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A Department of Human and Health Services in a New York county filed a petition

A Department of Human and Health Services in a New York county filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of a mother whom the Department accused of having permanently neglected her minor children. According to sources, at the time of the filing of the Department’s petition, the father was deceased. The mother, the sources said, had found being a single mother extremely difficult and the children had come into the care and custody of the Department after she attempted suicide and was hospitalized.

The court granted the petition. The law defines a “permanently neglected child” as a child who is in the care of an authorized agency and whose parent or custodian has failed for a period of more than one year following the date such child came into the care of an authorized agency substantially and continuously or repeatedly to maintain contact with or plan for the future of the child, although physically and financially able to do so, notwithstanding the agency’s diligent efforts to encourage and strengthen the parental relationship when such efforts will not be detrimental to the best interests of the child.

The Department said the mother failed to plan for the future of the children, she failed to get the necessary and appropriate mental health treatment, she failed to take parenting classes for months, she repeatedly failed to visit the children, she had ongoing domestic violence problems and never did all the work necessary to resolve them, and she failed for many months to have stable housing and income for herself, let alone housing suitable for her children.

The court explained that before terminating a parent’s rights because of permanent neglect the State must first attempt to reunite the parent with her child. Those efforts must include counseling, making suitable arrangements for visitation, providing assistance to the parents to resolve or ameliorate the problems preventing discharge of the child to their care and advising the parent at appropriate intervals of the child’s progress and development. The agency is free to attempt other reasonable and practical means to encourage and strengthen the family relationship.

The court added that neglect may be found only after it is established that the parent has failed substantially and continuously or repeatedly to maintain contact with or plan for the future of the child although physically and financially able to do so. The requirement is several: the parent must maintain contact with the child and also realistically plan for her future. A default in performing either may support a finding of permanent neglect. The court said insubstantial or infrequent contacts with the child are insufficient and the planning requirement contemplates that the parent shall take those steps as are necessary to provide a home that is adequate and stable, under the financial circumstances existing, within a reasonable period of time. Good faith alone is not enough: the plan must be realistic and feasible.

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