March 14, 2019

In re Bianca K.
AC 41819 – March 2019
Termination of Parental Rights:  Personal Rehabilitation

Respondent mother appealed a judgment of the trial court, terminating her parental rights on the basis that she failed to achieve the requisite degree of personal rehabilitation required by statute (§17a-112[j][3][B][i]). 

Bianca, the child, was initially removed from mother, who herself grew up with DCF involvement, after a year of neglectful events, including ingesting mother’s Klonopin when she was 18 months old, witnessing several severe domestic violence incidents between mother and her boyfriend, being present during boyfriend’s arrest for selling heroin from his car, and age 2, overdosing on her mother’s Suboxone pills.  The child eventually reunified with her mother after mother “did the things she was supposed to do, and said what she had to say in order to have Bianca returned to her care,” despite admitting at trial that she “did not really change her behavior or internalize any of the behavioral changes needed.”

Less than a year later, at age 4.5, Bianca was again removed after mother continued to test positive for opiates and not consistently engage in services.  Specific steps were again issued, including counseling, drug treatment, and understanding the impact of domestic violence.  At the time of trial, despite having engaged in the necessary services, mother continued her relationship with her boyfriend and attempted to conceal it from DCF.  There was extensive evidence presented about boyfriend’s presence in the home, which mother denied throughout.  The trial court found that while mother was “entitled to have such friends as she [found] appropriate, when her desire for maintaining an old and harmful friendship is in direct conflict with her desire to have Bianca returned to her care, concerns for Bianca’s safety must remain paramount.”

On appeal, mother claimed that the trial court “undervalued” the substantial progress toward the completion of her specific steps as ordered by the court, including her sobriety, stable housing and income, completion of parenting classes, and the progress she made in therapy.  The Appellate Court, however, in affirming the trial court’s decision, emphasized that in assessing rehabilitation, the critical issue was not whether mother improved her ability to manage her own life, but rather, whether she has gained the ability to care for Bianca’s particular needs.  As is required, the Court here deferred to the trial court’s findings in justifying its conclusion that mother failed to rehabilitate.  To support that determination, the court had ruled that mother had “completely failed” to understand that her maintaining a relationship with her boyfriend raised concerns for her daughter’s safety.

Additionally, mother argued on appeal that the specific steps did not stipulate that she was to have no contact with her boyfriend.  The Appellate Court found, however, that although there was nothing prohibiting the contact, the Court has consistently made clear that a court is not strictly bound by the enumerated specific steps when determining whether a parent has failed to rehabilitate.  Rather, the steps provide “notice and guidance to a parent as to what should be done to facilitate reunification… [t]heir completion or noncompletion, however, does not guarantee any outcome.”  Given the boyfriend’s history of violence towards mother and Bianca, the Court here found that the trial court properly concluded mother failed to rehabilitate where she demonstrated a lack of understanding of the impact of domestic violence on her and the child.

Lastly, mother claimed that the trial court was incorrect in concluding that termination was in the child’s best interests, given the close bond they shared.  The Court here disagreed, finding that it was not clearly erroneous for the trial court to find that terminating parental rights would enable the child to grow up in a consistent, stable, safe, and secure environment, even as it recognized the continuing bond between mother and child.