In re Elvin G. et. al.

In re Elvin G. et. al. , 301 Conn. 485, 78 A.3d 797 (2013)

Supreme Court of Connecticut

November 12, 2013

TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS, INCARCERATION, FAILURE TO REHABILITATE

Respondent Father appealed from the judgment of the trial court terminating his parental rights with regard to his two children, Elvin and Kadahfi, on the grounds that DCF had never issued him specific steps to aid in reunification, which is a prerequisite to termination of parental rights based on a parent’s failure to rehabilitate.  The appeal was transferred to the Supreme Court.

The undisputed facts at trial were that respondent had been incarcerated for all but five weeks of Kadahfi’s life and all of Elvin’s life except for a period of less than one year.  Those periods occurred while both of the children were infants. The children had been removed from mother’s care and although she was issued specific steps by the court, no specific steps were ever issued for father.  At the time of the termination hearing, the children were 10 and 9 years old.  Father had several convictions during the children’s lives, resulting in incarceration, for offenses relating to drugs, escape from a halfway house, and a federal crime of possession of a stolen firearm.  While incarcerated, DCF took the children to visit father monthly at a prison in New York, until father had his visitation privileges suspended due to a positive drug screen.  Subsequently, father was moved to federal prisons in Oklahoma, Arizona and California.

By the termination hearing, the children had been in DCF custody for 5 years and father had no hopes of release from prison for several years.  The trial court terminated father’s parental rights pursuant to General Statutes §17a-112 (j)(3)(B)(i), and concluded that specific steps are only required under section (ii) of General Statutes §17a-122 (j)(3)(B).

The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment terminating respondent’s parental rights, but disagreed with the trial court’s reasoning. The Court held that specific steps are required under both section of 17a-112 (j)(3)(B)(i) and (ii), but in this case, specific steps would not have assisted with father’s failure to rehabilitate so the failure to provide specific steps was harmless error.  While termination based on incarceration alone is not permissible, in this case father’s long term and continuous absence from his children’s lives and the inability of DCF to offer or monitor any services that might aid in reunification constituted a failure to rehabilitate.

Zoe Stout (1/2014)

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