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In re James H.

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

April 9, 2018

In re James H. et al.

          Source of Appeal Providence County Family Court Judicial Officer From Lower Court Asssociate Justice Laureen A. D'Ambra No. 00-1831-5, 00-1831-6, 00-1831-7

          For Petitioner: Karen A. Clark Department of Children Youth and Families Attorney(s) on Appeal Shilpa Naik Court Appointed Special Advocate

          For Respondent: Michael S. Pezzulo, Esq.

          Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.



         The respondent mother, Crystal M., [1] appeals from a decree of the Family Court terminating her parental rights with respect to her three children, James H., Dalicia W., and Dalilah W. This case came before the Supreme Court for oral argument on December 6, 2017, pursuant to an order directing the parties to appear and show cause why the issues raised in this appeal should not be summarily decided. After a close review of the record and careful consideration of the parties' arguments (both written and oral), we are satisfied that cause has not been shown and that this appeal may be decided at this time. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm the decree of the Family Court.

         I Facts and Travel

         On October 30, 2015, the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) filed petitions to terminate Crystal's parental rights[2] as to three of her minor children: James, Dalicia, and Dalilah.[3] Citing G.L. 1956 § 15-7-7(a)(3), those petitions alleged that all three children had been in the legal custody of DCYF for at least twelve months without a substantial probability that the children would be able to return safely to Crystal's care within a reasonable period of time, considering the children's ages and their needs for permanent homes.

         Trial commenced in the Family Court on June 1, 2016 and continued over four days, during which time the trial justice heard testimony from eight witnesses. We summarize below the salient aspects of the testimony that was adduced at that trial.


         The Witnesses Presented by DCYF

         1. Diane Crabtree

         Diane Crabtree, a social caseworker for DCYF, testified that case files as to Dalicia and Dalilah, who are twins, were opened on March 27, 2013 because both girls had tested positive for cocaine at birth.[4] She further testified that she was assigned to the cases of James, Dalicia, and Dalilah from April of 2013 until August of 2014. Ms. Crabtree stated that she developed two case plans during said period, which case plans had recommended that Crystal complete the following services in order to reunify with her children: substance abuse counseling, mental health counseling, family counseling, family visitation, parenting education, a psychological evaluation with Dr. John Parsons, and a neuropsychological evaluation with Dr. Steven Hirsch.

         According to Ms. Crabtree, Crystal was cooperative with some services but uncooperative with others. She stated, for example, that Crystal successfully completed the psychological evaluation with Dr. Parsons in December of 2013 and completed the substance abuse counseling program through MAP Behavioral Health Services in May of 2014. However, she added that Crystal pursued the MAP program only after she had been discharged for noncompliance from an earlier substance abuse program, known as the "Project Link" program; and she stated that Crystal had tested positive for cocaine during her enrollment in the MAP program. Additionally, Ms. Crabtree stated that, although Crystal had participated in the Families Together parenting education program, she had been terminated from that program in March of 2014 due to a clinician's conclusion that she had demonstrated "little motivation to change her behaviors" and that, therefore, reunification would "put the children at risk."

         Ms. Crabtree also testified that Crystal had failed to comply with the schedules for family visitation by virtue of her absence from eight of twenty-four scheduled visits, by her arriving late at other visits, and by her refusing to provide DCYF with her work schedule. She added that Crystal had uttered "profanities" towards DCYF employees during the visits; she also stated that Crystal had been visibly intoxicated during one of the visits and, therefore, was asked to leave. Ms. Crabtree did acknowledge, however, that, towards the end of her involvement with Crystal, she saw some improvement in Crystal's attendance at the visits and in her behavior towards DCYF employees.

         2. Rosemary Masterson

         Rosemary Masterson testified that she was the DCYF social worker who became responsible for Crystal's case after the departure of Ms. Crabtree. She stated that, when she assumed responsibility for the case in August of 2014, Crystal had completed evaluations with Dr. Parsons and Dr. Hirsch, but had not yet followed through with their recommendations or completed the other services outlined in the case plans, such as substance abuse counseling and mental health counseling. Ms. Masterson stated that Crystal "just would not cooperate" with the objectives of the case plans, expressing the belief that "she had done everything she needed to do and no longer wished to do anymore [sic] services." She testified that Crystal had not been receptive to recommendations for mental health treatment because "[Crystal] didn't feel she needed counseling." She also stated that, in July of 2015, Crystal had been terminated from a second parenting education program, "the HER program, " due to her "lack of progress with reunification" and her consistent failure to attend her appointments.

         Ms. Masterson testified that Crystal missed twenty-seven of sixty-four scheduled visits with her children between August of 2014 and October of 2015 and that Crystal stopped attending visits altogether as of August of 2015. She further testified that Crystal's behavior towards her children during those visits was "not appropriate, " specifically noting that Crystal would focus her attention exclusively on the twins while "purposely ignoring" James. She added that, at Crystal's last visit, on August 17, 2015, she had departed without speaking to the children, thereby causing the children to become "very upset." Ms. Masterson stated that, as a result of the latter incident, she filed a motion to suspend visitation, which motion was granted by the Family Court on October 26, 2015.

         3. Doctor John Parsons

         The next witness was Dr. Parsons, who was qualified as an expert in forensic psychology as well as child and family psychology. He testified that, in October of 2013, Crystal was referred to him by Ms. Crabtree for a psychological evaluation; he stated that Ms. Crabtree was concerned about Crystal's parenting ability, her history of smoking marijuana during pregnancy, her cocaine use during pregnancy, and her history of DCYF ...

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