April 13, 2023

In Re Lillyanne D. et al. (AC 45124; AC 45156)

TPR; Personal Rehabilitation

September 2022

Parents separately appealed the trial court’s judgment terminating their parental rights with respect to their child, R, who had been in foster care since birth.

DCF became involved when Mother threatened to harm their daughter, L.  Mother had a history with DCF in connection with incidents involving her older children. After L had been adjudicated neglected and committed to DCF, the parents’ second child, R, was born, and DCF filed for an OTC on the basis of predictive neglect. That same day, the court granted the OTC and ordered specific steps with which the parents were required to comply.  R was later adjudicated neglected and committed to DCF.

At trial, the court found that DCF had made reasonable efforts to reunify R with the parents, but that they were unwilling or unable to benefit from the services that DCF offered. The court found that Mother had resisted DCF’s efforts to address the key issues underlying her history of threats or acts of violence against R and her other children, and that Father had demonstrated an inability to accurately evaluate the risk she posed. The court thus concluded, inter alia, that, pursuant to statute (§ 17a-112 (j) (3) (B) (i)), that parents had failed to achieve such a degree of personal rehabilitation as would encourage the belief that, within a reasonable time, they could assume responsible positions in R’s life.

The Appellate Court held here:

Mother could not prevail on her claim that the trial court committed harmful error when it admitted into evidence, under the residual exception to the hearsay rule, certain summary reports by a service provider that it relied on to terminate her parental rights.  The Court, without deciding whether the summaries constituted inadmissible hearsay, concluded that their admission was harmless, as the information in them was cumulative of that contained in DCF’s social study and the report of a court-appointed psychologist, both of which had been admitted into evidence without objection.  Further, despite Mother’s claim that the trial court relied on the summaries to bolster the conclusions in the psychologist’s report, this Court found that the trial court was entitled to rely on them to support its findings, as it was within the court’s sole domain to assess the reliability and trustworthiness of the psychologist’s conclusions, and the weight to give to his report.  Additionally, even if the court had sustained Mother’s objection to the summaries, this Court found that she could not demonstrate that the outcome of the trial would have been different, as the record was replete with references to the information, and she failed to articulate any manner in which the information in the summaries was materially different from that contained in DCF’s social study and the psychologist’s report.

The Appellate Court also found that Father could not prevail on his claims that the trial court made erroneous evidentiary findings in terminating his parental rights as to R either because the Court here found that the trial court reasonably determined that the cumulative effect of the evidence was sufficient to justify its conclusion that Father was unable or unwilling to benefit from DCF’s efforts to reunify.  For example, the court did not rely on outdated information in making its determination, as Father claimed, but limited its analysis to events that preceded the filing of the TPR petition, as required by the applicable rule of practice (§ 35a-7 (a)).  Moreover, the record adequately supported the court’s conclusion that, in the event of reunification, Mother would be R’s primary caregiver when Father was at work, as the parents were unified in their intentions to parent as a couple.  The record also reflected that Father, who declined to pursue reunification on his own, was defensive about and overprotective of Mother, and appeared to minimize the threat of harm that she posed to R, where she resisted efforts to address the issues that led to R’s removal from her care, rebuffed recommendations for treatment to address her past trauma, and refused to take accountability for the events at issue.

The Court here also found that the evidence was sufficient to support the trial court’s conclusion that Father had failed to achieve the requisite degree of personal rehabilitation.  Contrary to Father’s claim, the court’s consideration of evidence that predated the filing of the TPR petition was proper.  Father failed to point to any specific post-petition evidence that the court declined to consider that was probative of his rehabilitation, and the post-petition evidence that the parents did introduce did not offer any additional perspective that was determinative of the issue of Father’s rehabilitation.  Moreover, Father’s contention that, with proper support services in place, he could assume a responsible position in R’s life, was unavailing, as there was no indication that he sought DCF’s help in obtaining additional support services, or that he intended to rely on support services if reunification were to be granted.  Regardless of Father’s progress toward addressing the factors that led to commitment, and given his failure to appreciate the risk that Mother posed to the children’s safety and his commitment to parent R with her, this Court found that the trial court, in making its determination, was entitled to rely on his continued involvement with Mother, whom the court also determined had failed to achieve sufficient rehabilitation.

Lastly, the Court here found that the trial court’s determination that it was in R’s best interest to terminate Father’s parental rights was factually supported by its findings with respect to the factors set forth in § 17a-112 (k).  The trial court found that DCF had timely made referrals to address the parents’ needs, and reasonable efforts to reunify, but that, despite having made significant progress toward improving his marital relationship and complying with nearly every one of the specific steps, Father remained unable to appropriately assess the threat that Mother posed to R.  Moreover, although the trial court weighed the evidence that was more favorable to Father, it found that R had bonded with his foster family, with whom he had spent his entire life, and noted that R could not afford to wait for the parents to make the necessary adjustments to ensure his safety and well-being.