In re Davonta V.

Connecticut Supreme Court

285 Conn. 483

February 12, 2008

 

The fundamental question raised in this interesting appeal of a termination of parental rights is whether it is ever in the child’s best interest to terminate his parental rights when an adoptive family has not been secured and the child maintains a good relationship with his extended biological family. The answer, according to the Supreme Court – is that termination was in the child’s best interest (in this case), despite the factors noted above.

Davonta’s case first reached the Superior Court in 1999, when the Department of Children and Families (Department) commenced a neglect petition alleging educational, medical and physical neglect against Davonta, then a six year old child. After a flurry of activity, the Department sought and received an order of temporary custody in May 2000, and the court adjudicated her neglected in October 2000, whereupon she was committed to the care of the Department and placed in foster care. A petition for termination of parental rights (TPR) followed in December 2002, alleging that Davonta had been denied proper care and attention and that his mother had not achieved personal rehabilitation. After a trial that spanned several months in 2004 and 2005, the court terminated the parents’ parental rights on the aforementioned grounds, and determined that the Department had made reasonable efforts to reunify Davonta with her mom pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 17a-112(j). The appellate court (with a dissenting Judge Schaller) affirmed the termination, and the Supreme Court granted review solely on the issue of whether the trial court correctly applied the appropriate standard of review in the TPR proceeding.

The court based its affirmation on what it considered the overwhelming evidence produced at the trial, including … mom’s repeated absences from Davonta’s life for long periods of time, her multiple placements in foster care, Davonta’s struggle with issues of abandonment and feelings of rejection who remains a “very adoptive child” who “wants to be part of a family.” The court seemed to give great credence and afforded significant weight to the evidence demonstrating that his current (as of the trial) foster placement was stable, loving, long-term permanent and supportive, and that he had expressed wishes to remain with them “forever.” In addition, Davonta expressed no willingness to either meet with or live with his mother.

The crux of the legal analysis fell on the issue of whether the evidence upon which the trial court relied amounted to a clear an convincing showing by the Department that termination of parental rights was in her best interests given the positive relationship he maintained with his biological family – and that adoption by his loving foster family was not guaranteed. As to the first issue – the court upheld the Appellate Court’s holding that the law does not preclude termination of parental rights simply because the adoption of the child is not imminent. Citing a slew of cases affirming the principals that adoption is indeed the preferred outcome, but not a necessary prerequisite for termination, the court would not disturb the trial court’s decision based on the foster parent’s reluctance to proceed ahead with adoption. See e.g. In Re Romance M., 229 Conn. 356 (1993) (long-term stability critical to a child’s future health and development; In re Eden F., 250 Conn. 674 (1999) (adoption provides only one option for obtaining such stability); In re Theresa S., 196 Conn. 18 (1985) (parents’ rights can be terminated without an ensuing adoption).

The court addressed the potential impairment of Davonta’s relationship with other members of his extended family due to the termination by noting that Davonta’s foster parents did not oppose, and in fact, encouraged that he maintain his relationships with his biological family.

Finally, the overriding need for Davonta’s permanency, as confirmed by all testimony at the trial, carried the day in terms of what constituted his best interests in terms of permanence and stability. His experiences with disruption and trauma let the court to conclude that permanence and stability were best ensured through termination of parental rights.

This case may be accessed at www.jud.state.ct.us/external/supapp/Cases/AROcr/CR285/285CR35.pdf (JES 3/08)

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