April 29, 2022

IN RE RYDER M (AC 44831; April 2022)

Father appealed from the judgment terminating his parental rights with respect to his minor child, who previously had been adjudicated neglected and had been in a foster home since infancy. Father claimed, inter alia, that the trial court improperly determined that DCF, as required by C.G.S. § 17a-112 (j), had made reasonable efforts to reunify, and that he had failed to achieve a sufficient degree of personal rehabilitation so as to adequately demonstrate reasonable parenting ability.

The Court here held that the trial court properly determined, from clear and convincing evidence, that DCF made reasonable efforts to reunite Father with the child.  The court’s uncontested findings established that DCF referred him to two different service providers for mental health and substance abuse issues, but that both discharged him as a result of his noncompliance with their requirements, and that he elected to cease his individual counseling with another service provider, tested positive several times for marijuana use, and had been arrested on drug charges.  Additionally, there was evidence that DCF provided Father an opportunity to attend a fatherhood program and to visit with the child, but he missed scheduled visits, struggled to engage with the child, and had his visitation suspended temporarily after he was observed to be under the influence of a substance during a supervised visit.  Further, the Court found that despite Father’s assertion that DCF did not do everything reasonable that could have been done for him, even if he would have benefited from the additional actions he suggested to facilitate reunification, DCF’s failure to do so would not defeat the court’s reasonable efforts determination.

Additionally, the Court here held that Father could not prevail on his claim that the trial court improperly determined that he failed to rehabilitate sufficiently.  It found clear and convincing evidence in the record that supported the court’s finding that Father failed to achieve a sufficient degree of personal rehabilitation, as there was evidence of Father’s resistance to following the guidelines for services that were set for him, he was never fully able to comply with the court-ordered specific steps he had been given, and he did not make sufficient progress for a long enough period of time to assume that he had adequately treated his mental health difficulties, was free of illegal drugs, and was able to address his past trauma.  Despite Father’s assertion that there was insufficient evidence to support the court’s determination that he failed to rehabilitate sufficiently, the court made clear that it recognized he had made progress toward rehabilitation, but that his efforts were too little and too late, as he was twice observed to be under the influence of a substance during visits with the child; positive tests for marijuana use reflected that he had not maintained sobriety or learned strategies to manage his life; he continued to struggle with behavioral issues; and the apartment lease he secured after having been transient throughout most of the underlying proceedings had been executed only six weeks before trial.

Lastly, the Court held that trial court’s determination that TPR was in the child’s best interest was legally sound and factually supported by its findings and conclusions with respect to the factors prescribed in § 17a-112 (k), as well as the court’s conclusion regarding the child’s need for permanency and stability.  DCF made reasonable efforts to provide timely services to Father and to reunite him with the child, but he was not in a position to safely care for him within a reasonable time.  The child, who was more than three years old at the time of trial, had developed significant emotional ties to his foster family, and the father’s lack of progress toward mastering the essential requirements of parenthood and his own emotional stability left him unable to adjust his circumstances sufficiently to have the child returned to him in the foreseeable future.  Moreover, notwithstanding Father’s assertion that termination of his parental rights was not in the child’s best interest, the court found that, although a bond may exist between Father and the child, it did not undercut the court’s best interest determination, in light of the myriad of other considerations the court took into account.  Any continuing efforts Father made to advance his rehabilitation did not outweigh the other factors the court considered.