The Second Department, reversing Family Court, determined the Department of Social Services (DSS) did not make diligent efforts to strengthen the relationship between father and the children before seeking termination of the father’s parental rights on the ground of permanent neglect:
In proceedings to terminate parental rights based on permanent neglect, the agency must first establish, by clear and convincing evidence, that it made diligent efforts to encourage and strengthen the parental relationship with the child (see Social Services Law § 384-b[a]…). The efforts must include reasonable attempts at providing counseling, scheduling regular visitation with the child, providing other services to the parent to overcome the particular problems that separated the parent from his or her child, and informing the parent of his or her child’s progress (see Social Services Law § 384-b[f]…). The court “shall also consider the particular constraints, including but not limited to, limitations placed on family contact and the unavailability of social or rehabilitative services to aid in the development of a meaningful relationship between the parent and his or her child, that may impact the parent’s ability to substantially and continuously or repeatedly maintain contact with his or her child and to plan for the future of his or her child” (Social Services Law § 384-b[a]).
Here, DSS failed to meet its initial burden of demonstrating that it exercised diligent efforts to strengthen the parental relationship between the father and his children … . DSS’s evidence demonstrated that its caseworkers’ focus was on the mother’s relationship with the children, as she was the initial subject of the proceedings and the father was not a party thereto. Further, although the evidence adduced at the fact-finding hearing showed that the DSS caseworkers advised the father to seek unsupervised visitation with the children since the supervised visits were positive, the evidence also showed that DSS did not support such unsupervised visitation and was aware that the father’s access to the children was limited by the order of protection. Moreover, although DSS scheduled supervised visits between the father and the children and provided the father with notices of regularly scheduled permanency hearings and service plan reviews, it did little more to determine the particular problems facing the father with respect to the return of his children and did not make affirmative, repeated, and meaningful efforts to assist him in overcoming these handicaps before it commenced these proceedings … . Further, DSS’s evidence demonstrated that the father satisfied all requests that DSS made of him, which included attending a parenting class and marriage counseling, and showed himself to be a loving and appropriate parent at the supervised visitation sessions. Matter of Gabriel B. S.-P. (Anonymous) (Franklin S. (Anonymous)), 2016 NY Slip Op 00645, 2nd Dept 2-3-16
FAMILY LAW (DSS DID NOT MAKE DILIGENT EFFORTS TO STRENGTHEN PARENTAL RELATIONSHIP, TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS REVERSED)/PARENTAL RIGHTS (TERMINATION REVERSED, DSS DID NOT MAKE DILIGENT EFFORST TO STRENGTHEN RELATIONSHIP)/TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS (REVERSED, DSS DID NOT MAKE DILIGENT EFFORTS TO STRENGTHENN RELATIONSHIP)