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Hawkins v. Department of Services for Children

Supreme Court of Delaware

June 5, 2018

RACHEL HAWKINS, Respondent Below, Appellant,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF SERVICES FOR CHILDREN, YOUTH AND THEIR FAMILIES OF THE STATE OF DELAWARE, Petitioner Below, Appellee.

          Submitted: April 20, 2018

          Court Below-Family Court of the State of Delaware File Nos. CN15-02932 16-11-02TN Petition Nos. 15-16125 16-35570

          Before STRINE, Chief Justice; VALIHURA and VAUGHN, Justices. [1]

          ORDER

          Karen L. Valihura Justice

         This 5th day of June 2018, upon consideration of the appellant's brief under Supreme Court Rule 26.1(c), her attorney's motion to withdraw, the responses of the Department of Services for Children, Youth, and their Families, Division of Family Services ("DFS") and the Office of the Child Advocate ("OCA"), and the record below, [2] it appears to the Court that:

         (1) The respondent-appellant, Rachel Hawkins ("the Mother"), has filed an appeal from the Family Court's decision, dated November 6, 2017, terminating her parental rights to her daughter ("the Child"), who was born on June 24, 2014. DFS originally filed a petition for an emergency ex parte order granting custody of the Child to DFS on June 5, 2015. The petition arose from the Mother, who had a history as a domestic violence victim of the Child's father ("the Father"), a history of substance abuse and mental health issues, and an extensive history with DFS, testifying during a protection from abuse ("PFA") hearing that she had only applied for a PFA against the Father because DFS made her do it, she loved the Father, and she wanted to reunite with him after couples counseling. The Family Court granted the petition and scheduled a preliminary protective hearing. On June 11, 2015, the Family Court appointed a court appointed special advocate ("CASA") to represent the Child.

         (2) At the preliminary protective hearing on June 17, 2015, the Family Court appointed counsel to represent the Mother and the Father. The Mother stipulated to probable cause of dependency for the Child due to lack of stable housing. The Father, who was incarcerated and prohibited from contact with the Mother and the Child, also stipulated to probable cause of dependency. The Family Court found probable cause to believe the Child was dependent. The Family Court also found that DFS made reasonable efforts to prevent the unnecessary removal of the Child from her home. The Mother was awarded biweekly visitation with the Child.

         (3) On August 26, 2015, the Family Court held an adjudicatory hearing. The Family Court found that the Child was dependent based on the Mother's stipulation to a history of domestic violence and the Father's incarceration. The Family Court also found that DFS was making reasonable efforts at reunification and to find an appropriate relative caretaker. There were indications that the Mother's brother might file a petition for guardianship.

         (4) On October 6, 2015, the Family Court held a dispositional hearing. The Mother did not appear for the hearing. The Family Court found that the Mother's case plan, which the Mother had previously signed, was appropriate. The Family Court ordered DFS to prepare a case plan for the Father. The Mother's case plan provided, among other things, that the Mother would participate in counseling for domestic violence victims and have no contact with the Father, complete a substance abuse evaluation and receive treatment if recommended by the evaluation, speak with a counselor whenever she felt stressed or overwhelmed, take any prescribed medication and meet with a therapist if necessary, obtain appropriate housing, and seek employment.

         (5) On November 16, 2015, the Family Court held a review hearing. The Family Court continued to find the Child to be dependent and that DFS was making reasonable efforts at reunification. There was a lapse in the Mother's substance abuse treatment due to her relocation from downstate to upstate. The Mother was working on her case plan and having supervised visits with the Child. A case plan was entered for the Father.

         (6) On February 9, 2016, the Family Court held another review hearing. The Family Court continued to find the Child to be dependent and that DFS was making reasonable efforts at reunification. The Mother had a mental health evaluation and was prescribed medication in October 2015. In November 2015, the Mother informed DFS that she was going to admit herself to Bowling Green for 15-20 days because she was depressed and using alcohol. She did not do so, however, and gave differing accounts as to why she had not admitted herself.

         (7) The Mother said she had previously been diagnosed with Bi-Polar Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Major Anxiety Disorder. She also said that she was involved with the ACT Program at Connections and had begun receiving outpatient mental health services from Rockford in January 2016. The Mother was willing to sign release forms so DFS could verify these claims. The Mother also said her brother was willing to be a placement resource for the Child.

         (8) On April 22, 2016, the Family Court held another review hearing. The Mother had been working on her case plan, but DFS had concerns about the consistency of her treatment. The Mother had missed multiple sessions with ACT and her domestic violence counselor. The Mother said that DFS had concerns about her brother's housing. Her brother had been unable to visit the Child due to his work schedule; he could only do visits on nights and weekends.

         (9) On April 29, 2016, DFS filed a motion to change the goal from reunification to a concurrent goal of reunification and termination of parental rights/adoption because the parents had not completed their case plans. The Family ...


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