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Nichols v. Department of Services for Children

Supreme Court of Delaware

April 25, 2018

KELLY NICHOLS, [1] Respondent Below, Appellant,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF SERVICES FOR CHILDREN, YOUTH AND THEIR FAMILIES/DIVISION OF FAMILY SERVICES (DSCYF/DFS), Petitioner Below, Appellee. RONALD SAMPSON, Respondent Below, Appellant,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF SERVICES FOR CHILDREN, YOUTH AND THEIR FAMILIES/DIVISION OF FAMILY SERVICES (DSCYF/DFS), Petitioner Below, Appellee.

          Submitted: April 11, 2018

          Court Below-Family Court of the State of Delaware File Nos. CN11-01936 16-05-11TN, Petition Nos. 15-15104 16-15113

          Before VALIHURA, VAUGHN, and SEITZ, Justices.

          ORDER

          COLLINS J. SEITZ, JR. JUSTICE

         This 25th day of April 2018, upon consideration of the parties' briefs and the record below, [2] it appears to the Court that:

         (1) The respondent-appellant, Kelly Nichols ("the Mother"), filed an appeal from the Family Court's decision, dated July 20, 2017, terminating her parental rights to her son ("the Son"), who was born in 2007, and her daughter ("the Daughter"), who was born in 2008 (collectively "the Children"). The respondent-appellant, Ronald Sampson ("the Father"), also filed an appeal from the Family Court's July 20, 2017 decision terminating his parental rights to the Children. Having carefully reviewed the record, we find no error or abuse of the discretion in the Family Court's decision. Accordingly, we affirm the Family Court's judgment.

         (2) The Children first came into the care of DSCYF/DFS in March 2011. After the Mother and the Father completed their respective case plans, the Children were returned to them in August 2011. On May 29, 2015, DSCYF/DFS filed a petition for an emergency ex parte order granting custody of the Children to DSCYF/DFS. The petition was based on the Mother's substance abuse issues and domestic violence perpetrated by the Father against the Mother. The Family Court granted the petition, scheduled a preliminary protective hearing, and appointed a guardian ad litem to represent the best interests of the children.

         (3) At the preliminary protective hearing on June 3, 2015, the Family Court appointed counsel to represent the Mother and the Father. The Mother stipulated to probable cause of dependency for the Children due to her lack of stable housing and substance abuse issues. At that time, the Father was subject to a criminal no contact order with the Mother and the Children. The Family Court found probable cause to believe the Children were dependent. The Family Court also found that there was currently no appropriate placement for the Children with relatives. The Mother was awarded supervised visitation with the Children, but the Father was not awarded visitation due to the no contact order.

         (4) On July 14, 2015, the Family Court held an adjudicatory hearing. The Family Court found that the Children were dependent based on the parents' stipulations regarding a lack of appropriate housing. The Father was awarded supervised visitation because the criminal charges against him were dropped and the no contact order was lifted. The State advised that the Children were doing well in the home of a foster mother ("the Foster Mother"). The Family Court also found that DSCYF/DFS was making reasonable efforts at reunification.

         (5) On August 11, 2015, the Family Court held a dispositional hearing. The Family Court continued to find the Children to be dependent and that DSCYF/DFS was making reasonable efforts at reunification. Case plans were entered for the Mother and the Father.

         (6) On November 17, 2015, the Family Court held a review hearing. The Family Court continued to find the Children to be dependent and that DSCYF/DFS was making reasonable efforts at reunification. The Mother and the Father were living together again, but their housing was unstable. They were making progress on their case plans. At the review hearing, it was noted that the Daughter, who has Down Syndrome, was receiving treatment for diabetes. Concerns were also expressed regarding the Daughter's sexualized behaviors. The Daughter was scheduled for an interview with the Child Advocacy Center.

         (7) On March 11, 2016, the Family Court held a review hearing. The Family Court continued to find the Children to be dependent and that DSCYF/DFS was making reasonable efforts at reunification. DSCYF/DFS noted that the Daughter continued to act out sexually and was recently diagnosed with celiac disorder.

         (8) On April 26, 2016, DSCYF/DFS filed a petition to change the goal from reunification to termination of parental rights. The guardian ad litem had no objection to the motion, but the Mother and the Father opposed the motion. On May 23, 2016, DSCYF/DFS filed a petition for termination and transfer of parents rights. The petition alleged that the parents' rights should be terminated under 13 Del. C. § 1103(a)(5) because they were not able or had failed to plan adequately for the Children's physical needs or mental health and development. The parties later stipulated that there would be concurrent goals of termination of parental rights/adoption and reunification. They also stipulated that the Child Advocacy Center interviews with the Children would be submitted to the Family Court.

         (9) The Family Court held a permanency hearing on November 4, 2016. The Family Court interviewed the Son on December 6, 2016. The Family Court subsequently held that concurrent goals of termination of parental rights/adoption and reunification were appropriate. A termination of parental rights hearing was originally scheduled for January 24, 2017, January 27, 2017, and February 7, 2017, ...


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