June 6, 2023

June 2023

Mother appealed the termination of her parental rights with respect to her two children. The children had been committed to DCF, who had issued specific steps to Mother for reunification and offered her services addressing, inter alia, mental health, substance abuse, and housing. After DCF filed TPR petitions, they referred her for a psychological evaluation. A trial was held on the petitions, and the court found, inter alia, that termination was in the best interests of the children. The Appeals Court held here:

1. The trial court properly found that DCF made reasonable efforts to reunify Mother with her children.  Although the court referred to opinions contained in Mother’s psychological evaluation, which was conducted after DCF filed the TPR petitions, it was unclear whether the court determined that the evaluation itself actually constituted a reunification effort, or whether it simply alluded to the portions of the evaluation that indicated the recommendations made, in order to evaluate the reasonableness of DCF’s efforts as of the petition date.   Moreover, Mother could not prevail on her claim that DCF should have referred her for a psychological evaluation before it filed the TPR petitions, as the court found that DCF’s reunification efforts, including referring her to in-home services addressing substance abuse, mental health and parenting, funding housing for her and the children while the children were still in her care, referring Mother to additional mental health and substance abuse treatment after the children’s removal, and making significant efforts to facilitate regular visitation, were reasonable.  Because the Court here concluded that the trial court properly found that DCF made reasonable efforts to reunify, it declined to reach the merits of her argument that the trial court improperly determined that she was unable or unwilling to benefit from those efforts.

2. Mother could not prevail on her claim that the trial court improperly analyzed the best interests of the children in the adjudicatory portion of its decision.  The court found that a statutory ground for TPR existed because Mother had failed to achieve sufficient personal rehabilitation — she was largely noncompliant with the mental health services offered to her, had not fully addressed her issues with substance abuse, had outbursts during her visitation with the children, displayed limited parenting skills, became involved with the criminal justice system following the children’s removal, did not have stable housing, and lacked insight into her deficiencies.  The two statements that the court referenced from Mother’s psychological evaluation supported its determination regarding her failure to achieve sufficient personal rehabilitation, rather than constituted findings regarding the best interests of the children.