February 17, 2017

170 Conn.App. 833 (2017)

17 Feb. 2017

Termination of Parental Rights, Reunification Efforts

The Appellate Court, Sheldon J., held that the Department’s duty to make reasonable efforts to reunify father and his child did not require the Department to use due diligence to identify and investigate possible relative resources for placement of the child.

The respondent father in this case, Samuel M., appealed the judgment terminating his parental rights to his minor daughter Unique R. Specifically, he argued that “the department’s efforts to reunify him with his daughter were not reasonable because it failed to conduct an adequate investigation into the availability and suitability of two of his relatives, his mother and his sister, Jennifer D., to serve as possible placement resources for Unique.” 836. The Appellate Court held that the department’s investigation into placement options for the child was not a necessary consideration in determining the termination of the parent’s parental rights.

Samuel M.’s parental rights had been terminated on two grounds: “first, that he had failed to rehabilitate since [Unique] was adjudicated to be neglected; and second, that he had no ongoing parent-child relationship with her.” 840-841. He had had no contact with Unique until she was two years old, and only “sporadic” contact after that time. 843. Despite being provided with many services aimed at rehabilitation, he still suffered from mental health and substance abuse problems. He had never cared for Unique on a daily basis and had attended only eight out of thirty-nine arranged visits. The trial court had also found by clear and convincing evidence that the department had made reasonable efforts to reunify the father with Unique. The father claimed, however, that the trial court erred in this finding because the department failed to prove that it took adequate steps to investigate relative resources under § 17a-112(j)(l).

The Appellate Court did not share the respondent’s statutory interpretation. It concluded that the legislative intent § 17a-112(j)(l) and related provisions was that, “in attempting to reunify the parent with the child . . . the department must make reasonable efforts to assist the parent in addressing and overcoming the specific impediments preventing reunification.” 852 (emphasis added). The court’s inquiry regarding reunification efforts is therefore narrowly focused, and the court is only obligated to consider “those efforts that are designed and intended to assist the parent in overcoming the applicable statutory grounds for termination.” 853. The Appellate Court found that this interpretation was supported by relevant caselaw.

The court found that the investigation of proposed placement resources for the child does not promote the goal of physically reuniting the parent and child, nor does it promote the goal of assisting the parent to overcome a hurdle relevant to the child protection proceedings. Therefore, that investigation was not a relevant consideration for the trial court’s determination. The Appellate Court further reasoned that, even if such a consideration was relevant, it would not be dispositive, so the respondent’s argument would still fail.