ADOPTION OF ULRICH (and four companion cases  ).
Heard: November 8, 2018.
filed in the Suffolk County Division of the Juvenile Court
Department on December 27, 2012, and March 18, 2013. The case
was heard by Stephen M. Limon, J.
motion to stay appellate proceedings was considered in the
Appeals Court by Hanlon, J.
Deborah D. Wolf for Sarah & another.
R. Cummings for Ulrich & another.
E. Curtis, Jr., for the mother.
Staab, Assistant Attorney General, for Department of Children
C. Chenevert for Ellen.
Present: Green, C.J., Meade, & Sacks, JJ.
mother (joined on appeal by four of the
children) appeals from decrees of the Juvenile Court
deeming her unfit to parent five of her children and
terminating her parental rights. The mother further contends
that a single justice of this court erred in denying her
motion to stay this appeal to allow her to pursue a motion
for new trial in the Juvenile Court. We affirm the denial of
the mother's motion for a stay, rejecting the
mother's contention that such requests should
presumptively be allowed. In addition, after careful
consideration of the record and the judge's findings, we
affirm the decrees.
mother has a criminal history dating to 2004, including
convictions of assault by means of a dangerous weapon and
assault and battery on a police officer. She has also been
the subject of five abuse prevention orders issued pursuant
to G. L. c. 2O9A, brought by five different individuals. On
December 27, 2012, the Department of Children and Families
(department) filed a care and protection petition on behalf
of Ulrich (born in 2006), Charles (born in 2008), Sarah (born
in 2009), and Amy (born in 2011), after the mother was
arrested for stabbing the father with a pair of scissors on
December 26, 2012. The four children were present in the home
during the incident and witnessed the stabbing. On the night
of the incident, the mother admitted to police that she had
stabbed the father. The Juvenile Court judge initially granted
temporary custody of the four children to the maternal
grandmother; later, on January 10, 2013, the judge granted
temporary custody to a paternal aunt. However, after evidence
of sexual and physical abuse of at least some of the children
within the paternal aunt's home became apparent, the
department obtained custody of the four children on May 20,
was born in March, 2013. In August, 2013, the mother
(believing that the father had engaged in a romantic
relationship with a neighbor's daughter) forced her way
into the neighbor's apartment while making threats and
brandishing a knife. The mother and the neighbor then went to
the neighbor's daughter's house, where the mother
attempted to break down the door. After arriving at the
scene, police detected a strong odor of alcohol on the
mother's breath, and a patfrisk discovered a seven-inch
serrated knife in her pocketbook. The neighbor identified it
as the knife with which the mother previously had threatened
her. Following that incident, Ellen was removed from the
July, 2013, Ulrich, who turned ten during the trial, and
Charles, who turned eight during the trial, were both placed
in a residential treatment facility (residential facility).
By the time of trial, Ulrich had been placed in a foster
home. Sarah, nearly seven years old by the end of trial, and
Amy, who turned five years old during trial, were placed
together in the department's foster care in May, 2013. In
November, 2013, Sarah and Amy were placed in separate foster
homes. Ellen was placed in a kinship foster home in February,
2014, where she remained at the time of trial. We reserve
additional details concerning the individual children's
circumstances for our discussion of the termination decrees
concerning each of them.
of her service plan, the mother was required to undergo a
psychological evaluation, the results of which were received
by the department on November 7, 2013. The mother was
diagnosed with mood disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder,
and polysubstance dependence. As of November, 2013, the
mother had been working with an in-home therapist and was
making some progress with regard to childhood trauma and her
relationship with the father. In January, 2014, the
department referred the mother to a residential program where
she could be reunited with Sarah, Amy, and Ellen, but the
mother chose not to enter that program. The mother stipulated
to her unfitness to parent the children on March 26, 2014. By
March, 2014, the mother's in-home therapist stated that
the mother had been meeting with her on a weekly basis. In
September, 2014, the mother entered a residential substance
abuse treatment facility but was soon asked to leave after
that facility designated her as a safety risk. By April,
2015, the mother was deemed to be in full compliance with her
service plan and had improved her anger management and
communication skills. She had also completed a parenting
course and engaged in a parenting support group, and there
were no longer substance abuse concerns. After a home visit
on April 2, 2015, the court investigator reported that the
mother's four-bedroom apartment was extremely clean and
well kept, furnished with beds for the children, and was
"nothing short of impressive." However, at the
time of trial, the mother had not seen her mental health
therapist in several months and missed a scheduled home visit
the week before trial.
between the mother and children ranged from successful to
disastrous. The mother had a successful visit with Sarah,
Amy, and Ellen on September 29, 2014. She had successful
visits with Ulrich and Charles individually at the
residential facility on December 16, 2014. She also had
successful visits with Ulrich and Charles individually at the
residential facility on January 30, 2015, and then with
Sarah, Amy, and Ellen together on the same day. On December
23, 2015, the mother had a Christmas visit with all the
children at the residential facility, which went
there were also a number of tumultuous visits. A June 30,
2014, visit ended with three of the children running out of
the visitation room and several of the children crying. On
July 23, 2014, the mother had a visit with all five children.
At that visit, the children were difficult to handle, several
were running around the visitation area and crying, and
Charles told one of his sisters that he was not going to talk
to the mother "until she changes her attitude." In
response, the mother told Charles, "I am fucking done
with you. This is my last visit with you. I don't want to
see you again." After a social worker cautioned the
mother against aiming obscenities at the children, the mother
stated, "Don't tell me about my fucking kids, you
don't have kids, so you don't know." The mother
also said, "[T]hese kids aren't [my] issue, let
their workers deal with them, I'm fucking done."
Three weeks later the department informed the mother that her
visitation rights would be suspended as a result of this
visit. At that time, the mother stated that she did not
remember anything negative about the visit, and at trial she
testified that she did not swear at the children, only
agreeing with the statement that the visit "got . . . a
little out of control."
March 10, 2015, a visit between the mother, Sarah, and Amy
went well until the mother whispered something to the girls
that caused them to cry throughout the entire twenty-minute
return ride to their day care program. On June 12, 2015, the
mother had a visit with Ulrich and Charles, at which Ulrich
became angry with the mother, refused to talk with her, and
left early. A visit with all the children on August 20, 2015,
to celebrate Ulrich's birthday ended with Charles
throwing a tantrum and being carried away by staff
members. At a visit on March 3, 2016, after Charles
had left the visitation room crying, the mother pulled him
from the arms of a counselor -- making physical contact with
the counselor -- and brought him back into the visitation
room while he gave the counselor a "thumbs down"
signal. On June 23, 2016 -- one week before trial began --
the mother ended a visit after thirty-five minutes ...