July 4, 2023

Mother appealed the judgments terminating her parental rights with respect to her two younger children.  She had a history of mental health issues and, when she was a minor, had been a victim of sexual abuse and a perpetrator of sexual molestation. Father was incarcerated for sexually assaulting Mother’s two older children while they were in the home with the younger ones. After one of the younger children and the two older children disclosed to DCF inappropriate behaviors of Mother and a man that she had allowed in the home, DCF invoked a ninety-six hour hold on behalf of the two younger children, and they were later committed to DCF custody.  DCF thereafter filed TPR petitions. At a family therapy session thereafter arranged by DCF, one of the younger children disclosed to the therapist that the other younger child had been sexually abused by a man while in Mother’s care, an incident that Mother had not reported to DCF. The mother and the children were thereafter discharged from family therapy, and continued with their individual therapy. After a trial, the court terminated Mother’s parental rights as to both younger children, and denied her motion for post-termination visitation. The Court here held:

1. The trial court did not improperly determine that DCF made reasonable efforts to reunify the Mother with the children, and that she was unable or unwilling to benefit from those efforts.  The court found that Mother was offered numerous services to aid in reunification, including supervised visitation, parenting education, individual counseling services, a psycho-sexual evaluation, in-home services and case management services, and, although Mother had successfully completed services offered, she remained in no better position to resume caretaking responsibilities of the children.  Moreover, although Mother argued that DCF’s efforts were not reasonable because it failed to adequately implement family therapy, the court reasonably could have concluded that the individual treatment needs of the younger children should take precedence over family therapy, especially given Mother’s minimization of the impact of sexual abuse on them.  Furthermore, DCF was not required to do everything possible, just everything reasonable, to promote reunification.

2. Mother could not prevail on her claim that the trial court improperly determined that she failed to achieve such a degree of rehabilitation as would encourage the belief that within a reasonable time she could assume a responsible position in the lives of the children.  Despite her engagement in multiple services, she continued to demonstrate a limited understanding of her own trauma and how it negatively impacted her ability to parent her children, and failed to gain an understanding of the trauma endured by the children while in her care and her role in it.  Moreover, although Mother had substantially complied with her court-ordered specific steps and made improvements, the completion of specific steps alone is not sufficient to defeat DCF’s claim that a parent has not achieved sufficient rehabilitation.

3. The trial court did not improperly deny Mother’s motion for post-termination visitation. Although the court found that Mother loves her children and may have had frequent and positive interactions with them, that is just one factor that the court may consider in evaluating whether post-termination visitation is necessary or appropriate, and, even if the court had considered the nature of previous visitation, the court also properly considered Mother’s inability to parent the younger children, and the harm that they had suffered as a result of her shortcomings.  Moreover, the court also considered Mother’s combative behavior with the foster parents and her fixation on advice that she perceived might have come from the foster parents, which demonstrated her difficulty coping with visitation.  Accordingly, the court did not err in determining that it would be neither necessary nor appropriate for Mother to have post-termination visitation.