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Sawyer v. Department of Services for Children

Supreme Court of Delaware

September 12, 2019

LINDA SAWYER (aka Aarons),[1] Respondent Below-Appellant,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF SERVICES FOR CHILDREN, YOUTH AND THEIR FAMILIES/DIVISION OF FAMILY SERVICES, Petitioner Below-Appellee.

         Submitted June 19, 2019,

         

         Editorial Note:

         This decision has been designated as "Table of Decisions Without Published Opinions." in the Atlantic Reporter.

          Court Below-Family Court of the State of Delaware. File Nos. 18-08-08TN CN08-02835. Petition Nos. 18-24769 17-18676.

           Before STRINE, Chief Justice; VALIHURA and TRAYNOR, Justices.

          ORDER

          Leo E. Strine, Jr. Chief Justice

          Upon consideration of the appellant's brief filed under Supreme Court Rule 26.1(c), her attorney's motion to withdraw, the appellee's response and motion to affirm, and the Child's attorney's response, it appears to the Court that:

          (1) This is an appeal from the Family Court's December 5, 2018 order that terminated the parental rights of Linda Sawyer (aka Aarons) (" the Mother" ) in her son (" the Child" ).

          (2) The Mother's counsel has filed a no-merit brief and a motion to withdraw under Supreme Court Rule 26.1(c). Counsel asserts that, based on a conscientious review of the record, there are no arguably appealable issues. Counsel informed the Mother of the provisions of Rule 26.1(c), provided her with a copy of his motion to withdraw and the accompanying brief, and informed the Mother of her right to supplement counsel's presentation. Counsel submitted the Mother's concerns as " Appellant's Points" in the brief on appeal. The appellee, the Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families/Division of Family Services (" DFS" ), and the Child's attorney have responded to the Rule 26.1(c) brief and argue that the Family Court's judgment should be affirmed.

          (3) The Child was born in 2008 and is now eleven years old. In June of 2017, DFS received a report that emergency services had been called to a public park in Wilmington where the first responders found the Mother extremely intoxicated with the Child in her care. The Mother was transported to Christiana Hospital where she was sedated due to her high level of intoxication and combativeness. The Child reported to DFS that his father lived in Wilmington but he was unable to provide any contact information for either his father or any other family member. The Family Court granted ex parte custody of the Child to DFS on June 21, 2017. With the filing of DFS's dependency and neglect petition on June 22, 2017, the mandated hearings ensued.[2]

          (4) At the preliminary protective hearing on June 28, 2017, the Mother stipulated the Child was dependent in her care based on the Mother's unstable housing situation and an acute alcohol dependency that required treatment. The Family Court found that the Child was dependent and that it was in his best interests to remain in DFS's care and custody. The Family Court also found that DFS had made reasonable efforts to prevent the removal of the Child from the home and to reunify the family.[3] The Family Court concluded that placement of the Child in the home of a relative was not appropriate because there were no relatives in Delaware known to be available and willing resources for placement.

          (5) On July 21, 2017, the Family Court held a dispositional hearing. The Child's father did not appear and DFS had been unable to ascertain his current address. DFS had developed and reviewed with the Mother a case plan for reunification with the Child. The Mother's case plan required that she: (i) undergo a substance abuse evaluation; (ii) obtain and maintain housing and financial stability; (iii) undergo a mental health evaluation; (iv) resolve her pending legal matters; and 4 (v) address her experience as a victim of domestic violence. The Mother had disclosed to DFS that she had previously been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had been inconsistently taking her medications after her Medicaid had been deactivated. The Mother also acknowledged that she recently struggled with alcohol abuse.

          (6) At the time of the dispositional hearing, the Mother was unemployed and living with a friend. DFS did not approve of the home as a residence for the Child or as an acceptable environment for visitation. The Mother had been regularly visiting with the Child on a weekly basis. DFS was exploring the option of placing the Child with his maternal grandmother. Although the maternal grandmother was then residing in a shelter in New York, she planned to move into her own residence and wished to be a resource. The Mother testified that the Child's adult half-sister also lived in New York and the Family ...


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