November 6, 2017

In re Elijah C.
326 Conn. 480 (2017)
9 Aug. 2017

Termination of Parental Rights

Mother of Elijah C. appeals from the judgment of a trial court terminating her parental rights, which found that petitioner made reasonable efforts to reunify the child with the mother, and that mother was unable to benefit from reunification services. In her appeal to the Supreme Court of Connecticut, mother claims that the Appellate Court incorrectly concluded that mother failed to adequately brief that she was unable to benefit from reunification services. In addition, mother claims that the trial court incorrectly concluded that petitioner made reasonable efforts to reunify her child with his mother, and that mother was unable to benefit from reunification services. Furthermore, mother claims that by substituting the agencies that provided the services to her, that petitioner’s reunification efforts violated the ADA. Petitioner had reduced the number of supervised weekly visits, and replaced the agency authorized to supervise the visits with one that did not possess the training required to work with clients with cognitive disabilities. The Supreme Court held that child welfare proceedings are subject to the ADA, as long as they include services, programs, or activities of any state agency. The ADA however, cannot be raised as a defense in a termination proceeding, because a termination proceeding is not a service, program, or activity of any state agency, within the meaning of the ADA. On the contrary, the provisions of the ADA would apply to reunification services, and programs that petitioner must supply to meet individual needs of parent. The mental condition of a parent must be considered in providing services; a failure to provide adequate services because of a parent’s mental condition would in fact, violate the ADA. However, in the present case, the record does not suggest that trial court failed to meet ADA provisions.

The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the Appellate Court, and applied the following standard to conclude that mother adequately briefed the second ground: the dispositive question in determining whether a claim is adequately briefed is whether the claim is reasonably discernible from the record (McCook v. Whitebirch Construction, LLC). It was held that even though mother did not address evidence that supported an opposite finding (i.e., that she was unable to benefit from reunification services), such omission did not cause her brief to be inadequate. Further, there was no fault in the mother interrelating the two grounds (for termination of parental rights) as reason to support her position; the determination of whether reasonable efforts were made is inextricably linked to the question of whether the mother could have benefitted from such efforts.

The Supreme Court remanded the case to the Appellate Court with direction to affirm the judgment of the trial court, upon holding that the trial court could have reasonably concluded on the basis of the facts established, and the reasonable inferences drawn therefrom, that the cumulative effect of the evidence was enough to determine that regardless of the services provided, and the duration of the provision, mother was unable to benefit from the services. The following findings were relevant: mother’s hospitalization three months prior to termination hearing despite having received therapy up to that point for hallucinations, aggressive thoughts and behaviors, and mood swings; two separate psychological evaluations which stated that mother could only achieve reunification if she and the child were both in a setting where they could receive around-the-clock supervision, despite such a program not being offered in Connecticut. Mother did not contend that reasonable efforts included petitioner seeking services outside of the state, until appeal. The Supreme Court of Connecticut held that this argument should have been raised in the trial court, not on appeal, and furthermore, no authority was cited by mother to support her claim that reasonable efforts include the petitioner providing mother with around-the-clock services, either within or outside the state of Connecticut.

CAROLINE GALLUCCI (Law Student Intern)