November 26, 2018
In re Madison M. – 185 Conn. App. 512 (2018) – October
Provision of Specific Steps & Harmless Error
Respondent father appealed the termination of his parental rights as to his three children, based on his failure to achieve a sufficient degree of personal rehabilitation.
At the time the case was filed in December 2015, father was on the run from the law, and despite previous involvement and cooperation with DCF, did not appear at any of the preliminary hearings. Over the following six months, DCF attempted to contact him by calling several numbers they had for him, contacting a friend of his, and sending letters to addresses associated with him. DCF was eventually able to contact him by phone, and he was uncooperative and refused to provide his location.
In July 2016, father was arrested and incarcerated. In December, he appeared before the court with counsel, at which time the previously-ordered specific steps were admitted as an exhibit, despite not having been physically delivered to him previously.
In April 2017, termination petitions were filed, and a trial was held in October 2017. In February 2018, the court granted the petitions, finding that there was clear and convincing evidence that DCF had made reasonable efforts to locate father, and that he had been unwilling or unable to benefit from reunification efforts. As such, he had failed to achieve personal rehabilitation. The court also found that father had been provided the specific steps, as required by § 17a-112 (j) (3) (B) (i), and, alternatively, in light of his refusal to cooperate with DCF’s investigation, the failure to provide him with the steps was harmless error.
Father appealed. The Appellate Court held that the trial court did not err in concluding that father had been “provided” specific rehabilitative steps in a manner that satisfied the requirements of § 17a-112 (j) (3) (B) (i): where he had evaded detection intentionally and refused to respond to DCF’s repeated inquiries, and where the previously ordered steps were admitted as an exhibit during the evidentiary hearing, at which time they would have been accessible to father and his attorney, physical delivery of the steps to him was not a necessary measure, and DCF’s efforts were more than sufficient to ensure that he knew specific steps had been ordered and that those steps were important to preserving his parental rights.
Additionally, even if the father had not been provided the specific steps, the Court found that such an omission would have constituted harmless error. Specifically, he would have been unable to observe certain specific steps while he was incarcerated, and the physical delivery of them would have been a futile endeavor in light of the father’s attitude toward DCF and his reluctance to change for the better, as there was no indication that he had any intention of addressing those problems or becoming a stable and dependable figure in the lives of his children.