June 14, 2023

Father appealed the termination of his parental rights and denial of Mother’s motion to transfer guardianship to the child’s maternal grandmother. After the TPR trial but before the trial court issued its decision, the CT Supreme Court reversed Father’s criminal conviction for assaulting the child’s older sibling. Subsequently, the trial court issued its memorandum of decision finding, inter alia, that DCF made reasonable efforts to reunify, and that despite DCF’s having provided Father with specific steps and services to facilitate reunification, he had failed to achieve a sufficient degree of personal rehabilitation.  The Appeals Court held:

Father could not prevail on his claim that the trial court improperly concluded that DCF established the statutory grounds for his TPR, i.e. in light of the reversal of his criminal conviction, the cumulative effect of the court’s factual findings was insufficient.  Rather, it held here that the trial court properly concluded that Father failed to rehabilitate: he had unaddressed mental health concerns and parenting deficits that affected his ability to parent and did not comply with specific steps meant to address these concerns; his visitation with the child even prior to his incarceration was minimal, as he visited her only once in a 22 month period; and, although he was referred to counseling services, he attended only one session, demonstrating his lack of effort to address his mental health and parenting deficits.  Thus, although Father’s criminal conviction had been reversed, the court clearly based its conclusion that he failed to rehabilitate on more than just his conviction and incarceration.

Additionally, the Court here found that the trial court properly determined that there was no ongoing parent-child relationship pursuant to § 17a-112 (j) (3) (D).  The child had no present and positive memories of Father, who had minimal contact with her even prior to his incarceration and the imposition of the protective order imposed at his sentencing, and did not recognize Father.  The court properly found that to allow further time for the establishment of their relationship would be contrary to the child’s best interest, noting that she had been in foster care her entire life and needed permanency.  Moreover, Father could not prevail on his unpreserved claim that the “virtual infancy exception” applied: CT appellate courts have held that it does not apply when a child is four years old at the time of the termination hearing, as was the child in the present case, and does not apply when a child’s feelings can be determined by the court, as the trial court did in this case.  Even if the exception were applicable, the court also considered Father’s conduct, noting his minimal visits and the fact that he failed to use resources offered by DCF to establish a relationship with her.

Lastly, the Court here found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying Mother’s motion to transfer guardianship to the grandmother.  The court’s conclusion that she was not a suitable and worthy guardian was based on the evidence before it, including testimony from DCF workers that she had an extensive criminal history, a child protection history, and was not a licensed foster parent.  Moreover, the trial court noted that the child had no relationship with the grandmother, that she had bonded with her foster parents and foster siblings, and that her foster parents were affectionate and committed to ensuring that she had every opportunity to grow and thrive.  The mere fact that certain evidence in the record could support a conclusion that the grandmother was a suitable and worthy guardian did not establish that the court’s conclusion to the contrary was an abuse of its discretion.