In re T.K.

Connecticut Appellate Court

January 29, 2008

In this controversial case, the parents appealed the trial court’s decision that their child was neglected pursuant to a theory of “predictive neglect.” The parents’ contended that absent a history of problematic parenting or a demonstrated unwillingness on the part of the parents to accept necessary services, the doctrine of predictive neglect is inapplicable. The Appellate court rejected the parents’ argument and affirmed the decision of the trial court.

The parents’ first child, T.K., was born on November 30, 2005. Shortly thereafter, the mother told a hospital social worker that she had recurring thoughts of harming herself and the child and a referral to DCF was made. DCF initially requested an Order of Temporary Custody (granted but later vacated) and a corresponding neglect petition, premised on the doctrine of predictive neglect. Following a four day trial the court heard much testimony about the parents’ history of mental health challenges, as well as conflicting testimony from a court-appointed psychologist and the mother’s treating psychiatrist regarding the likelihood that the mother would act on any of her obsessive thoughts. The court-appointed psychologist offered the following opinion at trial:

”So, the question then becomes, well, is there a first time for everything? And I think that’s the root of this, and the answer is yes, there is a first time for everything. But there is nothing here to indicate that [the mother] has ever acted on any of these compulsions. Not saying, I mean, nobody can read anyone’s mind and know if this will occur. What we do know is that these thoughts are clearly associated with anxiety.”

The court also heard testimony that both parents were educated and had a history of employment and were open to supportive mental health services. Ultimately, the court adjudicated the child neglected as she was permitted to live under conditions, circumstances or associations injurious to her well-being. The court ordered a ordered a six month period of protective services. The respondents filed this appeal.

The parents claimed that the court erroneously applied the doctrine of predictive neglect to the case because the required elements of predictive neglect are (1) a serious prior history of neglectful or abusive parenting of one or more children or (2) a serious inability or unwillingness of the parents to accept, cooperate with or benefit from services necessary to help them care for their child.

The Appellate Court rejected the respondents’ argument although it acknowledged that the majority of the predictive neglect cases did in fact concern families in which older children had been harmed or permitted to be harmed by a parent. However, the Court held that neither the legislature nor the case law express such a requirement. The Court reasoned that if the respondents’ arguments were accepted, no firstborn child could ever be adjudicated neglected under the doctrine of predictive neglect because the parents could have no history of prior abuse.

The Court noted that the state’s child protection laws are designed to prevent injury to the welfare of a child, not to wait until it occurs. Additionally, the Court held that just because services are accepted does not mean that a child cannot be deemed neglected under the law.

The Court cited In re Michael D., 58 Conn. App. 124 and Conn. Gen. Stat. § 17a-101 for the proposition that the state has authority to act before harm occurs to protect children. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 17a-101 provides that “the public policy of this state is: To protect children whose health and welfare may be adversely affected through injury and neglect.”

Accordingly, the neglect adjudication was affirmed.

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