In re Ashley M.

Connecticut Appellate Court

82 Conn. App. 66 (2004)

March 16, 2004

 

In a thoughtful, yet factually contrasting opinion, the Appellate court affirmed the termination of a four year old girl, Ashley, finding that the trial court had appropriately found by clear and convincing evidence that Ashley’s mother had failed to achieve a sufficient degree of rehabilitation that would have enabled her to assume a responsible parental role. In addition, the court refused to entertain the respondent’s contention that the trial court refused to consider evidence dealing with facts arising subsequent to the filing of the termination petition by the Department of Children and Families (“Department”).

The respondent mother endured a long and difficult struggle with substance abuse, culminating in Ashley’s birth in December 1999. In January 2000, the Department moved into the picture by taking custody of Ashley and obtaining an Order of Temporary Custody, as the baby was born exposed to cocaine and marijuana. In February, 2001, the juvenile court committed Ashley to the Department, and in December of 2001, the Department filed its petition to terminate the respondent mother’s parental rights. The court granted the Department’s termination petition in February 2003, and this appeal ensued.

The appellate court tackled two issues raised by Ashley’s mother. First, the mother claimed that the facts presented at trial did not support the conclusion that she did not achieve sufficient rehabilitation as mandated by Conn. Gen. Stat. § 17a-112(j)(3)(B). The overwhelming testimony of three Department social workers and an independent psychologist confirmed by “clear and convincing” evidence that the mother:

  • Did not visit Ashley regularly
  • Failed to keep Department or psychiatric appointments
  • Failed to secure adequate housing or employment
  • Didn’t complete any substance abuse programs – the most essential requirement mandated by the superior court.
  • Did not demonstrate a strong bond with her child – as opposed to the “very caring” relationship exhibited between the foster mother (Ashley’s cousin) and Ashley

In contrast, the respondent mother claimed that she had achieved significant rehabilitation, as indicated by her ability to care for her newborn child, and that she had not used illegal substances over a significant period of time. While the court admitted that the respondent had achieved some degree of rehabilitation (as indicated by a “negative” result on all drug tests), the overwhelming nature of her reluctance to attend substance abuse programs, combined with the lack of consistency in the drug testing arena, met the “clear and convincing” standard.

The second issue presented on appeal was the respondent’s claim that the trial court did not consider facts that arose subsequent to the filing of the termination petition. Here, the appellate court unequivocally found that the court allowed the respondent to present evidence tending to demonstrate that she had achieved rehabilitation – including drug test results, all of which were reflected in the trial court’s findings of fact. In addition, the court rejected the respondent’s final contention that the trial court should have ordered further random drug testing when the Department’s Commissioner refused to do so. In light of the overwhelming evidence of failed substance abuse programs, transience, lack of contact with her daughter, poor judgment and failure to identify and meet her daughter’s emotional needs, the respondent’ sole claim regarding drug testing did not rise to the level of “clearly erroneous,” thus affirming the trials court’s decision.

The case may be accessed by going to the judicial department web site athttp://www.jud.state.ct.us/external/supapp/Cases/AROap/AP82/82ap211.pdf

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