This is a proceeding pursuant to Social Services Law § 384-b to terminate parental rights of the natural father. The petitioner, Little Flower Children’s Services, appealed from an order of the Family Court, Kings County dated 22 September 1993, which dismissed the petition. The court affirmed the order, without costs or disbursements.
On 4 December 1985, SG, the subject child in this termination of parental rights proceeding was born.
Sometime in November 1987, when SG was less than two years old, the Commissioner of Social Services removed SG from her mother’s care because of her mother’s drug use, and placed the child with her maternal aunt. SG has remained in her maternal aunt’s home since her initial placement over six years ago, and SG’s mother has voluntarily surrendered her parental rights to the child.
Sometime in 1988, the respondent DJ filed a paternity petition in the Family Court, Kings County, seeking to be legally adjudicated as SG’s father. Subsequently, an order of filiation was entered, and DJ was awarded weekend visitation with the child.
Over the next two years, DJ’s mother regularly brought SG to her home on Friday evenings, and returned the child to the care of her maternal aunt on Sundays. DJ either visited the child at his mother’s home, or spoke to her on the telephone. Even though the paternal grandmother was not permitted full weekend visitation with the child after Little Flower Children’s Services became the supervising agency in September 1990, she continued to take SG to her home on Sundays.
Sometime in the fall 1987, DJ entered podiatry school. In 1991, he completed his studies. DJ then commenced a residency program in July 1991 which required him to be at the hospital at least five days per week, and to work some weekends. He was “on call” seven days per week. Despite his schedule, DJ claims that he continued to visit SG at his mother’s home “whenever” he could, and that he telephoned whenever he is unable to visit.
Sometime between September 1990 and April 1991, while DJ was involved in his residency program, the agency caseworker assigned to SG’s case made repeated efforts to contact him. After being able to contact DJ in April 1991, the caseworker met with him and informed him of the need to maintain biweekly visitation with SG at her foster home, attend a parenting skills program, and remain in touch with the agency. Between May 1991 to 11 August 1991, after several more conversations and one more meeting, the caseworker had no further contact with DJ.
Sometime in May 1992, the agency commenced the instant termination proceeding against DJ and alleged that he had permanently neglected his daughter, SG. After a fact-finding hearing, the Family Court dismissed the petition and concluded that the agency had failed to exercise diligent efforts to reunite DJ with SG.
The court agrees, and now affirms.
In any permanent neglect proceeding, the threshold inquiry by the court must be whether the agency exercised diligent efforts to strengthen the parental relationship. As provided for under Social Services Law § 384-b(7)(f)(3), diligent efforts by an agency include provision of services and other assistance to the parents so that problems preventing the discharge of the child from care may be resolved or ameliorated. An agency is required to mold its efforts in the context of and in recognition of a parent’s individual situation.
The agency here offered the father a referral to a parenting skills program, and encouraged him to visit the child on a regular basis at her foster home. However, it is clear that the primary obstacle which prevented DJ. from assuming full custody of SG was his involvement in a demanding medical residency program, which left him insufficient time to be her primary caretaker on a day-to-day basis. Based upon this circumstance, the agency should have made meaningful efforts to assist the father in planning a feasible alternative to continued foster care, such as referring him to appropriate day care or after-school programs, or exploring his suggestion that SG be placed in the care of her paternal grandmother until he completed his residency. The agency did not make such efforts. The agency failed to exercise diligent efforts to reunite SG with her father. Thus, the court found it proper to dismiss the petition.
For cases involving child visitation, child custody, child support, and the like, contact us at Stephen Bilkis & Associates for legal assistance. Call our toll free number or visit any of our offices for an in depth review of your legal dilemma. We are trained to defend and uphold your rights under the law.