In re Kristy A.

Connecticut Appellate Court

83 Conn. App. 298 (2004)

June 8, 2004

 

The Appellate Court weighed in on a termination of parental rights case by affirming a termination where issues of personal rehabilitation and vagueness in statutory application were reviewed.

This case was to resolve the custody issue of two of the respondent’s children, a daughter born in April 1996 and a son born in April 1999. The neglect petitions were filed by the Department of Children and Families Commissioner in November 2001 after the respondent, the mother of the two children, had been sentenced to jail for a period of five years on a count of burglary in the first degree [1]. This conviction was the last in a long line of illegal acts leading to incarceration, including thirteen arrests and six incarcerations in Massachusetts for various alcohol and drug related offenses. The children were in foster care and had begun to build a loving relationship with their foster parents, who they even called “mom” and “dad.” The foster parents wanted to adopt the children.

In addition, when the respondent mother was ordered by the court to participate in a rehabilitation program, she did participate. However, the court found that she had failed to adhere to many of the rehabilitation requirements, including independent substance abuse counseling and individual mental health counseling. In terminating the mother’s rights for reasons of neglect, the court found by clear and convincing evidence that:

 

  1. “the respondent had failed to achieve such degree of personal rehabilitation as would encourage a belief that within a reasonable time, given the ages, and needs for stability and permanency of both children, she could assume a responsible position in their lives”;
  2. “the petitioner had proven by clear and convincing evidence that no ongoing parent-child relationship… existed…”;
  3. “to allow additional time for the establishment or reestablishment of a positive parent-child relationship would not be in the best interest of either child”; and
  4. “it was in the best interest of the children to terminate the respondent’s parental rights” according to the statutory factors of §17a-112(k).

In applying the traditional “clearly erroneous” standard of review, the court rejected the respondent’s two challenges to the trial court’s rulings that respondent had not achieved sufficient personal rehabilitation and that there was no ongoing parent-child relationship [2].

The respondent’s main argument against the ruling that she had not achieved personal rehabilitation was that the court, in ruling on the criminal matters, had outlined specific steps that she needed to comply with in order to remain out of jail and regain custody of her children. These included finding a job, attending drug rehabilitation counseling, addressing her mental health issues, etc. The court found that she only did these things because they were court ordered; as soon as the court order ran out, the respondent did nothing to ensure that she remained off of drugs and alcohol and remained employed and out of jail.

The court stated that she complied with the court orders for her needs only, and not because she wished to regain custody of her children. The court found that the respondent had no motivation to remain clean and sober and out of legal trouble and therefore had not reached sufficient personal rehabilitation that would allow her to care for these two children. In support of this the appellate court stated

 

Personal rehabilitation refers to the reasonable foreseeability of the restoration of a parent to his or her former constructive and useful role as a parent, not merely the ability to manage his or her own life…In determining whether a parent has achieved sufficient personal rehabilitation, a court ay consider whether the parent has corrected the factors that led to the initial commitment …

Furthermore, §17a-112(j) specifically states that court ordered steps for rehabilitation are only to “facilitate” reunion of parent and child, not to guarantee it. The court outlines what it thinks the parent needs to do in order regain the child’s custody, and the parent can go through the steps of that plan as they are mandated; however, there is nothing that can force the parent to adopt the behaviors that are taught. Attending the programs simply is not enough; the parent must also show that he or she has adopted the behaviors and beliefs taught in those programs.

Displaying an unusually vituperative tone, the court dismissed the respondent’s argument that her due process claim was not preserved at trial because the claim was not briefed adequately. The court lashed out at the quality of the brief, finding that the respondent had cited vagueness challenges to § 117a-12(j)(3)(B) by taking “a rather cut-and-paste approach to the facts, language and holding of [other states’ and Connecticut cases].” The rather ad hominem attack seemingly contradicts the lauding tone of the same court’s praise of identical counsel who authored and argued Alexander T., 81 Conn. App. 668 (2004), where the court indicated that commendations were due for the “counsel for the … respondent . . . for their excellent briefs and oral arguments.” Id. at 669.

This case may be accessed by going to the Judicial Branch website athttp://www.jud.state.ct.us/external/supapp/Cases/AROap/AP83/83ap343.pdf
(Johanna Gordon, Legal Intern 7/04)


[1] Mom, while high on cocaine, had robbed a store and held up the store clerk, a 70 year old elderly man, at knife point before cutting him with it.
[2] The latter of the two challenges is not addressed since the first is dispositive of the case.

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