January 29, 2010
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
These actions are brought by The Department of Children and Families ("DCF" or "Petitioner") seeking to terminate the parental rights of the biological mother and the biological father of Khloe J. (hereinafter referred to as "Khloe J." or "the child"). The biological mother of this child is Tanyara S. (hereinafter referred to as "Tanyara S." or "Mother") and the biological father is Juan J., (hereinafter referred to as "Juan J." or "Father").
On 8/1/08, DCF invoked a 96-hour hold on behalf of the above-named child. On 8/5/08, a Neglect Petition and Motion for Order of Temporary custody was filed on behalf of the child with the Superior Court for Juvenile Matters in Hartford. An OTC was granted on 8/5/08, and sustained on 8/15/08. On 10/27/08 (as to Father) and on 2/3/09 (as to Mother), the child was adjudicated neglected and was committed to the care and custody of the Department of Children and Families.
On 6/16/09, the Superior Court for Juvenile Matters at Hartford approved a permanency plan of termination of parental rights and adoption.
On 10/2/09, Petitions to Terminate Parental Rights of Tanyara S. and Juan J. were filed.
On 10/29/09, the Court confirmed abode service on Father and in-hand service on Mother. Father and Mother were present, were advised and Father applied for an attorney.
On 12/8/09, the motion of the AAG to modify visitation was granted and a trial date of 1/13/10 was ordered. Thereafter, on 1/13/10, the date set for trial, the court canvassed Mother and found that she knowingly and voluntarily consented to the termination with the assistance of competent counsel. The court found such termination as to Mother was in the best interest of the child by clear and convincing evidence, and the trial as to Father commenced.
At the time of trial, counsel for DCF submitted four exhibits (A-D). Two witnesses testified for DCF and Father testified on his own behalf.
The court finds that there is no action pending in any other court affecting custody of this child and that this court has jurisdiction in this matter.
The grounds of the Petition for TPR as to the biological Father, Juan J., are Failure to Rehabilitate, Abandonment and No Ongoing Parent-Child Relationship.
The court has applied the burden of proof applicable to the Termination of Parental Rights aid Neglect Petitions, has reviewed the Neglect Petition and the social studies and exhibits that were submitted in evidence. The court has utilized the applicable legal standards in considering the evidence and the testimony of any witnesses.
I FACTUAL FINDINGS A. Background/Present Situation/Reasons for Petition
On 8/1/09, a 96-hour hold was invoked and petitions of neglect were filed by the Department of Children and Families (DCF), State of Connecticut in Superior Court for Juvenile Matters on behalf of Khloe J. On 10/2/09, DCF filed a Termination of Parental Rights with regard to Mother and Father.
Khloe J. was born on 1/5/06 and tested positive for opiates and methadone. She was hospitalized for eighteen days to detox due to methadone withdrawal and received morphine sulfate for stabilization.
On 1/22/06, Khloe J. was removed from her Mother's care under a 96-hour hold. On 1/26/06, DCF filed neglect/uncared for petitions and on 2/9/06, the court ordered that due to Mother's pending criminal charges, she would go to the Elm City Shelter as an alternative to incarceration. She was on probation for possession of a crack pipe, possession of narcotics and interfering with a police officer. On 4/4/06, Mother was placed with her daughter, Khloe J. at the Crossroads In-Patient Drug treatment Facility in New Haven, CT. Due to Mother successfully completing treatment and securing housing, Khloe J. was returned to her care under six months of Protective Supervision from 6/29/06 to 12/5/06. Mother's Protective Supervision lapsed due to her compliance and the case was closed.
On 8/1/08, a 96-hour hold was invoked for Khloe J. because Mother had gone on a drug binge and abandoned her child.
On 10/27/08, Khloe J. was adjudicated neglected/uncared for in the Superior Court for Juvenile Matters at Hartford. Mother's whereabouts were unknown from 8/1/08 until 10/28/08. DCF was informed of Mother's incarceration at York Correctional Institution on 10/28/08.
Mother has been unemployed since her release from prison on 1/9/09. She was scheduled to begin a job search upon completion of an Intensive Outpatient Treatment Program, but has failed to secure legal income as required. She has also failed to secure adequate housing.
At the time of adjudication, Mother's presenting problems were abandonment, substance abuse, and mental health issues.
Juan J. was incarcerated prior to Khloe J.'s birth on 1/5/06, and is currently on probation effective 9/14/08 until 9/14/11. He reports to Adult Probation monthly. The current conditions of his probation are substance abuse treatment and drug testing. His probation officer reports that any positive toxicology screen would be a violation of his probation.
On 5/27/09, Tanyara S. was incarcerated for possession of narcotics and was to serve a 2 1/2-year sentence. Her whereabouts were unknown from 2/28/09 until the date of her incarceration. She participated in the Fresh Start Residential Drug Treatment program from 1/12/09 until 2/28/09, at which time she was discharged due to noncompliance as she did not return to the program following a daily pass.
Juan J. is currently residing in Hartford with paternal grandparents. In July 2009, DCF substantiated physical neglect of Father's newborn son with his girlfriend due to Father's substance abuse issues. He has complied with the conditions of his probation and has been testing negative for substances. He is currently unemployed.
Khloe J. has been in the same placement since her removal in August 2008. She identifies her foster mother as her psychological parent. This is a single-parent household and foster mother has two biological children, both older than Khloe J. She is current with medical and dental care and has had a speech assessment due to difficulty with enunciating some words. She had a Birth to Three evaluation in 2008, however she was ruled ineligible for services. Khloe J. attends Kinder Care daycare and she is thriving in her foster home. Her foster mother is willing to adopt her once she becomes legally free for adoption.
A DCF social worker was assigned to this case on 11/6/09 and met Father at a case status conference on 11/18/09. He has been unemployed since his release from prison in 2005. He resides with his elderly parents and their residence is unable to accommodate Khloe J. Father stopped attending ADRC for substance abuse treatment as he did not like a member of the staff named "Steve." During this status conference, Father requested visitation with Khloe J. and was advised that Khloe J.'s attorney was opposed to visitation since Father had not visited with his daughter since May 2009. On 12/2/09, Father attended a court hearing with regard to visitation and it was determined that it was not in Khloe J.'s best interest to continue visitation with Father. He has not contacted the DCF social worker since 11/20/09.
DCF submitted Interstate compact paperwork to have Juan J.'s adult daughter, Johanna S. assessed as a potential placement resource. This social worker spoke with her in detail as to Khloe J. and the licensing process on several occasions. On 12/2/09, the paperwork was submitted to the DCF Hartford ICPC office. On 1/4/10, Johanna J. contacted the social worker and stated that she and her family had decided to allow Khloe J. to remain with her current foster family, the only family that she has known. On 1/8/10, the Department of Human Services submitted a letter via email indicating the above information.
Mother has been provided with monthly supervised visits with Khloe J. at York Correctional. She is appropriate during her interactions with the child. The social worker supervised a two-hour visit with Mother and Khloe J. on 1/11/10 at York Correctional. At the start of the visit, Khloe J. sat in her Mother's lap and stated that she wanted her "brown mommy." Mother explained to her daughter that the visit was with her and she would see her other mommy later. Khloe J. interacted appropriately during the remainder of the visit, however, during the ride back to daycare, Khloe J. continued to repeat that she wanted her "brown mommy." When she arrived at daycare, she continued to cry for her foster mother. Tanyara S. has been approved to attend a halfway house in Connecticut and is waiting to be matched.
Khloe J. has been placed in her current foster home since 8/1/08. She is very attached to her foster mother and seeks her affection, attention and comfort. She refers to her as "mommy" and appears happy and comfortable in her care. The foster mother is willing to adopt Khloe J. if she becomes legally free for adoption.
B. Mother, Tanyara S.
Tanyara S. was born on 9/22/71, to Linda J. and Robert S. She is the younger of two children. Her family has been involved with DCF since 1978. In 1982, Mother was removed from her parents' care and placed in DCF custody. She and her sister were left unattended and were sexually abused by their biological father and maternal grandmother's boyfriend. Maternal grandfather was a victim of sexual abuse by his biological mother when he was 8 years old, and from a teacher when he was 9 years old. Mother and her sibling, Beth S., remained in DCF care until 1987, when both were able to live independently.
Tanyara S. has an extensive history with the Department dating back to 1997 due to issues of domestic violence, physical abuse and ongoing substance abuse. She has seven children, none of whom are in her care due to her chronic substance abuse. Her rights to her oldest child, Krystal, were terminated. Her second child, Victoria, was placed for adoption/transfer of guardianship in February 1990. Her third and fourth children, Mysti and Demara, live with their father. Mother's fifth child, Amy, was placed with the paternal grandmother through the East Windsor Probate Court on 1/7/99. Abigail, mother's sixth child, was born in 2001 and was removed a few weeks later by DCF. A co-termious petition was filed and withdrawn after Mother had four clean toxicology screens in a row as ordered by the court. The case was subsequently closed after the child was returned home. Abigail's guardianship was transferred in probate court to paternal relatives on 1/14/03. Mother's seventh child, Khloe J., was born on 1/5/06, exposed to opiates and showing signs of methadone withdrawal. Khloe J. was initially removed from Mother's care on 1/22/06, returned to her Mother on 6/29/06 and removed again on 8/1/08.
Mother is a convicted felon with a criminal history dating back to May 2004. Charges include Possession of Narcotics, Failure to Appear and Probation Violation, arrest on 8/20/04 for Larceny 5; and 6/5/08 for Criminal Trespassing and Disorderly Conduct, both of which charges were nolled. Mother is currently serving a two-year prison sentence, with a maximum release date of 9/9/11, for a felony conviction for Possession of Narcotics.
Mother has never served in the United States Armed Services.
C. Father, Juan J.
Juan J. was born in Puerto Rico to Juan J., Sr. and Carmen J. who are still married. Two of his siblings are deceased and the remaining four all reside in Connecticut. His paternal grandparents emigrated from Puerto Rico in 1967. Juan J. has a good relationship with his parents and siblings and did not acknowledge any substance abuse, mental health issues, or domestic violence between his parents during his childhood.
Juan J. had a normal childhood and was in good health with no specialized needs. He completed the 9th grade as a mainstream education student and is currently enrolled in Adult Education.
Father has a history of substance abuse with his drug of choice being marijuana which he started using in his early 20s due to depression. He received mental health services and had been prescribed Zoloft.
Juan J. has never been married, but he has three children, two of whom, Jahira and Joharina J., reside in Rochester, New York. On 5/5/06, he acknowledged paternity of Khloe J.
Juan J. is currently unemployed. His employment history consists of odds jobs where he was mostly employed "under the table." He has never served in the United States Armed Services.
Juan J. has a criminal record dating back to 9/5/05 for charges of Possession of Narcotics, Sale of Hallucigens and Intent to sell. He was incarcerated on 8/19/05, and on parole from February 2007 until 9/14/08. He is currently on probation effective from 9/14/08 until 9/14/11. He reports monthly to Adult Probation and the conditions for probation are substance abuse treatment and drug testing. Any positive toxicology screens would be a violation of his probation.
Father had been non-compliant with group treatment through the Latino ADRC Program. On 5/22/09, he failed to comply with their request for a random drug screen within a 24-hour period, which the therapist reported as problematic and consistent with Father's old habits. He was scheduled for a substance abuse assessment and toxicology screen through The Institute of Hispanic Families on 11/12/09.
Father has only been compliant with Adult Probation Services and has not signed releases of information for compliance confirmation with Capital Region Mental Health Services.
On 7/3/09, a new DCF investigation was opened alleging physical neglect of Father's newborn son with his girlfriend. DCF substantiated physical neglect and Father was placed on the Central Registry for child abuse. The child is placed in a licensed DCF medically complex foster home under an Order of Temporary Custody.
Father had limited contact with Khloe J. after his release from prison, visiting with her only once due to Mother's boyfriend denying her contact with Father. He has not visited with his daughter since 3/3/09.
D. Child, Khloe J.
Khloe J. was born on 1/5/06, to Tanyara S., and Juan J. She was born exposed to opiates and showed signs of methadone withdrawal.
Khloe J. is a four-year-old rambunctious child, who is bonded to her foster family and refers to foster mother as "Mommy Jackie" and to her foster siblings as her brother and sister. She seeks out her foster mother for comfort and solace. Overall, Khloe J. is a very happy child who is full of energy and enjoys dance classes.
On 1/23/06, a 96-hour administrative hold was placed on Khloe J. due to Mother leaving a court ordered in-patient treatment program on 1/22/06. An Order of Temporary Custody was granted on 1/26/06. On 4/4/06, Khloe J. was committed to the Department with an agreement that she would reside with her Mother in New Haven, CT at a residential facility for on-going substance abuse treatment. On 6/29/06, DCF filed a Motion requesting 6 months of Protective Supervision that was granted, and on 12/05/06 Protective Supervision expired due to Mother's compliance with treatment.
On 8/1/08, DCF invoked a 96-hour hold on Khloe J. due to Mother having abandoned the child during a drug binge. On 8/5/08, an Order of Temporary Custody was granted and sustained on 8/15/08.
Khloe J. has had two DCF foster care placements. From 1/23/06 until 4/4/06, she was placed in foster care due to Mother leaving a court ordered substance abuse program. On 8/11/08, Khloe J. was placed in DCF foster care due to Mother abandoning her and leaving her with an inappropriate caretaker.
Khloe J. is up to date with her immunizations and is seen regularly by her pediatrician. Her last medical appointment was on 7/17/09, and her last routine dental appointment was on 8/27/09. She initially showed signs of developmental delays that were noted in her multidisciplinary evaluation in September 2009, but due to the diligent work of her new foster mother and the Head Start program, she is now developmentally on target.
Khloe has monthly visits with her Mother at the York Correctional Institute. She recognizes her Mother and understands the difference between her biological Mother and her foster mother.
II TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS ADJUDICATION
The court must determine whether the proof provides clear and convincing evidence that a pleaded ground exists to terminate Father, Juan J.'s rights as of the date of the filing of the petition.
A. Reasonable Efforts Finding
Unless a court has found in an earlier proceeding that efforts to reunify are no longer appropriate, DCF, in order to terminate parental rights, initially must show by clear and convincing evidence that it "has made reasonable efforts to locate the parent and to reunify the children with their parents, unless the court finds in this proceeding that the parents are unable or unwilling to benefit from reunification efforts." C.G.S. Sec. 17a-112(j)(1). "Reasonable efforts means doing everything reasonable, not everything possible." In re Jessica B., 50 Conn.App. 554, 566, 718 A.2d 997 (1998).
Reasonable efforts to reunify Khloe J. with Juan J. are not possible because Father has not seen his daughter for an extended time and he has not regularly engaged in any treatment services offered by DCF. He has not been in contact with DCF regarding the well-being of Khloe J. or the status of his case. He has not completed the substance abuse treatment services that were offered by DCF.
Father is unwilling or unable to benefit from efforts in that he has not made himself available to DCF despite attempts to engage him in services. It is unknown whether Father is actively using substances as he is not presently in treatment. He has not shown any interest in caring for his child as he has not seen her since at least before 3/3/09, nor has he inquired about her well being.
On 6/16/09, the Superior Court for Juvenile Matters in Hartford found that no further efforts were necessary to reunify Tanyara S. and Juan J. with Khloe J.
Reasonable efforts to reunify Khloe J. with Juan J. are no longer appropriate because he has failed to visit with his daughter in order to establish an on-going relationship with her. Prior to Father's last visit with his daughter on 3/3/09, his visitation had been inconsistent. He has failed to address his mental health and substance abuse issues as well as his parenting deficiencies.
Reasonable efforts to reunify Khloe J. with Tanyara S. are not possible because Mother has failed to address her mental health and substance abuse problems. She has a felony conviction for possession of Narcotics and is currently serving a 2-year prison sentence with an anticipated release date of 9/9/11.
Mother and Father are unable to benefit from efforts in that Mother is presently incarcerated and she has failed to establish an on-going relationship with her daughter. Father has failed to establish an on-going relationship with his child and has been inconsistent in his follow-through with mental health and substance abuse treatment.
DCF has been involved with Mother regarding an extensive substance abuse history, dating back to 1988. Mother has a total of seven children, none of whom are in her care due to her extensive drug history and inability to parent.
The presenting problems with this family were among others, Mother's on-going drug binges prior to her incarceration in which she had abandoned her child.
The following reasonable and active efforts were made to prevent removal and/ or to reunify the child with her Mother, Tanyara S.:
• Mother was offered visitation at the DCF office and at York Correctional Institution. On occasion, she failed to make herself available for services due to her whereabouts being unknown.
• Mother was offered DCF case management services but she refused to comply.
The following reasonable and active efforts were made to prevent removal and/or to reunify the child with her Father, Juan J.
Father was offered the following services:
• Visitation at the DCF office and transportation services via bus passes provided by DCF;
• Weekly visitation at the DCF office;
• DCF case management services (non-compliance);
• Referral to the ADRC Latino program on 8/6/08, for substance abuse treatment and mental health services in compliance with Adult Probation. Juan J. was discharged from this program in April 2009, due to his non-compliance with group therapy. In addition, he failed to cooperate with random drug testing on 5/8/09.
In addition, DCF has made reasonable efforts to achieve the Permanency Plan. All court findings were made by clear and convincing evidence.
B. Grounds for Termination: Abandonment — General Statutes § 17a-112(j)(3)(A) as to Biological Father, Juan J.
This ground is established when the child has been abandoned by the parent in the sense that the parent has failed to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern, or responsibility as to the welfare of the child. Sporadic efforts are insufficient to negate the claim of abandonment. The test for determining abandonment of a child for purposes of termination of parental rights is not whether a parent has shown "some interest" in his or her child, but rather, whether the parent has maintained any reasonable degree of interest, concern, or responsibility as to the child's welfare. In re Rayna M., 13 Conn.App. 23, 36, 534 A.2d 897 (1987).
Attempts to achieve contact with a child, telephone calls, the sending of cards and gifts and financial support are indicia of "interest, concern or responsibility." In re Migdalia M., 6 Conn.App. 194, 209, 504 A.2d 533 (1986).
The commonly understood general obligations of parenthood entail these minimum attributes: (1) express love and affection for the child; (2) express personal concern over the health, education and general well-being of the child; (3) the duty to supply the necessary food, clothing and medical care; (4) the duty to provide an adequate domicile; and (5) the duty to furnish social and religious guidance. (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) In re Kezia M., 33 Conn.App. 12, 17-18, 632 A.2d 1122 (1993); In re Roshawn R., 51 Conn.App. 44, 53, 720 A.2d 1112 (1998).
Ground A — Abandonment as to Khloe J. by Biological Father, Juan J.
1. Father was incarcerated prior to his child's birth on 1/5/06, and never developed a bonded relationship with his child.
2. Father has never provided financial support for his child.
3. Father has never shown an interest in his child's health or welfare.
4. Father has not inquired about his child nor requested visitation with her since March 2009.
C. Grounds for Termination: No Ongoing Parent-Children Relationship — General Statutes § 17a-112(j)(3)(D) as to Biological Father, Juan J.
This ground alleged by DCF requires proof by clear and convincing evidence, that there is no ongoing parent-child relationship, which means "the relationship that ordinarily develops as a result of a parent having met on a day-to-day basis the physical, emotional, moral and educational needs of the child and to allow further time for the establishment or reestablishment of such parent-child relationship would be detrimental to the best interest of the child."
This statutory definition, as it has been interpreted in case law, requires a finding that "no positive emotional aspects of the relationship survive." In re Jessica M., 217 Conn. 459, 470, 586 A.2d 597 (1991). "It is inherently ambiguous when applied to non-custodial parents who must maintain their relationship with their child through visitation." Id., 459; In re Valerie D., 223 Conn. 492, 531, 613 A.2d 748 (1992). Although the ultimate question is usually whether the child has any present memories or feelings for the natural parent, the existence of a loving relationship or a "psychological parent" relationship with one other than the natural parent does not, of itself, establish the no ongoing parent-child relationship ground for termination. In re Jessica M., supra, 473-75.
Unlike the other nonconsensual grounds to terminate parental rights, the absence of a parent-child relationship is considered a "no fault" ground for termination. To establish this ground requires the trial court to make a two-pronged determination. First, there must be a determination that no parent-child relationship exists; and second, the court must look to the future and determine whether it would be detrimental to the child's best interest to allow time for such a relationship to develop. The absence of a parent-child relationship can be demonstrated in situations where a child has never known his or her parents so that no relationship ever developed between them, or where the child has lost that relationship so that despite its former existence, it has now been completely displaced. In re Juvenile Appeal (Anonymous), 177 Conn. 648, 670, 420 A.2d 875 (1979).
Judicial interpretation has imposed a requirement that a child have "present memories or feelings" for the parent, and "at least some aspects of these memories and feelings are positive" to overcome this ground. In re Jessica M., supra, 217 Conn. 475; In re Juvenile Appeal (84-6), 2 Conn.App. 705, 709, 483 A.2d 1101, cert. denied, 195 Conn. 801 (1984). The existence of positive feelings usually depends on the viewpoint of the child. In re Rayna M., 13 Conn.App. 23, 35, 534 A.2d 897 (1987). As the Appellate Court recently noted, "the feelings of the child are of paramount importance." In re Tabitha T., 51 Conn.App. 595, 602 (1999). "Feelings for the natural parent connotes feelings of a positive nature only." Id.
Ground D — No Ongoing Parent-Children Relationship as to Biological Father, Juan J.
1. Paragraphs one through four of Ground A as to Khloe J. by Juan J. are hereby incorporated by reference.
2. Father was incarcerated on 8/19/05, on charges of Possession of Narcotics and Intent to Sell and was paroled on 2/9/08.
3. Father has not seen his child for a long period of time. His last supervised visit with Khloe J. was on 3/3/09.
4. Father is a stranger to his child due to his inconsistency with scheduled supervised visits.
5. Khloe J. has no present positive memories of Father due to his sporadic visitation schedule.
6. To permit Father additional time to develop a parent/child relationship will not be in the child's best interest because Father has not expressed any desire to continue visitation with her, nor has he contacted DCF to re-establish a visitation plan.
7. Khloe J. should not be required to wait into the indefinite future for her Father to take an interest in her.
D. Grounds for the Termination: Failure to Rehabilitate — General Statutes § 17a-112(j)(3)(B)(1) — as to biological Father, Juan J.
The Commissioner has alleged as a ground for termination that Father has failed to rehabilitate himself after his child had been adjudicated as neglected. This ground for termination, based upon a prior adjudication of neglect and a failure of personal rehabilitation, is clearly articulated in our statutes. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 17a-112(j)(3)(I) states in part that:
[t]he Superior Court . . . may grant a petition [to terminate parental rights] if it finds by clear and convincing evidence that . . . the child under the age of seven years . . . has been found by the Superior Court . . . to have been neglected . . . and the parent has failed to achieve such degree of personal rehabilitation as would encourage the belief that within a reasonable time, considering the age and needs of the child, such parent could assume a responsible position in the life of the child
Personal rehabilitation as used in [Section 17a-112] refers to the restoration of a parent to his or her former constructive and useful role as a parent." . . . [The statute] requires the trial court . . . to find, by clear and convincing evidence, that the level of rehabilitation [they] have achieved, if any, falls short of that which would reasonably encourage a belief that at some future date [they] can assume a responsible position in [their] child's life." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted). In re Eden F., 250 Conn. 674, 706, 741 A.2d 873 (1999). ". . . [I]n assessing rehabilitation, the critical issue is not whether the [parents have] improved [their] ability to manage [their] own life, but rather whether [they] have gained the ability to care for the particular needs of the child at issue." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) In re Sarah Ann K., 57 Conn.App. 441, 448, 749 A.2d 77 (2000). See also In re Ashley S., 61 Conn.App. 658, 665, 769 A.2d 718, 718, cert. denied, 255 Conn. 950, 769 A.2d 61 (2001); In re Alejandro L., 91 Conn.App. 248, 259, 881 A.2d 450 (2005).
Whether the age and needs of the child would support allowance of further time for Father to rehabilitate must also be considered. In re Luis C., supra, 210 Conn. 157, 167-68, 5545 A.2d 722 (1989). The reasonableness of the time period within which rehabilitation is sought to be accomplished is a question of fact for the court. In re Davon M., 16 Conn.App. 693, 696, 548 A.2d 1350 (1988). Also, in determining whether further allowance of a reasonable period of time would promote rehabilitation, a court can consider efforts made since the date of the filing of the petition to terminate parental rights. In re Sarah M., 19 Conn.App. 371, 377, 562 A.2d 566 (1989).
Several aspects of the clear and convincing evidence in this case compel the conclusion that Juan J. has yet to achieve a sufficient "level of rehabilitation . . . which would reasonably encourage a belief that at some future date [he] can assume a responsible position in [his child's life]." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) In re Sarah Ann K., 57 Conn.App. 441, 448, 749 A.2d 77 (2000). See In re Alejandro L., 91 Conn.App. 248, 259, 881 A.2d 450 (2005); In re Ashley S., 61 Conn.App. 658, 665, 769 A.2d 718, cert. denied, 255 Conn. 950, 769 A.2d 61 (2001). The credible evidence in this case, presented through the TPR social study and exhibits, clearly and convincingly establishes that Juan J. has not achieved CGS § 17a-112(j)(3)(B1) rehabilitation. The court credits the DCF reports which show that Juan J. has been unable to achieve his rehabilitation.
On 1/26/06, an Order of Temporary Custody was granted on behalf of Khloe J.
On 3/26/06, Khloe J., DOB 1/5/06, was adjudicated neglected/uncared for in Superior Court for Juvenile Matters at Hartford and committed to DCF.
On 6/29/06, the commitment was revoked as Khloe J. was in placement with her Mother, and an order of protective supervision for 6 months was entered.
At the time of adjudication, the presenting problems for Father were his further involvement with the criminal justice system regarding charges for Possession of Narcotics, Sale of Hallucigens, and Intent to Sell, which lead to his incarceration from 8/19/05 until February 2007 when he was paroled. Father is currently on probation until 9/14/11.
Again, on 10/28/08, Khloe J. was adjudicated neglected /uncared for in the Superior Court for Juvenile Matters at Hartford.
At the time of adjudication, the presenting problems for Father were: failure to comply with a request for a random drug screen on 5/22/09; failure to complete group meetings per the Latino ADRC program requirement; refusal to cooperate with substance abuse assessment and a toxicology screen on 7/3/09, regarding a new investigation substantiating physical neglect regarding his newborn son; the absence of legal income and housing; inconsistent visitation, and refusal to sign necessary releases of information.
The following specific steps ordered by the court on 8/15/08 to facilitate the return of Khloe J. to Juan J.'s care have not been complied with:Keep all appointments set by or with DCF. Cooperate with DCF home visits, announced or unannounced, and visits by the child's court/appointed attorney and/or guardian ad litem.
Since the case reopened, there have been two Administrative Case Reviews held on 9/15/08 and 3/2/09, to discuss the plan for and progress of Khloe J. Father has not attended these scheduled ACRs.
Father cooperated with a DCF home visit conducted on 9/11/08, to obtain information regarding his social history, family placement resources and to explore paternal grandmother as a possible placement resource for Khloe J. Paternal grandmother, Carmen J., informed DCF that due to her medical condition she could not be a resource for Khloe J. On 4/1/09, Father informed DCF of his new address of 467 New Britain Avenue in Hartford, and he also provided his phone number. He would not commit to a date to schedule a home visit at his new home.
Visit child as often as DCF permits and demonstrate appropriate parent/child interaction during visits.
DCF established the following visitation plan for Father when his child came into DCF care on 8/1/08: Wednesdays from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. supervised at the Hartford DCF office. DCF changed Father's visitation plan due to him missing the 1/30/09 and 2/27/09 scheduled visits without providing advanced notification or adequate explanation for the missed visits. DCF informed him that due to these missed visits and the negative impact this had had on his daughter's normal routine at daycare, he would need to confirm the visit with DCF by 10 a.m. on the day of the visit.
Father's visitations have been inconsistent since he was given the responsibility of contacting DCF prior to his scheduled visits. He had one visit for the month of March on 3/3/09. He missed a visit on 3/11/09, which he cancelled due to a doctor's appointment. On 3/18/09, 3/25/09, and 4/1/09, Father reported that he and his parents were occupied with moving to their new apartment. On 4/15/09, he contacted DCF to report an emergency, and he made no contact with DCF regarding a visitation with his child on 4/22/09. On 5/7/09, Father contacted DCF to confirm his visit with Khloe J. After the social worker contacted Father that same day to tell him that he needed to contact his substance abuse counselor, Father called a half an hour prior to the visit to report that his pregnant girlfriend had to go the hospital due to spotting "bleeding."
During attended visits, Father's interactions with Khloe J. have been challenging for him and he had to receive instructions from the social workers on how to re-direct the child and engage her during visitation.
Submit to substance abuse assessment and follow recommendations regarding treatment.
Father was referred to the ADRC Latino program on 8/6/08, for intake and assessment. As a result of the assessment, he was referred to their three-phase treatment program to address his substance abuse issues. He was attending the 3rd phase of the ADRC Latino Program and cooperated appropriately. Upon completion of the program, he was to be transitioned to Hartford Behavioral Health for mental health services.
The substance abuse portion of father's program consists of three phases:
Phase One — an Intensive Outpatient Treatment, Phase Two — Relapse Prevention; Phase Three — After/Care Services which consists of eight (8) weeks of groups on Thursdays. Father did not complete the 3rd phase of the program.
On 5/7/09, Father's counselor reported to DCF that he had missed group therapy on 4/30/09 and 5/7/09, and that there had been a change in his visitation schedule with his daughter. The clinician confirmed that the only change with his visitation schedule was the day, but the time did not conflict with his weekly group meeting. The ADRC clinician reported that he had ordered Father to come to the program on 5/8/09, and to submit to a random drug screen but Father had refused.
On 5/7/09, the ADRC clinician reported that Father had missed group sessions on 4/30/09 and 5/7/09.
On 5/07/09, Father was given 24 hour's notice to submit to a random drug screen and he refused to comply.
Father currently attends Hartford Behavioral Health for mental health and medication management services but has refused to sign release of information regarding these services.
Secure and maintain adequate housing and legal income.
Father has failed to secure and maintain adequate housing of his own as he is dependent upon the will of his parents for his housing. He continues to reside with his mother and father.
Father reports to be "working under the table" to support himself. He has not permitted DCF access to the current residence in order for DCF to assess whether it is appropriate for the child.
A new DCF investigation alleging physical neglect with regard to Father's newborn son with his girlfriend commenced on 7/3/09. DCF substantiated Physical Neglect with regard to Father and he was placed on the Central Registry for child abuse. The child is placed in a licensed medically fragile DCF foster home under an Order of Temporary Custody. The investigation revealed that Father and his girlfriend were living at Father's parent's previous apartment at 181 Babcock Street in Hartford and it was verified that the building was abandoned.
Father resides on 467 New Britain Avenue in Hartford with his parents. His mother, Carmen J., reported that Father and his girlfriend do not reside in the home but come to the home to use her facilities to bathe.
Father refused to comply with a new DCF investigation requiring him to submitting to a substance abuse assessment and toxicology screen.
Father's failure to cooperate with court ordered specific steps and his lack of interest in his daughter's overall wellbeing, is consistent with Father's inability to parent his daughter. His failure to obtain legal income and housing demonstrates his lack of ability to meet Khloe J.'s basic needs.
Khloe J. is a four-year-old rambunctious, bi-racial girl. She was placed in DCF's care for the second time on 8/1/08, under a 96-hour hold due to being abandoned by a parent with chronic substance abuse issues and being left with inappropriate caretakers. Khloe J. remains in the same licensed DCF foster home since her removal from her parents' care. Her foster mother would like to be an adoption resource for the child if she becomes free for adoption. Khloe J. views her foster family as her psychological family and refers to her foster mother as "Mommy Jackie." Khloe J. is well adjusted and continues to thrive in her foster care placement. Khloe J., at the young age of 4, already has had two removals from her parents' care due to their chronic substance abuse issues and she is now in need of permanency.
Father will not be able to assume a responsible position in the life of his child within a reasonable time period.
See Section I. FACTUAL FINDINGS, paragraphs A, B, C, and D.
Summary of Adjudicatory Findings
This court has found that the Commissioner has proved the following adjudicatory grounds by clear and convincing evidence: (1) that the biological Father, Juan J., has failed to rehabilitate after a prior court finding of his having neglected Khloe J.
Mother consented to the termination of her parental rights in open court. She filed written consent. This court found that Mother voluntarily and knowingly consented to the termination of her rights, having received the advice and assistance of competent legal counsel and having understood the consequences of her actions. Her consent was accepted by this court.
The court finds that notice has been given in accordance with the Connecticut General Statutes and the Practice Book.
The court took jurisdiction in this matter; there is no pending action affecting custody of the child in any other court.
The petition has been amended to allege as the sole ground for termination of the Mother, her consent to the termination.
The court having read the verified petition and the social studies, made the following findings by clear and convincing evidence.
Adjudication. The Mother has consented to the termination of her rights to her child and the consent was accepted by the court.
No findings are necessary to be made pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 17a-112 with regard to the Mother due to her consent.
Except in the case where termination is based on consent, if grounds have been found to terminate parental rights applying the appropriate standard of proof, the court must then consider whether the facts as of the last day of trial establish, by clear and convincing evidence, after consideration of the factors enumerated in C.G.S. § 17a-112(k), that termination is in the child's best interest. If the court does find that termination is in the child's best interest, an order will enter terminating parental rights.
A. C.G.S. § 17a-112(k) Criteria
The court has found by clear and convincing evidence that the statutory grounds alleged by DCF for the termination of parental rights have been proven.
Before making a decision whether or not to terminate Juan J.'s parental rights, as he did not consent, the court will consider and make findings on each of the seven criteria set forth in C.G.S. § 17a-112(k). In re Romance M., 229 Conn. 345, 355, 641 A.2d 378 (1994).
These criteria and this court's findings, which have been established by clear and convincing evidence, are as follows:1. "The timeliness, nature and extent of services offered or provided to the parent and the child by an agency to facilitate the reunion of the child with the parent."
This court finds by clear and convincing evidence that DCF could have made reasonable efforts to reunify the child with her Father. Services could have been ordered in a timely manner and would have been appropriate for the circumstances at hand.
Considered carefully, the clear and convincing evidence shows that DCF offered timely, appropriate and comprehensive services to the respondent parents to facilitate [their] reunification with [their] child and made reasonable efforts to reunite [them] with [their] child. In re Victoria B., 79 Conn.App. 245, 258-60, 829 A.2d 855 (2003).
Based on this clear and convincing evidence of the circumstances now present in this case, the court finds that Juan J. is unable and/or unwilling to benefit from reasonable reunification efforts. CGS § 17a-112(j)(1). His serious issues clearly and convincingly make him unable and/or unwilling to benefit from reasonable reunification efforts. In re Tyqwane V., 85 Conn.App. 528, 535-36, 857 A.2d 963 (2004).
The parents have been provided with many services to rehabilitate and return the child to their care and the referrals were made in a timely manner to facilitate a successful reunification. They were referred to services multiple times to encourage cooperation. Juan J. has not been able to take full advantage of services as he has been incarcerated and has been unwilling to cooperate with service providers.
2. "Whether DCF has made reasonable efforts to reunite the family pursuant to the Federal Child Welfare Act of 1980, as amended."
This court finds that the clear and convincing evidence in this matter proves that Father is presently unable and/or unwilling to benefit from such reunification services as was contemplated by the federal Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, as amended.
DCF has made reasonable efforts to maintain contact with both parents.
3. "The terms of any court order entered into and agreed upon by any individual or agency and the parent, and the extent to which all the parties have fulfilled their obligations of such order."
The clear and convincing evidence indicates that Father has failed to comply with the steps ordered by the court.4. "The feelings and emotional ties of the child with respect to his parents, any guardian of such child's person and any person who has exercised physical care, custody or control of the child for at least one year and with whom the child has developed significant emotional ties."
The child has been able to exhibit only limited bonding with her parents, due to her parents' substance abuse, reluctance to accept their roles as parents and the unavailability of Father. She has developed a strong bond with her foster mother with whom she has lived since 8/1/08. She has expressed a desire to adopt Khloe J.
Since Father, Juan J., has not been available much of the time, the child was unable to bond with him.
5. "The age of the child."
Khloe J. (DOB 1/5/06) is 4 years old.
6. "The efforts the parent has made to adjust such parent's circumstances, conduct or conditions to make it in the best interest of the child to return to such child's home in the foreseeable future, including, but not limited to (A) the extent to which the parent has maintained contact with the child as part of an effort to reunite the child with the parent provided that the court may give weight to incidental visitations, communications or contributions and (B) the maintenance of regular contact or communication with the guardian or other custodian of the child." The court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the parents have not made realistic and sustained efforts to conform their conduct to minimally acceptable parental standards.
The clear and convincing evidence indicates that they have refused to co-operate with DCF or programs presented.
The court finds, by clear and convincing evidence, that the parents have not made the changes necessary in their lifestyles that would indicate that they would be safe, responsible and nurturing parents for their child. To permit the child to return to the parents' care would compromise the safety of the child.7. "The extent to which a parent has been prevented from maintaining a meaningful relationship with the child by the unreasonable act or conduct of the other parent of the child, or the unreasonable act of any other person or by the economic circumstances of the parent."
This court finds by clear and convincing evidence that no unreasonable conduct by DCF, foster parents, Department of Corrections or third parties prevented Juan J. from maintaining a relationship with his child, nor did his economic circumstances prevent such relationship, although the limitations and restrictions inherent in the foster care system remained in effect.
Father has maintained little contact with the child and the petitioner. In order to improve his parenting bond with his child, he is in need of adequate parenting classes, and significant visitation with his child.
B. Best Interest of the Child — C.G.S. § 17a-112(j)(2)
The court is next called upon to determine whether termination of Tanyara S.'s and Juan J.'s parental rights to Khloe J. would be in her best interest. Applying the appropriate legal standards to the clear and convincing facts of this case, the court finds this issue in favor of the State of Connecticut and DCF.
The final element of the termination of parental rights statute, CGS § 17a-112(j) requires that before granting a duly noticed petition for such termination, the court must find, "by clear and convincing evidence . . . (2) that termination is in the best interest of the child . . ."
"Termination of parental rights means the complete severance by court order of the legal relationship, with all its rights and responsibilities, between the child and the child's parent or parents . . . Termination of parental rights is a most serious and sensitive judicial action. In re Barbara J., 215 Conn. 31, 44, 574 A.2d 203 (1990)." (Citation omitted, internal quotation marks omitted.) In re Steven N., 57 Conn.App. 629, 632, 749 A.2d 678 (2000). "[T]he question . . . to be decided in a dispositional phase is whether it is in the best interests of the child to sever the parent-child relationship. That is different from the question of who should have custody of the child if termination of parental rights is determined to be in the best interests of the child. See Practice Book § 33-5." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) In re Carissa K., 55 Conn.App. 768, 776, 740 A.2d 896 (1999). "In making this determination, the trial court can consider all events occurring prior to the date of the dispositional hearing, including those occurring after the filing of the termination petition." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) In re Kasheema L., 56 Conn.App. 484, 488, 744 A.2d 441, cert. denied, 252 Conn. 945, 747 A.2d 522 (2000).
In determining whether termination of Juan J.'s parental rights would be in the child's best interests, the court has examined multiple relevant factors, including the child's interests in sustained growth, development, well-being, stability and continuity of her environment; her length of stay in foster care; the nature of her relationship with her biological parents; and the degree of contact maintained with her biological parents. In re Alexander C., 60 Conn.App. 555, 559, 760 A.2d 532 (2000); In re Shyina B., 58 Conn.App. 159, 167, 752 A.2d 1139 (2000); In re Savanna M., 55 Conn.App. 807, 816, 740 A.2d 484 (1999). In a matter such as this, the court is further called upon to balance the child's intrinsic needs for stability and permanency against the benefits of maintaining a connection with her parents. See Pamela B. v. Ment, 244 Conn. 296, 314, 709 A.2d 1089 (1998) (the child's physical and emotional well-being must be weighed against the interest in preserving family integrity).
"[T]he genetic bond shared by a biological parent and his or her child, although not determinative of the issue of the best interest of the child, is certainly a factor to consider." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) In re Savanna M., 55 Conn.App. 807, 816, 740 A.2d 484 (1999).
Under such scrutiny, the clear and convincing evidence in this matter establishes that it is not in the child's best interest to continue to maintain any legal relationship with her parents.
The clear and convincing evidence also shows that her parents have failed to gain insight into becoming safe, nurturing and responsible parents for the child. The clear and convincing evidence shows that their judgment and conduct remains questionable, and has not improved since the child was taken into DCF care.
The parents' performance clearly and convincingly shows that they lack the attributes and characteristics necessary to fulfill valid parental roles. Their recalcitrance concerning referrals clearly and convincingly shows that, without commitment to consistent substance abuse treatment, as well as individual and parenting counseling, it is likely that they have extinguished what little chance they ever had to be able to serve as safe, nurturing and responsible parents for any child.
An additional factor to consider in this case is time. The clear and convincing evidence demonstrates the child's pressing need for permanence and stability. Unfortunately, much time would be required for Mother and Father to show that they have forsaken substance abuse, addressed their issues, undertaken the necessary counseling and succeeded in it, established themselves in the community and shown that they were capable of being safe, nurturing and responsible parents for their child.
Khloe J. cannot delay her need for permanence and stability in exchange for her parents' uncertain future.
Based upon the parents' behavior and performance so far, this court cannot foresee them ever having the ability or the opportunity to be able to follow the regimen necessary for this child to maximize her abilities and achievements.
The clear and convincing evidence shows that the time needed for the parents to attempt to rehabilitate and establish themselves in the community as safe, nurturing and responsible parents, if that were possible, is time that their child cannot afford.
The parents' performance clearly and convincingly shows that they lack the attributes and characteristics necessary to fulfill valid parental roles. Their conduct clearly and convincingly shows that it is unlikely that they will ever be able to conform their behavior to appropriate norms or be able to serve as safe, nurturing and responsible parents for this child.
Our courts have recognized that "long-term stability is critical to a child's future health and development . . ." In re Eden F., 250 Conn. 674, 709, 741 A.2d 873 (1999). Furthermore, "[b]ecause of the psychological effects of prolonged termination proceedings on young children, time is of the essence" when resolving issues related to the permanent or temporary care of neglected children. In re Alexander V., 25 Conn.App. 741, 748, 596 A.2d 934 (1991), aff'd, 223 Conn. 557, 613 A.2d 780 (1992); see also In re Juvenile Appeal (84-CD), 189 Conn. 276, 292, 455 A.2d 1313 (1983). The court is obliged to agree with DCF and concludes that the clear and convincing evidence in this case establishes that the child is entitled to the benefit of ending, without further delay, the period of uncertainty as to the availability of her biological parents as caretakers.
Having balanced the child's individual and intrinsic needs for stability and permanency against the benefits of maintaining a connection with her parents, the clear and convincing evidence in this case establishes that the child's best interests cannot be served by continuing to maintain any legal relationship to their parents. Pamela B. v. Ment, supra, 244 Conn. 313-14.
Accordingly, with respect to the best interests of the child as contemplated by CGS § 17a-112(j)(2), by clear and convincing evidence, and based upon all of the foregoing, including the testimony and evidence presented, the court finds that termination of the parental rights of Tanyara S. and Juan J. as to Khloe J. is in the best interest of the child in question.
The court having considered all statutory considerations, and having found by clear and convincing evidence that grounds exist for termination of parental rights, further finds upon all the facts and circumstances presented, that it is in Khloe J.'s best interest to terminate the parental rights of Tanyara S., the biological Mother of the child and Juan J., the biological Father of the child. Accordingly, it is ordered that their parental rights to Khloe J. are hereby terminated.
It is further ordered that the Commissioner of the Department of Children and Families be appointed the statutory parent for this child for the purpose of securing an adoptive family and a permanent placement for this child.
The statutory parent is ordered to file the appropriate written reports with the court, as are required by state and federal law and which show the efforts to effect the permanent placement of this child.