In re Vanna A.

Connecticut Appellate Court

83 Conn. App. 17 (2004)

May 18, 2004

 

In another termination of parental rights case that focused on the issue of personal rehabilitation, the Connecticut Appellate Court affirmed a trial court’s termination of rights on the strong facts indicating failure to rehabilitate and a mother’s failure to admit that abuse and maltreatment was part of her history with her child.

Vanna A., was first adjudicated neglected at 15 months of age and was placed under protective supervision; her mother retained custody of Vanna but was required to undergo counseling for personal rehabilitation. While still in protective supervision, DCF filed a second neglect petition, this time based on Vanna’s inadequately explained injuries, malnutrition, and improper medical care. With the mother’s agreement, the child was placed in DCF’s custody.

Two days later, the mother filed a motion to revoke Vanna’s commitment to DCF. The motion was denied based on the mother’s continued failure to take responsibility for Vanna’s injuries. The court ordered that she address this responsibility in counseling and initiated a permanency plan calling for eventual reunification. However, when the permanency plan’s goals were not met, a third neglect petition, this time also alleging abuse, was filed. The court again adjudicated Vanna neglected. DCF moved to terminate the mother’s parental rights based on two grounds: (1) failure to rehabilitate and (2) the lack of a parent-child relationship.

After a contested hearing, the court terminated the mother’s parental rights based on four conclusions: (1) DCF had made reasonable efforts to reunite the family; (2) the mother did not achieve sufficient personal rehabilitation to satisfy CONN. GEN. STAT. §17a-112(j)(3)(B); (3) there was no parent-child relationship for purposes of CONN. GEN. STAT. §17a-112(j)(3)(D); and (4) it was in the best interest of Vanna to have the mother’s parental rights terminated. On appeal, the four conclusions made by the trial court were affirmed along with the decision to terminate parental rights.

The appellate court reasoned that the evidence presented by DCF during the hearing was sufficient to support the finding that the mother failed to achieve personal rehabilitation. The court stated that for purposes of §17a-112(j)(3)(B), in order to determine if personal rehabilitation has been reached,

 

the trial court [must] analyze the [parent’s] rehabilitative status as it relates to the needs of the particular child, and further, that such rehabilitation must be foreseeable within a reasonable time…. The statute requires the court to find by clear and convincing evidence that the parent’s level of rehabilitation is less than that which would encourage a belief that he or she can assume a responsible position in the child’s life within a reasonable time…[I]f the parent produces sufficient evidence to encourage the belief that rehabilitation is foreseeable within a reasonable time, the court cannot find by clear and convincing evidence that such rehabilitation cannot be achieved. [1]

As evidence that rehabilitation had not been achieved nor was foreseeable in the near future, the court focused on the fact that the mother was unable to take responsibility for Vanna’s injuries and had been incarcerated on at least three occasions. In fact, heavy reliance was placed on the fact that even on the filing date of the petition to terminate her rights, the mother was in jail. The court saw her continued involvement with the criminal justice system as a “lack of insight in to the importance of meeting that step toward unification with her child…[B]y her actions, the [mother] elevated her desires over the child’s need for her as a mother.” [2] In addition, the court noted that the finding that the mother did not reach personal rehabilitation was sufficient grounds to also support the trial court’s conclusion that there was no parent-child relationship between Vanna and her mother.

In order to support the finding that it was in Vanna’s best interest to terminate the mother’s parental rights, the court looked to Conn. Gen. Stat. §17a-221(k) which requires that the trial court make written findings about the seven factors listed in the statute. Although the court made this written finding, the mother argued that reasonable efforts at reunification were not made because DCF only provided her with referrals for counseling without directly providing an actual service as required. The appellate court did not agree. It stated that DCF made every effort to arrange services for the mother in order for ‘her’ to address her issues. These services failed not because they were not the direct services of DCF, but because the mother was unable to admit that she had a problem or that she had abused Vanna. Because she could not make this admission, if there was reunification, it was likely that Vanna would again be subjected to abuse.

The case may be accessed by going to the Judicial Branch web site athttp://www.jud.state.ct.us/external/supapp/Cases/AROap/AP83/83ap290.pdf

Johanna Gordon, Legal Intern (7/04)

[1] (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted), p. 23.
[2] P. 24

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