(Fact - Drawn from Memory)
A Petition to Dispense with Parental Consent to Adoption is as serious a matter as any Probate and Family Court judge will hear. This is a total, final, irrevocable termination of a biological parent’s right to raise his or her child. We call these actions “termination of parental rights” or “210 Section 3” cases, as they are filed under G. L. c. 210 § 3. Typically they are brought on behalf of the Commonwealth by the Department of Children and Families – formerly the Department of Social Services. The Department workers shoulder enormous workloads and frequently see the worst of the worst. When a DCF worker files one of these cases, they often have already expended hours and hours of effort and emotion trying to steer the parent towards an acceptable level of competency in caring for the child.
Many of these termination cases involve heroin or cocaine addiction so severe that the parent can no longer function with even a semblance of reliability. The biological parent moves in and out of court, trying to stay clean, relapsing, wanting to see his or her child then failing to appear. We would find ourselves rooting for the parent to stay clean, but were always mindful of the impact the parent’s addiction had on the child. Frequently, when it reached the point of requesting to terminate the parent’s rights, it was clear that the parent had failed to demonstrate an ability to manage his or her own life, let alone that of a child. Also by this time, the child had often stayed with a pre-adoptive foster family long enough to have bonded with that family and feel safe and happy.
But drugs are not always the issue. Many cases involve physical or sexual abuse or both. One such case concerned the father of a young child. When the petition came before the court, he was in prison. By his own request he did not appear, but he did instruct his court appointed attorney to appear on his behalf and not to assent to the petition to permanently terminate his parental rights. Because he did not assent to the petition, the Department of Children and Families had to establish the father’s unfitness by giving evidence.
The only two witnesses were the primary DCF social worker and the Assistant District Attorney who had prosecuted the father in the criminal proceeding. These two individuals set out a case of horrible multiple rapes of the young child by the father. At the time of the rapes, the child’s age was measured in months not years; the child was less than one year old. The father’s criminal conviction was based in part on the testimony of a fellow pedophile with whom he had proudly shared the details of his acts.
The social worker and the ADA represented government employees at their best. They were caring, competent and professional and they made a tremendous difference in this child’s life. At the time of the 210 section 3 trial, the child had been in a wonderful pre-adoptive home for years and appeared to be thriving.
This was one of the rare cases when it was a pleasure to terminate parental rights - forever.