Higher court reverses Clinton County Judge’s decision place kids for adoption

By: Daniel Weaver

July 13, 2012

Yesterday, the Third Department of the Appellate Division of the State of New York Supreme Court reversed a decision by the Clinton County Family Court which modified the permanency goal of three allegedly neglected children to placement for adoption and termination of the mother’s parental rights. The original permanency plan, approved by all concerned, had been for the children to remain in the custody of the Department of Social Services for another six months with the mother continuing to have visitation rights with reunification being the ultimate goal. However, Judge Timothy J. Lawliss changed the plan on his own authority. According to the appellate court’s written decision, “The basis stated for this determination was respondent’s [mother’s] mental health issues and housing problems and the children’s safety concerns.”

While the appellate court conceded that family court judges have the authority to unilaterally change permanency plans, it went on to state:

“Wherever possible, the societal goal and “overarching consideration” is to return a child to the parent (Matter of Dale P., 84 NY2d 72, 77 [1994]; see Social Services Law § 384-b [1] [a]), and reunification remains the goal unless a parent is unable or unwilling to correct the conditions that led to the removal. As long-term foster care is not in a child’s best interests, the goal then becomes finding a permanent, stable solution for the child (see Matter of Dale P., 84 NY2d at 77; Matter of Destiny EE. [Karen FF.], 82 AD3d 1292, 1294 [2011]; Matter of Jacelyn TT. [Tonia TT.—Carlton TT.], 80 AD3d at 1121). The termination of parental rights becomes necessary and appropriate where a parent fails to demonstrate a willingness to work toward the goal of reunification, fails to comply with petitioner’s recommendations or fails to develop an awareness of the child’s basic needs or underlying reasons for placement in petitioner’s care.”

The appellate court recognized that the mother’s mental health, financial and parenting issues, it stated:

Here, while respondent has been diagnosed with depressive disorder not otherwise specified, a condition expected to last more than one year, both petitioner’s caseworker and respondent’s mental health counselor testified that respondent was making progress and has implemented newly acquired parenting skills and coping skills. Although she requires financial assistance for her monthly rental payment, respondent has also successfully acquired stable housing and is seeking a larger home so that all three children can live comfortably with her. Respondent also completed parenting classes, attends group and individual therapy and attends family therapy with the children. Notably, respondent recognized her past poor parenting and identified the steps she was taking to monitor the children and better communicate with them. Although the older children have expressed concerns about returning to respondent’s care and unsupervised visits, due to their past experiences, the caseworker testified that they were comfortable with respondent during visitation and that the children’s concerns could only be allayed by reassurance from respondent and opportunities for respondent and the children to rebuild their relationship. Accordingly, while respondent has failings as a parent and continues to require petitioner’s support for her success, the record does not demonstrate such a failure to engage in or benefit from the services provided as to adequately support Family Court’s modification of the permanency goal to placement for adoption and termination of respondent’s parental rights (compare Matter of Lindsey BB. [Ruth BB.], 72 AD3d 1162, 1164 [2010]; see Matter of Hayley PP. [Christal PP.—Cindy QQ.], 77 AD3d 1133, 1134-1135 [2010], lv denied 15 NY3d 716 [2010]).

The court also determined that Judge Lawliss had made a similar error in modifying the mother’s visitation rights and said that there was no sound basis for his decision.

Visit the source for the entire decision.

Source: examiner