ADOPTION OF ILIAN. 
Heard: May 3, 2017.
Dispensing with parent's consent. Minor,
Adoption. Parent and Child, Dispensing with
parent's consent to adoption. Practice, Civil,
Findings by judge. Department of Children &
filed in the Bristol County Division of the Juvenile Court
Department on August 23, 2013.
case was heard by Siobhan E. Foley, J.
Matthew P. Landry, Assistant Attorney General, for the
Department of Children and Families.
Abigail H. Salois, Committee for Public Counsel Services, for
Messere Magee for the child.
Present: Kinder, Henry, & Desmond, JJ.
trial, a Juvenile Court judge found that Ilian's parents
were unfit to parent him and that termination of their
parental rights was in Ilian's best interests, and she
accordingly issued decrees terminating their parental rights.
See G. L. c. 119, § 26; G. L. c. 210, § 3. The
judge approved a plan put forward by the Department of
Children and Families (DCF) for Ilian's adoption by the
foster family with whom he had been living for eighteen
months. On appeal, the father claims error in the termination
of his parental rights in light of his plan for a paternal
cousin (cousin) to serve as Ilian's caregiver. The father
contends that the judge failed to conduct an
"even-handed assessment" of the two plans. We agree
that the judge's assessment of the father's plan
should have been more explicit. More detailed findings
regarding the cousin's credibility as a witness and
suitability as a caregiver would have clearly demonstrated
the required even-handed assessment. Nevertheless, for the
reasons that follow, we conclude that the judge adequately
considered the father's alternative plan and properly
concluded such placement was not in Ilian's best
interests. Accordingly, we affirm.
summarize the relevant facts, which have ample support in the
record. Ilian was born in May, 2011, and was almost five
years old at the close of the trial. DCF's first
involvement with Ilian's family was in September, 2012,
when DCF received a report pursuant to G. L. c. 119, §
51A (51A report), for neglect, alleging that Ilian was
present when the father shot a sixteen year old boy.
Ultimately, DCF's investigation did not support the claim
that Ilian was present at the shooting. However, the father
was convicted of the underlying criminal offenses and
sentenced to four to five years in State prison. The father
was incarcerated from the time of his arrest in 2012 through
the termination of parental rights trial in the Juvenile
Court trial in 2016. At the time of the termination trial,
his release date was uncertain. There was no evidence that
the father had ever been Ilian's primary caregiver.
the father's arrest, the mother's life became
increasingly unstable. She was unable to maintain a home and
lived with friends and in homeless shelters. Eventually, the
mother moved into an apartment with a woman who suffered from
alcoholism. In August, 2013, a second 51A report was filed
after the mother and her roommate were involved in a violent
altercation. Each woman claimed to have been stabbed by the
other. The mother was arrested. At the time of her arrest,
the home was in a "deplorable" condition and Ilian
was "filthy." DCF assumed temporary custody of
Ilian and placed him with the maternal aunt. At the time,
Ilian was just over two years old and was exhibiting
developmental delays, including a profound speech problem.
initial plan to reunify Ilian with his mother was changed to
adoption in February, 2014. In March, 2014, another 51A
report was filed alleging neglect by the maternal aunt and,
on DCF's investigation, the allegations were supported.
In May, 2014, Ilian was removed from the aunt's home and