and domestic violence. She left child with his grandparents, and was not involved in his day-to-day life, as she struggled unsuccessfully to get drug treatment. DCF brought and was granted petitions that the child was CHINS due to lack of proper parental care and due to abandonment. Mother appealed.

Holding: The Court affirmed that the child was CHINS under the statute, because Mother had demonstrated an unwillingness to care for the child, despite arranging for “safe and appropriate care” with the child’s grandparents. The Court found that, since it found the child to be CHINS by reason of abandonment, it did not need to reach the question of whether he was CHINS due to lack of parental care.

Concurrence, Dooley J.: Justice Dooley concurred, stating that the abandonment statute is so broadly written that he was forced to find that the child was CHINS, despite the fact that the child was in “safe and appropriate care” with his grandparents. He emphasized, however, that just because DCF may intervene to have a child declared CHINS does not mean it should do so in every case.

Dissent, Robinson, J.: Justice Robinson dissented, arguing that the state should not be “free to intervene in the lives of millions of children who face no particular risk of harm,” just because their guardian is not a natural parent, and there were no findings here that the child lacked care or was at risk of harm while in the grandparents’ care. She emphasized that targeting voluntary care arrangements for findings of abandonment would disproportionately impact minority families. She also noted that where, as here, if parents enter into an informal agreement with DCF not to pursue custody of a child to ensure the child’s safety, failure to repudiate that agreement within some unspecified time may open up them up to claims of having abandoned their children. Finally, she argued that it was clear that the child was not CHINS for lack for proper parental care, as the child was receiving such care from the grandparents.

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