In re Brianna C.

Connecticut Appellate Court

98 Conn. App. 797 (2006)

December 26, 2006

 

The Appellate Court affirmed an adjudication of neglect in the interesting case of Brianna C., where the main reason for removal and foster care placement was the father’s paranoid schizophrenia resulting in psychotic episodes. The child was born in September 2004, and the Department of Children and Families (“Department”) removed her in early October 2004, after the respondent mother voluntarily went to a domestic violence shelter with her infant, leaving the psychotic father and her home behind. At the shelter, the mother informed the Department’s social worker that she was afraid of the child’s father (with whom she resided) because of the father’s psychiatric condition, for which he stopped taking his medication. Despite the mother’s voluntary action, the Department filed its neglect petition and removed Brianna pursuant to an ex parte order of temporary custody in late December 2004.

At the commitment trial, the court agreed with the Department that although the child was not at anytime in immediate physical danger – the child was neglected and therefore should be committed to the Department. The Gravamen of the petition stemmed from the Department’s concerns for the baby’s well-being, emanating from the father’s failure to adequately treat his psychiatric condition, coupled with the mother’s failure to recognize that the father’s behavior could be hazardous to the child and her inability to protect the child adequately from the father’s actions. It was apparently the potential for harm to the child due to the father’s un-medicated condition – not any harm actually realized, that convinced the court to order the commitment.

The first issue presented on appeal was whether the court abused its discretion in finding that it was in the child’s best interest to commit her to the Department. Both the mother and the child’s attorney argued that even after an adjudication of neglect, the trial court should have allowed the mother to retain custody of Brianna with protective supervision. The appellate court would not substitute its discretion for the trial court – choosing to avoid answering the question of whether a constant twenty-four hour per day, year-round relationship with the mother, with the potential possibility that she would be unable to prevent injury at the father’s hands, outweighed the eight hours of daily unsupervised visits that the mother was granted. Choosing the “better” solution, the court found that the father’s previous unpredictability, and the severity of his psychiatric condition, allowed it to affirm the difficult decision rendered by the trial court.

The court also agreed that the Department had made reasonable efforts to keep the child with the respondent mother before seeking custody. Despite noting that the trial court found that the Department “didn’t do everything that it reasonably could have done to prevent removal from the home,” the court cited a litany of programs and services offered to the mother by the Department, the sum total of which equated to a “reasonable effort” in this case.

This case may be found on the Judicial Branch website at http://www.jud.state.ct.us/external/supapp/Cases/AROap/AP98/98ap73.pdf

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