December 21, 2023

AC 46465

                Mother appealed the termination of her parental rights.  The child’s removal was precipitated in part by Mother’s involvement in various incidents of intimate partner violence (IPV) with Father.  DCF, in response to court-ordered specific steps, provided her with numerous resources and programs.  After trial, the court concluded that reasonable efforts had been made to reunify and that Mother was unable or unwilling to benefit from them. The court further concluded that she failed to achieve an adequate degree of personal rehabilitation within the meaning of the applicable statute (§ 17a-112) and that clear and convincing evidence established that TPR was in the child’s best interest. The Court here held:

  1. Mother could not prevail on her claim that the court erred in concluding that she had failed to achieve such a degree of rehabilitation as would encourage the belief that within a reasonable time, considering the age and needs of the child, she could assume a responsible position in her child’s life.
  2. Mother’s claim that the trial court’s factual findings were clearly erroneous because its decision recited certain evidence as fact, while disregarding other evidence, was unavailing. In challenging the court’s assessment of the evidence and contending that it should have weighed the evidence differently, Mother was asking this Court to reassess the evidence, or to second-guess the trial court’s credibility determinations, which is not the Appeals Court’s role. Although some evidence may have supported Mother’s position, it was not this Court’s role to reexamine that evidence and substitute its judgment for that of the trial court.
  3. Mother could not prevail on her claim that the trial court’s conclusion that she failed to rehabilitate was not supported by the evidence. She listed several findings that she contended supported her position that she had rehabilitated, specifically, findings related to programs that she purported to have completed or recommendations with which she claimed to have complied. However, Mother ignored the court’s finding that she failed to fully comply with key portions of the specific steps, as well as its thorough review of those steps and the ways in which she failed to comply.  It was not this Court’s role to reassess the evidence and substitute its judgment for that of the trial court.  Moreover, even if Mother had fully complied with the steps, a determination with respect to rehabilitation is not solely dependent on a parent’s technical compliance with specific steps but, rather, on the broader issue of whether the factors that led to the initial commitment had been corrected, which, in the present case, were incidents of IPV between Mother and Father.  Although Mother had engaged in IPV programs, she failed to gain insight into how it impacted her role as a mother.  Furthermore, notwithstanding her argument that the court improperly relied on her history of IPV because she was no longer in a relationship with Father, the court credited the testimony of her service providers, who testified that Mother minimized and made little progress with respect to her IPV issues.  The trial court found that, although Mother’s relationship with Father had resulted in the issuance of numerous protective orders, she had maintained a relationship with him, putting both herself and the child at risk.
  4. Mother could not prevail on her claim that the trial court incorrectly concluded that TPR was in her child’s best interest. Contrary to Mother’s assertion, the court did not find that she had made no progress in rehabilitating herself, but, to the contrary, that she engaged, with mixed success, in many of the services recommended by DCF. The court thoroughly discussed the evidence as to Mother’s compliance with the specific steps and the areas in which she had made progress, as well as those areas in which she did not. Although she may have made progress, the court credited the testimony of those providers who opined that she had failed to gain insight into how her issues impacted her ability to parent.  In the absence of such insight, the court, fearing that the child, who was 4 years old at the time it rendered judgment, would be subjected to continued violence through Mother’s relationships, properly focused on the child’s need for permanence and stability, rather than on Mother and her efforts to rehabilitate.