June 6, 2023

May 2023

Mother appealed the termination of her parental rights to her children, who had been in foster care since their births.  DCF had been involved with Mother since she threatened to harm an older child, and DCF had previously terminated her rights as to that child and another. Shortly after Daniel was born, DCF filed a motion for an OTC and a neglect petition, and the OTC was granted the same day. The trial court ordered specific steps and set goals to facilitate reunification, requiring her, inter alia, to engage in parent and individual counseling. Thereafter, that child was adjudicated neglected and committed to DCF. Shortly after a subsequent child was born, DCF filed a motion for an OTC and a neglect petition on that child, and the OTC was granted the same day. The trial court ordered the same specific steps as it had set for Daniel, but the goals were more specific in scope and required Mother, inter alia, to identify and address her history of personal violence, trauma, and threats, as identified by a court-appointed psychologist, as well as to address her use of violent threats against her children. After a consolidated trial, the court adjudicated the younger child neglected, and terminated Mother’s parental rights as to both children.  The Appeals Court held here:

1. Mother could not prevail on her claim that the trial court committed harmful error when it admitted into evidence under a provision (§ 8-4 (a)) of the Connecticut Code of Evidence, the business record exception to the hearsay rule, certain summary reports by a DCF service provider that it relied on to reach its decision to terminate her parental rights.  Even if the Court here were to conclude that the summaries, previously prepared by a DCF service provider in the context of reunification efforts, constituted inadmissible hearsay that the trial court improperly admitted, Mother failed to demonstrate that she was harmed by their admission, as the information in the summaries was cumulative of other validly admitted evidence of Mother’s resistance to DCF’s recommendations, including DCF’s two social studies and the report of a court-appointed psychologist, both of which had been admitted into evidence without objection, and the testimony of DCF’s social worker and the psychologist.  As such, Mother failed to establish that the result of the trial would have been different had the summaries not been admitted into evidence

2. The trial court properly found that DCF made reasonable efforts to reunify, and that she was unwilling to benefit from those efforts.  Mother’s claim that the trial court erred in finding that she was unwilling to benefit because there was no evidence that parent-child violence or threats remained a concern was without merit, as the record demonstrated that she failed to take accountability for the issue of parent-child violence, and the DCF case worker testified that Mother’s failure to address her trauma-related violence rendered her a continuing threat to her children.  Moreover, to the extent that there was conflicting testimony regarding the presence of parent-child violence, the Court here found that the trial court was free to credit testimony that Mother did, in fact, still need trauma based therapy, especially in light of her refusal to discuss or even acknowledge her history of threatening to harm her children.  Furthermore, because Mother had repeatedly declined the treatment recommended by DCF, the Court here found that the trial court properly concluded she was unwilling to benefit from their reunification efforts.