Not unexpectedly, Melissa is a troubled 15 year old youth with significant mental health issues. She frequently accuses family members of abuse, which on several occasions has resulted in Department for Children and Families’ (DCF) investigations and police involvement. Hilary contacted the Vermont Parent Representation Center (VPRC) after one such incident in which her daughter made a report alleging that Hilary had physically abused her. Melissa showed the DCF investigator a bruise on her hip alleging it resulted from her reported abuse, which in actuality had come from an injection received at a doctor’s appointment the day before. The DCF investigator told Hilary that unless her daughter left Hilary’s house until a determination was made Hilary would be charged with domestic assault. A plan was made for Melissa to stay with her aunt at night and with Hilary’s mother June during the day.
This arrangement made Hilary extremely fearful for her daughter’s safety. June has remained in contact with Melissa’s biological father and does not believe he sexually abused Melissa. Furthermore, June supports and encourages Melissa’s behavior of making accusations against family members and at times has herself made false reports to the police. Because of Hilary’s own history with her mother June’s failure to protect her from her stepfather’s sexual abuse, she has valid and very serious concerns about her mother’s influence on Melissa and June’s inability to keep her daughter safe. As a result of this incident, DCF opened a case and assigned a case worker. This case worker was competent and experienced, coming to understanding Melissa’s mental health issues and acknowledging Hilary’s many years of proactive advocacy and protection of her daughter. He did not think there was sufficient reason to remove Melissa from Hilary’s care through a “Child in need of care or supervision” (CHINS) petition or otherwise. With VPRC’s assistance, a plan and several goals were identified for Hilary and Melissa that were designed to facilitate progress and would eventually result in DCF closing the case.
However, shortly thereafter, Hilary’s mother June filed a minor guardianship petition in the probate court alleging that Hilary was an unfit mother. The guardianship petition failed to identify any legal grounds or provide any facts as to why Hilary is unfit to care for her daughter. In spite of this the probate court continued with the proceedings and issued discovery, ordering production of Hilary’s medical and mental health records. VPRC filed motions to quash discovery and dismiss the petition, which were denied. Upon filing of further motions, the court finally acknowledged that the law did not support disclosure of Hilary’s medical health nor production of her medical records. Meanwhile, while living with June Melissa’s behavior became increasingly dangerous and conflict-oriented.
After many additional legal and child protection system struggles, with VPRC’s initial threepronged advocacy and support the guardianship petition was later dropped, the CPS case closed and Melissa returned home. Because of her significant mental health issues Melissa remains and likely will remain for some time a young person at risk. Her mother’s love does not waiver, and she remains Melissa’s strongest, most consistent and most pro-active advocate. Because of this Melissa has a real chance for a stable, productive life.