Vermont Parent Representation Center: Two CHINS Cases Dismissed

This past week two VPRC families had their cases dismissed in Court. We believe it had to do with our work with DCF, the other lawyers involved and, of course, the families themselves.

 “Ella’s” Story

The Probate Court referred Ella to VPRC because her former in-laws, the paternal grandparents of her four-year-old child, filed a petition for minor guardianship. Then, within days of this referral, DCF filed a Child in Need of Care and Supervision (CHINS) petition, claiming that Ella had neglected her child over a long period of time.

DCF had already completed a “safety plan” and removed the child from Ella’s care, placing her with the paternal grandparents. The child’s father was in jail. Ella was living in a homeless shelter and addicted to non-prescription drugs.

At the first hearing, the Court entered an interim emergency care order that transferred temporary custody of the child to the paternal grandparents. VPRC advocated for a conditional custody order for Ella. The Court set it for further hearing. Two and a half months elapsed, during which three more hearings took place.

At this point, the judge made findings and conclusions that, under the law, there were insufficient facts to remove custody from Ella. However, instead of returning Ella’s child to her, he issued an order which, in essence, contradicted his own findings and conclusions. He gave “respite” to the grandparents, ordering that the child live with them five days per week; overnights for Ella with her daughter were to increase over time. VPRC worked intensely with Ella, her service providers and DCF. After three months, the child was returned to Ella in a subsequent order by the Court.

By that time, Ella was in recovery and had moved into her own apartment. Over the following 4 months, Ella continued to parent her child, following all the conditions of her custody. This week, the Court dismissed the CHINS petition and ordered full and unrestricted custody to Ella.

This happy ending could not have happened without the DCF case worker’s tremendous collaboration with VPRC. She tirelessly supported Ella, and held her accountable while working closely with VPRC, fully appreciating the differences in roles and how our partnership could best support Ella.

Another Family’s Story

VPRC became involved with the parents of a teenage adopted child who was going through a rough spot. The State had filed an “unmanageable” petition and the child was taken into custody. The parents were horrified.

Without legal representation they at first advocated extremely well for themselves. The judge returned the child to their custody with conditions. The parents then contacted VPRC. After quick action on our part and lots of conversations with DCF and the other attorneys involved, VPRC reached an agreement and the judge dismissed the petition at the merits hearing.

This family can now, with continued support, carry on the work required to address the issues—most importantly, without the threat of the child being removed from the home by the court.