July 1, 2023

AC 45822

Father appealed the TPR judgments of the trial court with respect to 6 of his minor children. He had an extensive criminal history as a result of drug and alcohol abuse and his involvement in domestic violence incidents with the mothers of the children. Over the course of more than 3 years, DCF obtained custody of the 6 children as a result of Father’s neglect and inability to care for them. Although DCF provided in-person visitation and, during the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual visitation, Father failed to interact with DCF to set up visitation schedules and missed numerous visits. He also stopped taking medications that had been prescribed for him and refused to attend counseling and other therapy programs to which he had been referred by DCF. The trial court adjudicated all 6 children neglected, and DCF thereafter sought TPR. The trial court granted the petitions, concluding, on the basis of clear and convincing evidence, that DCF, pursuant to statute (§ 17a-112), had made reasonable efforts to reunify him with the children and that termination was in the children’s best interests.  The Court here held:

1. The evidence was sufficient to support the trial court’s conclusion that DCF had made reasonable efforts to reunify Father with his minor children.  The court’s finding that DCF facilitated adequate visitation with the children was not clearly erroneous, as Father had been provided frequent opportunities for both in-person and virtual visitation, which included parenting education supervised by a credentialed provider when circumstances allowed.  Father was prevented from engaging in some monthly in-person visits as a result of his inconsistent visitation and reluctance to engage with DCF to create visitation schedules, and visitation with one child was delayed due to his attempt to deceive DCF about his paternity status as to that child.  Moreover, Father presented no authority for his claim that DCF was required to seek a court order to compel him to comply with its referrals for therapy, as it was his choice and responsibility as to whether to engage in services aimed at reunifying him with the children.  Furthermore, contrary to Father’s contention, DCF’s reunification efforts were not unreasonable, and the parenting education services it offered were not inadequate just because DCF had denied his request that a specific therapist supervise visitation.

2. Father could not prevail on his claim that the trial court erroneously determined that he had failed to achieve a degree of rehabilitation such as would encourage the belief that, within a reasonable time, considering the ages and needs of his children, he could assume a responsible position in their lives.  The record showed that Father had abused and tested positive for illegal substances, up to and during the termination trial, acted aggressively toward supervisors during visits with the children, and had to be removed from the premises during another visit.  Moreover, Father disregarded supervisors’ attempts to engage him in parenting education and inaccurately asserted that a counselor had stated that there was no need for him to engage in additional counseling when, in fact, he had been discharged for having failed to participate in a mental health group.  Furthermore, he consistently and repeatedly refused to attend therapy or to engage in the anger management, substance abuse and parenting services he had been offered, as well as programs concerning domestic violence, and failed to gain an understanding of the harmful effects of domestic violence on his family.

3. The trial court’s conclusion that TPR was in his children’s best interests was factually supported and legally sound.  Although Father contended that, in light of his alleged consistent engagement in substance abuse treatment, and his affection for the children and his efforts to maintain visitation with them, the petitions should not have been granted, the evidence established that he would be unable to provide shelter, nurturance, safety and stability for the children, or to meet their emotional, educational, medical and moral needs in a reasonable amount of time.  He was unable to maintain his sobriety and had ceased taking his prescribed medications, continued to be involved in domestic violence incidents, and failed to engage in mental health treatment and domestic violence programs.  Moreover, a psychologist who evaluated Father testified that his continued behavioral and emotional problems could put the children at risk.  Additionally, the evidence showed that the children had bonded with the grandparents and foster parents with whom they had been placed.