June 15, 2020
In re Corey C.
198 Conn. App. 41 – June 2020
Denial of Appeal from Termination of Father’s Parental Rights
Respondent father appealed from the judgment of the trial court terminating his parental rights pursuant to CGS §17a-112(j)(3)(B)(i), contending that the trial court improperly (1) concluded that DCF made reasonable efforts to reunify him with Corey and that he was unable or unwilling to benefit from the department’s reunification efforts; (2) concluded that he failed to achieve such a degree of personal rehabilitation as would encourage the belief that, within a reasonable time, considering Corey’s age and needs, he could assume a responsible position in Corey’s life; and (3) compared his suitability as a parent, and that of Corey’s biological mother, to that of Corey’s foster parent during the adjudicatory phase of the termination proceeding. The Court of Appeals rejected father’s claims and affirmed the judgment of the trial court.
Corey was born on September 28, 2017. On October 4, DCF filed a neglect petition and obtained temporary custody of him. The petition alleged predictive neglect, given the fact that the parents were married and living together, had an unstable relationship, mental health and substance abuse issues, and the mother had failed to care safely for her first two children, to both of which her rights were previously terminated. The OTC was sustained by agreement. On March 6, 2018, both parents submitted written pleas of nolo contendere and Corey was adjudicated neglected by the trial court and committed to DCF custody. DCF subsequently filed a petition to terminate parental rights. A termination trial was held on April 11 and May 2, 2019, after which the trial court granted the petition and terminated the parental rights of both parents.
Trial Court’s Critical Reasoning
The trial court concluded that (1) Corey had serious allergy and pulmonary needs which the parents were unable or unwilling to take necessary measures to meet; (2) the parents showed limited progress in addressing those needs common to all children, specifically attachment and the child’s interest in sustained growth, development, well-being, continuity and stability of his environment; and (3) given Corey’s need for a secure, permanent placement, and the totality of the circumstances, and having considered all statutory criteria, and having found by clear and convincing evidence that grounds exist to terminate the parents’ parental rights as alleged, termination was in Corey’s best interests.
In support of its ruling, the court acknowledged evidence and testimony presented at trial, including (1) that both parents had a history of mental health and substance abuse issues and neither parent gained sufficient insight into the negative effect that the mother’s mental health had on her parenting; (2) that both parents were inconsistent in their individual and couple’s therapy; (3) the parent’s history of marital issues and discord which led to instances of emotional outbursts, inappropriate judgment, domestic violence, and of becoming too overwhelmed to attend to his needs; (4) that the parents demonstrated a lack of attachment with Corey during supervised visitation and during therapeutic family time (TFT); (5) testimony from the TFT worker that the parents did not demonstrate the essential insight and parenting skills to care for Corey; (6) that parents did not have a clear plan for Corey if reunification occurred; and (7) TFT’s recommendation against reunification due to the parents’ inadequate response to Corey’s medical needs, as he had serious asthma which was exacerbated by cigarette smoke that he continued to be exposed to during the visits with his parents.
Father’s Arguments on Appeal and Responses
Father’s first argument was that the trial court improperly concluded that DCF made reasonable efforts to reunify him with Corey, and that he was unable or unwilling to benefit from the reunification efforts. Specifically, he argued that DCF failed to offer any feedback to him and the mother in the TFT program and that DCF failed to offer any smoking cessation services to either of the parents. On the lack of feedback issue, the Court considered evidence in the record that sufficient feedback as to the parents’ progress in the program was provided, such as evidence that the worker assigned to the family met alone with the parents weekly to provide feedback and also provided detailed reports documenting such visits. The Court therefore rejected the claim that DCF did not make reasonable efforts to reunify due to failure to offer feedback. On the services issue, the Court considered evidence that the parents were provided with educational tools to stop smoking and were advised on how their smoking adversely affected Corey’s health, and held that since father failed to request such services, he undermined his argument that those services were part of what DCF should have provided as reasonable efforts. The Court held that the trial court properly considered the totality of the facts and circumstances and correctly determined that DCF made reasonable efforts to reunify. This claim was rejected.
Father’s second argument was that the trial court improperly concluded that he failed to achieve personal rehabilitation. Specifically, he claimed that virtually all of the factual predicates that the trial court relied upon to support its legal conclusion were clearly erroneous and therefore, there was insufficient evidence to support its conclusion that father failed to rehabilitate. The Court held that the facts were sufficiently based on the evidence presented at trial and the reasonable inferences drawn from the evidence, and were therefore not clearly erroneous. Additionally, it held that on the basis of father’s involvement with mother, and his knowledge of the mother’s significant parenting issues, the trial court’s finding with respect to the mother were properly related to the issue of whether he had rehabilitated, since the parents presented as a committed couple and neither parent demonstrated desire or an ability to be a single parent. Therefore, it further held that it was not improper for the trial court to determine that father failed to rehabilitate, in part, due to factual findings relating to the mother’s failure to rehabilitate. This claim was rejected.
Father’s third argument was that the trial court improperly compared his suitability as a parent, and that of Corey’s mother, to that of Corey’s foster parent during the adjudicatory phase of the termination proceeding, when the TFT worker noted a lack of affect by Corey in the parents’ company, especially with the mother, which she contrasted with the warmth and attachment between Corey and the foster parent. The Court held that the trial court’s comparison between the foster parent and the biological parents was not improper, since the comparison was used to highlight Corey’s specific emotional and developmental needs. This claim was rejected.