In re Sarah S.

Connecticut Appellate Court

September 30, 2008


Termination of Parental Rights/Failure to Rehabilitate/Guardianship/Due Process:

In this termination of parental rights appeal, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s termination decision, holding that (1) the court properly denied the parent’s motion to transfer guardianship to the paternal aunt; (2) there was ample evidence to support a finding that the parents failed to rehabilitate; and (3) the parents had not adequately briefed their claim that the denial of a jury trial on the termination petition deprived them of due process of law.

The mother and father, who struggled with homelessness, substance abuse, and mental health problems, claimed that the court erroneously denied their motion to revoke commitment and transfer guardianship to the paternal aunt, since she was a suitable and appropriate placement alternative. The appellate court rejected this argument, noting that under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-129(m) a motion to revoke commitment may only be granted if the cause for commitment no longer exists and such revocation is in the best interests of the child. The court held that the original cause for commitment still existed, since the parents continued to struggle with substance abuse and mental health problems, and that a transfer of guardianship was not in the child’s best interests, given her age and need for permanency.

The appellate court also denied the respondents’ claim that DCF failed to demonstrate a sufficient need or compelling reason for termination. The court noted ample evidence in the record to support the trial court’s finding of termination, including the respondents’ unwillingness to benefit from reunification efforts as demonstrated by their failure to regularly attend substance abuse and mental health treatment, their continued drug use, the respondent father’s involvement with criminal activity, and their failure to obtain adequate housing and stable employment. The appellate court rejected the mother’s claim that DCF failed to make reasonable efforts toward reunification, noting that while the department did choose not to refer her to individual counseling for sexual assault victims, the mother missed numerous appointments with service providers and failed to fully engage in treatment services that were provided by the Department.

The court summarily dismissed the parents’ final two arguments, that the court (1) improperly terminated their parental rights without findings made by a jury and (2) improperly placed the burden of proof on the respondents in the motion to revoke commitment/transfer guardianship and in the dispositional phase of the TPR. As to the first argument, the court declined to review the respondents’ claim because the issue had not been adequately briefed. As to the second argument, the court denied father’s request for plain error review and concluded that his claim was without any merit.

The case may be accessed by going to the Judicial Branch website at

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