In re Shaiesha O.

Connecticut Appellate Court

93 Conn. App. 42 (2006)

January 3, 2006

 

Historically speaking, Connecticut’s appellate courts have demonstrated a strong predilection to affirm judgments terminating parental rights of parents in child protection proceedings. In a rare exception to form, the Appellate Court overturned a trial court’s termination of parental rights in In re Shaiesha O and directed a judgment in favor of a defendant father. Describing its task as “Herculean,” the court found that because the Department of Children and Families (“Department”) had “failed, completely,” in its responsibility to make reasonable efforts to reunify the defendant father with his daughter Shaiesha, it had no choice but to enter judgment in favor of the father.

The Department invoked a 96 hour hold and obtained an order of temporary custody from the Juvenile Court shortly after Shaeisha’s birth in April 2002. In August 2002, the court adjudicated Shaiesha neglected and placed her in the custody of her mother in an inpatient substance abuse program. The Department sought and re-obtained custody in December 2002, and then, in a strange turn of events on December 10, 2002, Shaeisha’s mother indicated that the man she originally identified as Shaeisha’s father was not in fact her father, but that the respondent was her birth father. In March 2003, the Department notified the respondent, and paternity tests confirmed this assertion on June 10, 2003. Incredibly, on June 3, 2003, one week prior to learning the results of the paternity test, the Department filed a TPR petition against both the mother andthe newly discovered father. The court terminated both parents’ rights in September 2004 after a five day hearing.

The crux of the appeal focused on the nature and extent of the Department’s reunification efforts. In an important finding, the court indicated that the trial court is required, in the adjudicatory phase of the TPR proceeding, to make its assessment regarding reunification on the basis of events “preceding the date on which the termination petition was filed.” Citing Practice Book § 35a-7(a), the court found that the trial court did not make the requisite finding, and the record would not have supported such a finding if offered. Citing the Department’s dilatory conduct after Shaeisha’s mother revealed the respondent to be Shaeisha’s actual father. In addition, the Department social worker testified that the first contact she had with the father regarding a possible placement plan for Shaiesha was after the filing of the TPR petition. The social worker indicated that the Department would not foster a relationship between the two until paternity was scientifically established. The appellate court, while somewhat sympathetic to this rationale, remained unconvinced because of the absence of effort to reunify the two parties. Ironically, the Department admitted that it facilitated visitation and reunification efforts on behalf of the individual first identified as Shaeisha’s father prior to the paternity test that indicated he was not Shaeisha’s father.

The case is notable in that, according to child protection experts, it is the first to expressly say that the question of whether DCF made reasonable efforts, in the context of a TPR case, must be determined as of the date the petition was filed. While that conclusion is implicit in earlier decisions, neither the state Supreme nor Appellate court has come out and said it until this case.

The case may be accessed by going to the state Judicial Department website at:www.jud.state.ct.us/external/supapp/Cases/AROap/AP93/93AP103.pdf (JES)

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