In re Jonathan C.

Connecticut Appellate Court

86 Conn. App. 169 (2004)

November 23, 2004

 

The Appellate court routinely affirmed the termination of parental rights in a case that thoroughly addressed whether the mother demonstrated the willingness or ability to benefit from reunification efforts. In Jonathan C., the court relayed the long and difficult history that befell the three children involved, and their respondent mother’s (“respondent”) inability to provide a safe, appropriate home environment.

The respondent, a thirty-one year old mother of three, first became the object of the Department of Children and Families’ (“Department”) scrutiny in July 1999 after investigating allegations of significant parental and grand-parental neglect. The respondent herself was a childhood victim of sexual and physical abuse, as well as physical neglect. In July 1999, her three children were eight, six and two years of age.

The Department removed the children and successfully obtained an ex-parte order of temporary custody (“OTC”), but proceeded to return the children to the respondent’s care in August 1999. Unfortunately, the respondent failed to adhere to court proscriptions, and the Department once again successfully obtained an OTC in December 1999. Upon completion of successful parenting classes, the juvenile court returned the children to the respondent’s care in April 2000, with specific instructions and steps designed to assist the respondent in facilitating reunification. After once again failing to adhere to these court orders, the Department filed OTC motions, placed the children in relative foster care, and petitioned the court for termination of parental rights (“TPR”) in December 2001. After an eleven-day trial, the court terminated the respondent’s parental rights in February 2003.

On appeal, the respondent argued that (1) the court improperly concluded that she was unable or unwilling to benefit from reunification efforts, and that (2) the court improperly concluded that the Department made reasonable efforts to reunify her with her children. On the first issue, the appellate court carefully recounted a number of the evidentiary points from the trial court’s forty-eight page memorandum of decision, all of which demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence that the respondent had repeatedly ignored or rebuffed the Department’s efforts aimed at providing services, guidance and support. Specifically, the decision notes the respondent’s failure to secure safe and adequate housing; secure employment to provide subsistence income; failure to attend regular review meetings; continued denial of responsibility for the children’s problems; failure to regularly submit to random drug testing and substance abuse treatment; failure to participate in family and parenting counseling; failure to cooperate with the children’s therapists and educational providers; etc., all contributed to the conclusion that she was unable and/or unwilling to benefit from reunification efforts. And while the respondent complied with some of the steps, she failed to comply with many others, including recording ten different addresses between 1994 and 2000, and repeatedly leaving her children with their maternal grandmother in violation of a specific court order.

The court also dismissed the respondent’s second claim (failure to reunify) based on the notion that pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 17a-112(j), a showing of unwillingness or inability to pursue reunification meets the state’s burden regarding the reunification issue. Furthermore, the court opined that the overwhelming evidence in this case provided ample support for the notion that the Department made reasonable efforts to reunify.

The case is available on line at the Judicial Branch website by going to
www.state.ct.us/judicial. 

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