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Vermont Supreme Court Reverses Termination of Infants’ Parents’ Rights

In In re D.S. and W.S., Juveniles, 2016 VT 130 (Dec. 16, 2016), the Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s termination of mother and father’s parental rights, because the court’s decision to shift from a concurrent goal of reunification/adoption to adoption-only was premature.

Issue: The Department for Children and Families (DCF) created a safety plan for mother and father, parents of two infants, after incidents involving inadequate supervision. When mother and father violated the plan, the infants were placed with their paternal grandparents. Then, in October 2014, the court adopted a disposition plan with concurrent goals of reunification by March 2015 or adoption. However, in a December 2014 termination-of-parental-rights proceeding, the court terminated mother’s and father’s parental rights, on its conclusion that mother had not progressed beyond the very basics in keeping the children safe, and father had not participated regularly in Family Time coaching.

Holding: The Supreme Court reversed the termination of parental rights and remanded. The trial court’s decision to terminate was premature. Father began attending Family Time classes once his work schedule allowed it, and mother made better progress once father was there, too; they should have had the opportunity to make sufficient progress by the disposition plan’s March 2015 end date.

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