February 22, 2021

In Re Phoenix A. (AC 44060)

TPR, Reasonable Efforts, Personal Rehabilitation, Best Interests

Takeaway: Among other things, it is important to remember that in assessing personal rehabilitation, the critical issue is not whether a parent has improved their ability to manage their own life, but rather, whether they have gained the ability to care for the particular needs of the child.  The completion or non-completion of specific steps alone does not guarantee any outcome.  Additionally, we are reminded that the best interests of a child include their interests in sustained growth, development, well-being, and continuity/stability of their environment, not just a parent-child bond.

Father appealed from the judgment terminating his parental rights. He claimed, inter alia, that the court erred by finding that he was unable or unwilling to benefit from reunification services provided by DCF, pursuant to the statute (§ 17a-112 (j) (1)) that requires a finding by clear and convincing evidence that DCF made reasonable efforts to reunify a parent and child unless it finds, instead, that the parent is unable or unwilling to benefit from such efforts. The trial court also found, pursuant to § 17a112 (j) (1), that regardless, reasonable efforts were made by DCF to reunify the family.

The Appellate Court held that because Father did not challenge the trial court’s finding that DCF made reasonable efforts to reunify, and instead challenged only one of the two independent bases for upholding the court’s determination that the reasonable efforts requirements had been satisfied, there still existed a separate and independent basis for upholding the court’s determination.  Therefore, even if this Court agreed with his claim, it found there was no practical relief that could be afforded to him.  Accordingly, Father’s claim was dismissed as moot.

The Appellate Court also held that the trial court properly found, in light of the evidence presented at trial, that Father had failed to achieve sufficient personal rehabilitation so as to encourage the belief that he could assume a responsible position in his child’s life within a reasonable time.  Instead, the record contained sufficient evidence to support the conclusion that DCF had proven, by clear and convincing evidence, that Father continued to struggle with substance abuse and mental health issues throughout DCF’s involvement, he had difficulty addressing the needs of his child during visits right up until the time of trial despite participating in several parenting education classes, and he continued to engage in criminal behavior, including violations of a protective order obtained by Mother.

Lastly, the Appellate Court held that the trial court’s determination that terminating Father’s rights was in the best interest of the minor child was not clearly erroneous.  Rather, the abundant evidence in the record supported the court’s determination: that Father continued to struggle with substance abuse issues throughout DCF’s involvement, had continuing involvement with the criminal justice system, and had remained unable to implement into his daily functioning the skills he had learned in the various programs in which he had participated. Moreover, testimony was offered that the child needed a stable caregiver, that Father would not be an appropriate caregiver, and that the child needed permanency and to know who his caregivers were.  Lastly, testimony was offered that the child was happy with his foster parents, and that he had a very close relationship with them and was bonded with them.