In re Jazmyn B.

Connecticut Appellate Court

May 25, 2010

 

APPEAL OF TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS

In this novel appeal of a termination of parental rights decision, the appellate court rejected the respondent father’s claim that the trial court erroneously found that he had failed to achieve a sufficient degree of personal rehabilitation and that C.G.S. § 17a-112 (j) (3) (B) was unconstitutionally vague as applied to him.

Baby Jazmyn was committed to DCF’s care as a newborn. The respondent father was later identified through court-ordered paternity testing. Despite an extensive criminal record and a court evaluator’s recommendation that reunification with the father was a risky prospect, the court ordered specific steps for reunification. DCF and the court subsequently acknowledged the father’s progress with services and a reunification plan was proposed. After an unsupervised overnight visit, Jazmyn, now three years old, stated that the father had improperly touched her private parts during a bath. Although the allegation of sexual abuse was unsubstantiated by DCF, the father was asked to seek counseling related to the incident. He declined to do so. DCF ultimately filed for TPR due to the father’s failure to participate in appropriate recommended counseling to facilitate reunification. The trial court held that DCF failed to prove the “omission/commission” ground for TPR and also failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the father molested his daughter. However, the trial court did find that the father’s failure to engage in individual therapy and/or sexual offender treatment was evidence of his failure to rehabilitate adequate to parent Jazmyn. Both a court appointed evaluator and an evaluator who specialized in the assessment and treatment of sex offenders recommended individual counseling for the father if only for him to understand the behavior he engaged in which made his daughter uncomfortable. The appellate court therefore held that there was sufficient evidence to support a finding that the father failed to rehabilitate.

The appellate court also rejected the respondent’s contention that § 17a-112 (j) (3)(B) was unconstitutionally vague as applied to him because it failed to put him on notice that if he disagreed with a referral for sexual offender treatment and individual therapy, and consequently refused to attend such treatment, that his parental rights could be terminated. The appellate court cited Supreme Court precedent holding that ‘‘[i]n determining whether a parent has achieved sufficient personal rehabilitation, a court may consider whether the parent has corrected the factors that led to the initial commitment, regardless of whether those factors were included in specific expectations ordered by the court or imposed by the department. . . . Accordingly, successful completion of expressly articulated expectations is not sufficient to defeat a department claim that the parent has not achieved sufficient rehabilitation.’’

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