In re Sarah O.

Connecticut Appellate Court

April 26, 2011

TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS/ POST TRIAL EVIDENCE/GOLDING/REASONABLE EFFORTS/FAILURE TO REHABILITATE

In this termination appeal, the respondent mother challenged 1) the trial court’s finding that she failed to rehabilitate; 2) that DCF made reasonable efforts to reunify her with her daughter; 3) that TPR was in her daughter’s best interests. The respondent also challenged the court’s reliance on a post trial position statement from the child’s attorney which contained new information regarding the child’s post-trial situation. The last claim was submitted for Golding or “plain error” review as there was no objection to the statement during post trial proceedings.

The appellate court upheld the lower court’s “failure to rehabilitate” finding, noting that although there was evidence the respondent maintained sobriety from drugs and alcohol for an extended period of time prior to trial, and that she participated in individual therapy and regular visitation, that she still failed to make adequate progress in developing insight into her mental health problems and how her history of substance abuse affected her child. Additionally, the appellate court relied heavily on the trial court’s conclusions regarding the mother’s persistent failure to secure adequate housing. The mother, prior to the TPR proceeding, had moved in with the maternal grandparents, a home that DCF repeatedly found to be physically unsuitable for reunification with the child. The trial court faulted the respondent for failing to make efforts to secure alternative housing while her child remained in non-relative foster care.

The appellate court held that DCF made reasonable efforts to reunify the respondent with her daughter despite the mother’s contention that DCF failed to refer her for individual therapy and failed to directly assist her with securing adequate housing. The court, upon review of the record, noted that the respondent successfully secured individual counseling on her own and that her failure to make substantial progress in therapy was not the fault of the Department. Additionally, the court stated that DCF had encouraged the mother to avail herself of other community housing alternatives and had made a DSS referral. The mother failed to capitalize on any alternative housing options.

Finally, the court rejected the mother’s contention that the consideration of the child’s attorney’s post trial submission, which clearly included new evidence not introduced at trial, constituted a manifest injustice or violation of the mother’s rights under the Golding standard. The court deemed the error harmless in light of the already ample evidence in the record of the mother’s failure to rehabilitate and the child’s best interests in the case.

 

 

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