In re Ryan R.

Connecticut Appellate Court

July 24, 2007

In this “failure to rehabilitate” TPR appeal, the court affirmed the termination of the mother’s parental rights and concluded that DCF had made reasonable efforts to reunify her with her child. The record indicated that the mother had a history with DCF dating back 10 years and had struggled with domestic violence, mental illness and substance abuse. While the record indicated that the mother successfully completed one recovery program and demonstrated a certain amount of insight in therapy, her record of recovery was extremely spotty. She failed to complete one substance abuse program and failed to show for all scheduled drug screens. In the early fall of 2003, she began missing visits with her child and then dropped off of DCF’s radar screen altogether. In November, 2003, DCF discovered that the mother had been arrested and incarcerated on insurance fraud charges, and was facing a maximum sentence of five years in jail. While in prison, the mother apparently successfully completed certain service programs. Evidence at trial also indicated that the mother had a demonstrative bond with her son and displayed genuine love and nurturance for him.

Despite the mother’s belated compliance with services, the appellate court held that the trial reasonably considered the mother’s history of relapse and the testimony of an expert witness who opined that the mother had a high risk of substance abuse and would not be in a position to responsibly parent in the near future. The appellate court also affirmed the trial court’s decision that termination was in the best interests of the child despite evidence of the loving relationship between the mother and Ryan R. The court cited multiple cases holding that “even when there is a finding of a bond between parent and a child, it still may be in the child’s best interest to terminate parental rights.”

Ryan R. highlights the need for parents to show signs of significant rehabilitation early and throughout the life of a case. Belated compliance with services and specific steps may not negate the court’s impression that the parent failed to truly “rehabilitate.” The decision also notes the connection between the “failure to rehabilitate” finding and the “best interests” finding. Here, despite the acknowledged bond between parent and child, the court found that the mother’s lack of sustained progress with services militated in favor of a conclusion that termination was in the best interests of her child.

A noteworthy aspect of this relatively straightforward case is the footnoted comment by the appellate court expressing doubt as to whether a minor is a party to a termination proceeding with a corresponding right of appeal. However, Connecticut Practice Book § 32a-1 clearly provides that the child or youth has the right of confrontation and cross-examination and may be represented by counsel “in each and every phase of any and all proceedings in juvenile matters, including appeals” and that “[t]he judicial counsel shall appoint counsel for these parties … in the case of counsel for the child, whether a request is made or not, in any proceeding on a juvenile matter in which the custody of a child is at issue…”. (Emphasis added.) Additionally, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-129a provides unequivocally that the child “shall be represented by counsel knowledgeable about representing such children…”. Despite the appellate court’s uncertainty regarding this issue, the court’s footnote goes on to note the recent Supreme Court holding that ‘‘[i]n cases involving parental rights, the rights of the child coexist and are intertwined with those of the parent, [and] [t]he legal disposition of the parent’s rights with respect to the child necessarily affects and alters the rights of the child with respect to his or her parent.’’ (quoting In re Christina M., 280 Conn. 474 (2006)). The court concluded, however, that the issue was presently moot as the parent and child raised the same issues on appeal.

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