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In re Annie A., attorneys and footnotes

Attorney for appellant:

Joyce Mykleby, Esq., (orally)
P O Box 151
Machias, ME 04654

Attorneys for appellee:

G. Steven Rowe, Attorney General
John H. Hawkes, Asst. Attorney General (orally)
Matthew Pollack, Asst. Attorney General
6 State House Station
Augusta, ME 04333-0006

Guardian ad Litem:

Frederick Stocking, Esq.
346 Lamoine Beach Road
Lamoine, ME 04605

Attorney for intervenors:

Carol Lewis, Esq.
P O Box 203
Lubec, ME 04652
FOOTNOTES******************************** {*} Although not available at oral argument, Justice Dana participated in this opinion. See M.R. App. P. 12(a) (stating that a "qualified justice may participate in a decision even though not present at oral argument"). {1} . After the hearing, the mother and DHS, agreed that the mother should be placed in St. Andre's home in Bangor so she could learn basic parenting skills in a supervised setting. St. Andre's rejected the placement, however, as the mother, at age 27, exceeded its age limit. {2} . The length and location of the supervised visits were reduced and changed after the mother took some money from the foster mother's purse. {3} . In his report, the guardian ad litem stated that he was opposed to Annie's placement with the grandparents "even if the home study report of the [grandparents'] home is favorable." {4} . The following colloquy between the grandparents' counsel and the caseworker occurred on cross-examination: Q: So from the beginning it has been your plan that if it did not work with [Annie's mother] that this family would be able- A: Absolutely. Q: -to adopt this child? A: Yes. {5} . The testimony of several witnesses establishes that Annie has some form of developmental delay. The severity of the delay is not clear from the record. {6} . The purposes of the Act are set forth as follows: Recognizing that the health and safety of children must be of paramount concern and that the right to family integrity is limited by the right of children to be protected from abuse and neglect and recognizing also that uncertainty and instability are possible in extended foster home or institutional living, it is the intent of the Legislature that this chapter: . . . . 2.Provide that children will be taken from the custody of their parents only where failure to do so would jeopardize their health or welfare; 3.Give family rehabilitation and reunification priority as a means for protecting the welfare of the children, but prevent needless delay for permanent plans for children when rehabilitation and reunification is not possible; 4.Promote the early establishment of permanent plans for the care and custody of children who cannot be returned to their family. 22 M.R.S.A. § 4003 (1992 & Supp. 2000) (emphasis added). {7} . The court's grant of intervenor status to the grandparents must have resulted in a judicial finding that such status would be consistent with the purposes of the Act. See 22 M.R.S.A. § 4005-B(3). Although the existing permanency plan was, admittedly, established earlier than any potential plan involving placement with the grandparents, such fact does not mean that placement with the grandparents at this point would be inconsistent with the purposes of the Act. The Act seeks early establishment. It does not, however, advocate premature placement or the premature establishment of a permanency plan. {8} . Section 4005-B(3) requires the court to grant standing and intervenor status when it finds that the grandparent "has made sufficient effort to establish a relationship with the child, that the status would be in the best interests of the child and that the status would also be consistent with the purposes of this chapter as set forth in section 4003." {9} . The result in this case, turning as it must on a determination of what is in Annie's best interests, is not an easy one. The best interests standard "delegates to judges authority to apply their own personal and essentially unreviewable lifestyle preferences to resolving each dispute." Rideout v. Riendeau, 2000 ME 198, ¶ 54, 761 A.2d 291, 310 (Alexander, J., dissenting) (citing Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 73-74 (2000)). That standard requires the trial judge to apply specific factors in a highly individualized process that must, by necessity, receive deferential review by an appellate court. See Daigle v. Daigle, 609 A.2d 1153, 1154 (Me. 1992).

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