Dutchess County Dept. of Social Services on Behalf of T.G. v. Mr. G.

Decision Date29 September 1988
Citation534 N.Y.S.2d 64,141 Misc.2d 641
PartiesDUTCHESS COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES on Behalf of T.G., Petitioner, v. MR. G. and Mrs. G., Respondents.
CourtNew York Family Court

Dutchess County Dept. of Social Services, Poughkeepsie by Kathryn Lazar, for petitioner.

Martin Prinner, Poughkeepsie, for respondents.

Michael Kranis, Poughkeepsie, Law Guardian.


This opinion follows a lengthy and prolonged combined hearing on petitions filed by both the Dutchess County Department of Social Services (hereinafter DSS) and Mr. G. and Mrs. G. (hereinafter respondents). The agency's petitions seek to terminate the G's' parental rights to their five year old son, T.G. (d.o.b. October 21, 1982), based on permanent neglect (Social Services Law [hereinafter SSL], § 384-b[7] ). Respondents seek T.G.'s return to them from the foster home where he has lived since the Fall of 1984, or, in the alternative, to have their right to visit with him liberalized.

By way of background, T.G. first entered foster care in September, 1984 when he and his parents arrived in Dutchess County from the State of Georgia. Following his temporary removal, this court held a lengthy fact-finding hearing on a DSS claim that respondents and others sexually abused T.G., along with his twin half siblings, in Georgia. There had been an earlier judicial finding to that effect in Georgia, following which respondents moved with T.G. to New York.

A derivative finding of neglect of T.G. (FCA § 1046[a][i] ) was made after the Article X hearing in a decision of this court dated May 21, 1985 (See, Matter of T.G., 128 Misc.2d 914, 491 N.Y.S.2d 901). In the resulting October 22, 1985 consent dispositional order placing him in DSS custody for eighteen months, respondents agreed, inter alia, to supervised visitation with T.G., and to undergo evaluation and treatment for incest for as long as judicially deemed necessary.

No appeals were taken from either the Georgia or the New York decisions and orders.

Respondents cooperated with the arrangements made for visiting their son, and both substantially adhered to the counseling schedule. Indeed, petitioner admits the foregoing compliance. Moreover, there is virtually no dispute that petitioner has made the diligent efforts to reunite the family mandated by SSL § 384-b(7)(f).

Consequently, both sides agree that only one issue remains; namely, whether respondents' adamant, longstanding, and repeated refusal to admit, in counseling, that they committed any incestuous acts, can form the sole factual basis for a termination of their parental rights. The court's resolution of this issue assumes, based on the unappealed findings of two separate courts, that respondents in fact sexually abused T.G.'s twin half siblings (born on March 6, 1979 of Mrs. G.'s prior relationship).

Petitioner agency argues that the G.'s' parental rights to T.G. should end because they have failed "to plan for the future of the child" pursuant to SSL § 384-b(7)(a) and (c). The crux of petitioner's position is that there can be no meaningful plan for an "adequate, stable home and parental care for the child" if respondents are not effectively treated for their incestuous behavior. DSS further argues that the proof clearly and convincingly shows that, without an admission by them that they committed sexual acts upon Mrs. G.'s twin children in Georgia after T.G. was born, there can be no meaningful treatment. It further contends that, without effective treatment, the G.'s cannot, in the foreseeable future, be trusted to be unsupervised caretakers of T.G. Underlying its argument is petitioner's assertion that, if Mr. and Mrs. G. never acknowledge their offensive acts, they can never, in counseling sessions, address the root of their behavior problem, and, therefore, no therapeutic progress can be made with them. It is further argued that without therapeutic progress in treatment, respondents cannot plan for T.G.'s future because the danger of abuse remains. With the remaining risk thus posed to this little boy, DSS contends that he is "a permanently neglected child" pursuant to SSL § 384-b(7)(a).

To prove this thesis, petitioner offered testimony by Donna L. Zulch and Judith V. Becker. Dr. Becker is a clinical psychologist with an impressive amount of experience in evaluating and treating sex abuse victims and offenders. She also has done an exhaustive amount of research andwriting on this and related subjects. (

1) Ms Zulch is a clinical social worker also with a considerable amount of training and practical experience in this area of expertise.

Respondents first contend that they are innocent of all sexual abuse charges, but, that aside, they also claim to have fully cooperated with the consent dispositional order, and have thereby attained a greater knowledge of, and sensitivity to child sexual abuse. They called six mental health professionals, 2 one pastoral counselor, three DSS workers, and four lay witnesses. Respondents also testified on their own behalf.

Respondent, Mr. G., and his witnesses testified, without contradiction, from November, 1985 until February, 1987, with few absences, he attended weekly counseling with a group program for men who had become involved, either actively or passively, in child sexual abuse. Mr. G. often talked to the group about the pain of T.G.'s absence, his own denial of the acts of abuse, and his belief that DSS personnel were insensitive toward him and his family.

In addition to his uncontested testimony that he visited T.G. frequently, he claimed DSS often denied his requests for more visits. He also described additional counseling, both individual and joint, that he and Mrs. G. had with Rev. Douglas L. Murray and later with Dr. David Sparks. The primary purpose of these sessions was to help respondents cope with the stress of their separation from T.G.

Mr. G. asserted his belief that all of this counseling has changed him, stating, "I'm not the same person I was." He declared that he has "come to grips" with T.G. not living in his home, but he expects to see T.G.'s return someday. Finally, he continued his denial, and, later, upon being specifically recalled to the stand for this purpose, he unequivocally declared that he will never admit to any acts of sexual abuse whether he goes to counseling individually or in a group. His denial is so firm and unyielding that he and Mrs. G. joined and led a mutual support group, known as Victims of Child Abuse Laws (V.O.C.A.L.), which meets with its local membership of twelve people to discuss changes in the law, the power of the Department of Social Services, and other related systemic shortcomings as they see them.

Rev. Douglas L. Murray, senior pastor at The Full Gospel Center in LaGrangeville, New York, gave extensive pastoral counseling to this couple. He recounted their continued denials of wrongdoing, and their affectionate attitude toward T.G. during encounters at the church. Furthermore, he opined that T.G.'s return to respondents' home would not place him at risk, notwithstanding his own conceded inability to determine whether respondents sexually abused T.G. or the twins. Rev. Murray's conviction that T.G. would be safe with the G.'s is based on his having shown them the correct way to establish a moral Christian home according to biblical principles as taught in his church, and his having schooled them in the proper practice of Christian morals. Because of these efforts, he is now confident that they have a matured commitment to the word of God and are therefore trustworthy parents.

Respondent, Mrs. G., described all of the efforts she has made to cooperate with the outline of the consent dispositional order by attending various types of counseling, both formal and informal, with Jean Dingee, Nancy McCormick, Renee Hack, Rev. Douglas Murray, Dr. David Sparks, and Dr. Diane Succich. With a backdrop of continued denials of any sexual wrongdoing, her counseling emphasized her feelings of loss due to T.G.'s absence, the inappropriateness of sexual abuse toward children in general, the religious and moral issues connected to the subject of child sexual abuse, the correct way to discipline children, and the anger she displayed when first entering counseling. She testified that DSS representatives repeatedly attempted to persuade her to admit wrongdoing and that she was told that, without such an acknowledgement, T.G. should never be returned to her. She proclaimed her intense love for T.G. and her belief that he likewise loves her. Although she conceded drug use a decade ago, she denies using drugs at present.

Finally, she vehemently denies ever sexually abusing any of her children, and has specifically and forcefully declared that she never will admit to such acts.

She described herself as a Pentecostal Christian since she returned to New York from Georgia where she practiced the Lutheran faith. She has become very involved in the New York State Chapter of V.O.C.A.L. and its local efforts in this county. She traveled to V.O.C.A.L.'s Minnesota headquarters to be interviewed by the authors of a book, The Politics of Child Abuse, which contains a chapter describing her version of the events leading to T.G.'s removal from her home. The underlying assumption of her statements is that she and her husband have done nothing wrong. She also claims to have been interviewed by various members of the local and national media and has consistently denied any abuse.

Donna Zulch and Dr. Judith V. Becker supported the agency's contention that the G.'s' parental rights be terminated, or, at the very least, that T.G. not be returned to their unsupervised care.

Ms. Zulch said:

"Okay. The cornerstone of ... any treatment plan regarding sexual abuse, ... is that that ... one take accountability for one's own behavior. The second, third, and fourth items, ... would include the consequence of responsibility, and...

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