June 6, 2023

June 2023

Mother appealed the termination of her parental rights. DCF had issued specific steps to Mother for reunification, which required her, inter alia, to gain insight through parenting and individual counseling into the effect of her mental health issues on her children. After trial, the court found that termination was in the best interests of the children. The Appeals Court held here:

1. The trial court properly found, by clear and convincing evidence that Mother failed to achieve a sufficient degree of personal rehabilitation as required by statute (§ 17a-112).  The record contained ample evidence that she failed to comply with the specific steps ordered by the court in multiple aspects, including her failure to obtain and maintain adequate housing and legal income, to cooperate with substance use evaluations, to visit the children as often as DCF permitted, and to gain insight into the effect of her mental health issues on them.  The Court here found that the record also supported the court’s finding that Mother could not assume a responsible position in the life of either child within a reasonable time considering their ages and needs.

2. Mother could not prevail on her claim that the trial court, in determining that she had failed to sufficiently rehabilitate, improperly relied on hearsay evidence, specifically, testimony from DCF’s case worker regarding Mother’s lack of insight as to the effect of her mental health on the children.  Assuming, without deciding, that the testimony was improperly admitted into evidence, the testimony was cumulative of other properly admitted evidence, including DCF’s social study, documentary and testimonial evidence of Mother’s in-patient psychiatric hospitalization and treatment, and additional testimony from the case worker on the issue of her mental health to which the mother did not object, thus, any error in the admission of the statement in question was harmless.  Moreover, even if this Court concluded that the evidence was not cumulative, it found that the trial court’s conclusion was not based solely on its finding that she had failed to gain insight into the impact of her mental health issues, rather, it was predicated on several additional factual findings, including Mother’s failure to visit the children as often as DCF permitted, her failure to maintain a legal income, her failure to obtain adequate housing, her failure to obtain a lasting benefit from parenting and counseling programs, and her refusal to cooperate with a substance use treatment center to which she was referred.  Thus, this Court determined that she failed to demonstrate that the court’s decision to overrule her objection to the case worker’s testimony on hearsay grounds likely affected the result of the trial.