In re Patricia C.

Connecticut Appellate Court

93 Conn. App. 25 (2006)

January 3, 2006

 

One of the most difficult questions in the child protection realm is whether poverty – specifically the lack of quality, affordable housing (with appropriate furnishings), is a ground upon which the state can remove children and maintain commitment. In Patricia C., the Appellate Court indicated that the lack of appropriate housing conditions, coupled with an indication of a mother’s inadequate attempt to seek reunification with her children, were sufficient grounds to maintain commitment and affirm a permanency plan that included long-term foster care. In addition, the court affirmed a trial court’s denial of a motion to revoke commitment despite the questionable legal adequacy of the trial court’s decision.

The state Department of Children and Families (“Department”) removed the respondent mother’s two minor children via an order of temporary custody in March 2000. Subsequently, the juvenile court adjudicated the children to be neglected in August 2000 and committed the children to the custody of the Department. The commitment was extended on several occasions. In May 2004, the trial court held a hearing with respect to the Department’s motion to maintain commitment – as well as the respondent’s motion to revoke the commitment. At the time, the mother claimed she had met the criteria for reunification – specifically that she had obtained adequate housing and maintained weekly contact with the children by way of daylong Sunday visits. Per oral decision, the trial court determined that although the respondent had obtained an appropriate sized domicile (two bedroom apartment), the respondent failed to obtain sufficient furniture. Due to the lack of appropriate furniture, and because the respondent had not actively sought reunification with her children, the court concluded it would be in the children’s best interest to remain with their foster family, and approved the permanency plan thereby denying the mother’s motion to revoke the commitment.

The appellate court reviewed the record and affirmed the trials court’s position holding that the court did not abuse its discretion in finding that it was in the best interests of the children to remain in the custody of the foster parents. However – from a legal standpoint, the appellate court maintained that in order to revoke commitment, the respondent needed to first prove that no cause for commitment existed, and that the Department failed to meet its “best interest” burden. Here, the trial court failed to explain, either in its original oral decision or upon a motion for articulation, whether a cause for commitment continued to exist. Rather than remand the case back to the trial court for such an articulation, however, the appellate court moved directly to the second prong of the appellate review test, finding that on the basis of the trial court’s clear and unequivocal findings that it was in the best interest for the children to remain with their foster parents. In an interesting footnote, the court indicated that the trial court’s duty is to “first identify the basis for its factual finding with respect to the issue of whether a cause for commitment exists.” Then, the court indicates that “[o]nly if it finds that the party seeking the revocation of the commitment has proven that no cause for commitment exists should the court then proceed …” to the “best interest” prong. Yet after implicitly chastising the trial court in this case for failing to include “all of the necessary factual findings …” – the appellate court ignores its own dicta and proceeds ahead to solely examine the “best interest” factor.

The court proceeds to affirm the trial court’s decision based on two social studies introduced and social worker testimony adduced at the hearing. The critical evidence that carried the day appeared to be the instability surrounding the housing and house furnishings, combined with the mother’s lack of employment and her unwillingness to seek counseling for depression.

The case may be found on the Judicial Branch’s website by going to:www.jud.state.ct.us/external/supapp/Cases/AROap/AP93/93AP100.pdf

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