Parents appeal to get children back

Michael Lavoie, 31, and Tammy Fryer, 29, parents of a toddler found naked and shivering outside in Rapid River last month, sit in Delta County Probate Court Wednesday during a hearing that authorized their two daughters to remain in foster care during the couple’s pending court case. (Photo by Jenny Lancour, Escanaba Daily Press)

ESCANABA — A couple who recently had their parental rights taken away in Delta County Probate Court, have filed appeals requesting custody of their two daughters including their youngest who was found naked outside during freezing temperatures last March.

Attorneys for former Rapid River residents Michael Lavoie, 31, and Tammy Fryer, 30, filed appeals on Aug. 14 with the Michigan Court of Appeals requesting nullification of an Aug. 10 ruling made by Judge Robert Goebel Jr., who terminated the couple’s parental rights.

Delta County Prosecutor Philip Strom also filed an appeal with the Michigan Court of Appeals on Aug. 22 on behalf of the Department of Health and Human Services. Strom represented DHHS in the probate court case on June 7-9 and July 17-21.

The parental rights case came about after a neighbor’s dog alerted its owner about the naked child curled up in the snow on the morning of March 17. The 3-year-old received emergency care for hypothermia while police went door to door to locate her parents.

When the girl was checked out at the local hospital, medical personnel said she had several scratches and bruises — in various healing stages and too many to count — and she was dirty, non-verbal, severely neglected, and resembled a “feral child.”

Both girls were placed under the care of Child Protective Services and later accepted into a foster home.

Following an investigation, DHHS and the Delta County Sheriff’s Department issued reports describing the Lavoie/Fryer residence unfit for the children to live in because of rodents, feces, dirty diapers, cigarette butts and household garbage littering the home.

Though a criminal investigation resulted in no charges being filed by the prosecutor’s office, Strom asked the court to authorize the removal of the children from their residence based on photographs taken of the home’s condition and the reports filed by DHHS and the sheriff’s department.

The children’s court-appointed attorney, Jayne Mackowiak, petitioned the court to terminate Lavoie and Fryer’s parental rights due to their unsafe and unsanitary home, as well as physical neglect and improper supervision of the two girls who are both developmentally delayed.

DHHS officials, Strom, Lavoie’s attorney Katie Clark, and Fryer’s attorney John M.A. Bergman requested the court, in the best interest of the children, to work out a voluntary plan with DHHS to reunite the family.

In Goebel’s ruling issued early August, the judge found statutory grounds to justify the termination of the parental rights of Lavoie and Fryer, who now reside in an Escanaba residence which DHHS arranged for the couple and also paid the security deposit and the first month’s rent.

The judge cited occasions where the parents lied to the case worker and committed perjury while testifying under oath about their residences, their finances and the care of their daughters.

“The court does not believe the parents would follow court orders to keep the children safe. The long-term serious chronic abuse and neglect also supports this conclusion,” said Goebel.

In addition to the younger daughter, now 4 years old, being “saved from certain death” when she was found naked outside in March, DHHS had also investigated a previous incident involving the older daughter, now 5 years old, being on the roof of the family’s home, stated Goebel.

Both girls also suffered physical injuries under their parents’ care including bruises and scratches, as well as serious tooth decay that required surgery, he said. When the older daughter broke her arm, the parents did not follow up on three therapy appointments, noted Goebel, citing medical concerns this may have impaired future use of the child’s arm.

Goebel also stated the parents were guilty of criminal acts. He cited examples of first-degree, second-degree, third-degree and fourth-degree child abuse because of the physical injuries their daughters suffered, inadequate food and shelter provided for the girls, and physical harm the unfit home posed for the children.

“The court finds each parent knowingly and intentionally caused an act likely to cause serious physical harm to each child regardless of whether the harm resulted,” stated Goebel, adding, “The general condition of the home placed the children at risk of serious physical harm … The way the children were forced to live in their home is surely inhumane.”

The judge said the parents failed to provide proper care and custody for each child and there is no reasonable expectation either parent will be able to provide proper care and custody.

“There is reasonable likelihood — based on the conduct as well as the capacity of each parent — that each child will be harmed if (they) are returned to the home of either parent,” he added.

Goebel concluded, “The court finds each parent poses a significant risk to these children and the court has no confidence that (DHHS) or anyone else is capable of making them or their home safe for the children ever to be returned to.”

At the civil trial, the foster mother testified that during the first four months of caring for the girls, they ceased their flight behavior, kept their clothes on, learned how to brush their teeth and hair, greatly improved their communication skills, progressed in potty training, ate healthy foods, and were no longer eating their own feces.

In the best interest of the children, Goebel’s ruling ordered immediate termination, allowing Lavoie and Fryer one final “good-bye” visit with their daughters.

The judge also declared the children as permanent wards of the court which would oversee the adoption of the sisters without DHHS involvement.

Goebel said DHHS and the prosecutor failed to file for termination of the parents’ rights as mandated by state law when a child suffers a life-threatening injury — such as hypothermia — or when a parent places a child in harm or in risk of harm — such as in an unsafe home.