December 6, 2021
IN RE KARTER F. (AC 44496)
Termination of Parental Rights, Reasonable Efforts, Incarceration
Father appealed from the judgment terminating his parental rights with respect to his minor child. The Court here held that he could not prevail on his claim that the trial court improperly found that DCF made reasonable efforts to reunify him with this child and that he was unable or unwilling to benefit from such efforts.
The Court here held that the trial court’s finding that DCF made reasonable efforts to reunify Father with his child was supported by substantial evidence and was not clearly erroneous; in light of the circumstances created by Father, including his incarceration, this Court could not conclude that DCF’s efforts were unreasonable. DCF provided Father with the opportunity to visit with his child, which he initially declined, and, once visits were requested, DCF consistently provided them, and encouraged Father to avail himself of services offered by his correctional facility. As such, DCF’s efforts were in line with efforts that this Court has previously found to be reasonable.
Additionally, this Court found that the trial court properly found that Father was unable or unwilling to benefit from reunification services. The court recognized that, due to his incarceration, which this Court has stated is a relevant and appropriate factor for the trial court to consider, Father would be unavailable to his child until his release. The child was only four months old at the time of Father’s incarceration and, even assuming that he was paroled at the earliest possible release date, the child would be five years old, with no emotional connection to the father. The court made ample relevant factual findings, including that Father’s incarceration rendered him unable to benefit from reunification efforts, and findings concerning Father’s unresolved mental and emotional issues, his failure to take advantage of the opportunities that DCF offered to treat those issues, and his failure to bond with the child during his incarceration.
Third, this Court found that Father’s claim that the trial court incorrectly concluded that he failed to rehabilitate was unavailing. Although Father claimed that the court failed to consider the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting cessation of services while he was incarcerated, he failed to acknowledge that the relevant date for considering whether he failed to rehabilitate was the date on which the TPR petition was filed, which was approximately seven months before the onset of the pandemic. Father did not fully comply with the court-ordered specific steps requiring him to complete available mental health and intimate partner violence treatment and to visit the child as often as permitted by DCF. The trial court properly found that Father’s failure to engage in services and to improve his parenting skills called into question his ability to take responsibility as a parent, and supported the court’s finding that he puts his own needs before those of the child; thus, the record did not support the belief that Father could achieve a responsible role in his child’s life within a reasonable period of time.
Further, this Court found that Father could not prevail on his claim that the trial court improperly found that TPR was in this child’s best interests. The trial court made findings pursuant to each of the factors delineated by the applicable statute (§ 17a-112 (k)) and, although Father claimed that he could still rehabilitate, this Court found that the trial court correctly determined that Father would not be able to assume a responsible position in the child’s life within a reasonable time. Moreover, the child’s interests in stability and permanence outweighed Father’s interest in the care and custody of him. Father did not make progress in addressing his issues as required by his specific steps, and the child, who was three years and nine months old at the time the trial court rendered the TPR, had lived with his half-brother in the same foster home since he was adjudicated neglected, had bonded with his foster parents, who hoped to adopt him, as well as with the other children in the home, and expert testimony indicated that removing the child from the foster home would be not only disruptive, but traumatic.