In re AnW

Decision Date24 May 2004
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesIn re AnW, a child under the age of eighteen years<SMALL><SUP>1</SUP></SMALL>
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

RUBINOW, JUDGE.

This memorandum of decision addresses a petition brought to terminate the parental rights (TPR) of AnL and RaW, the biological parents of AnW, born November 27, 2000. The Department of Children and Families (DCF or department) filed the TPR petition on March 28, 2003, alleging the grounds of failure to achieve rehabilitation and lack of an ongoing parent-child relationship against each respondent. For the reasons stated below, the court finds the matter in favor of the petitioner, and terminates the respondents' parental rights.

Trial of this highly contested matter took place on January 16, 20 and 23, 2004. The petitioner, the respondent parents and the child were vigorously represented by counsel.2 The Child Protection Session of the Superior Court, Juvenile Matters, has jurisdiction over the pending case, and notice of this proceeding has been provided in accordance with the Practice Book requirements. No action is pending in any other court affecting custody of AnW.

I. FACTUAL FINDINGS

The Court has thoroughly reviewed the verified petitions, the TPR social study and addendum,3 and the multiple other documents submitted in evidence which included: records from mental health care providers; court records; certificates of achievement; psychiatric and psychological reports; DCF records; a mental-health reference; a birth certificate; and program attendance records. The court utilized the applicable legal standards in considering this evidence and the testimony of trial witnesses,4 included: a number of mental health workers; multiple DCF employees; two psychologists and a psychiatrist.5 The court also received a report from AnW's GAL, subject to cross examination. In re Tayquon H., 76 Conn.App. 693, 705-06, 821 A.2d 796 (2003). Upon deliberation, the court finds that the following facts were proven by clear and convincing evidence at trial.6

I.A. HISTORY OF THE PROCEEDINGS

RaW was born on May 24, 1967. He left school in the 10th grade, but has consistently thereafter worked in the food service or supermarket industry. (Exhibits 13, 14.)

AnL was born on March 4, 1968. She graduated from high school and has taken some college courses. (Exhibits 1, 12.) AnL has been employed at various supermarkets over the years, working as a cashier, and in her preferred assignment, the "deli and seafood department."7 (Exhibits 1, 5, 12, 13, H.)

AnL and RaW met in the late 1990s, in the course of their mutual employment. RaW remained in his long-term marriage, but the respondents entered into a romantic relationship. When AnL was born to the couple on November 27, 2000, RaW initially declined to inform his wife of this situation. Although RaW has no other children, he continued to withhold information about his involvement with AnL or his paternal relationship to AnW until the early part of 2003, following the child's second birthday. (Exhibits 13, 14.)

I.B. EVENTS PRIOR TO THE NEGLECT ADJUDICATION OF DECEMBER 12, 2001

AnW was born at 31 weeks of gestation; AnL had failed to access prenatal care. The child was significantly underweight, suffered from gastrointestinal reflux and apneic episodes, and required acute hospital care after birth. Although AnL showed interest in AnW, hospital staff observed that the respondent mother had difficulty meeting the infant's most basic needs; she was uncooperative with and hostile to efforts to teach her how to safely hold and feed the baby. RaW did not present himself as a caretaking resource for the child.8 Hospital staff advised DCF about AnL's anger; her limited ability to interact with her child on an emotional level; and her apparent inability provide AnW with adequate attention to his feeding issues, reflux, and breathing difficulties.9 (Exhibits 1, 3, 7.)

On December 22, 2000, anticipating one-month old AnW's discharge from hospital care, DCF applied for an ex parte Order of Temporary Custody (OTC), alleging that the child would face "immediate physical danger from [his] surroundings" if he was released into AnL's care. (Exhibit C-1.) On that date, DCF also submitted an uncared for petition alleging that AnW's "home cannot provide the specialized care which the physical, emotional or mental condition of the child . . . requires."10 The court (Conway, J.) granted the ex parte OTC, and AnW entered DCF foster care.

After hearing, the court (Conway J.) confirmed the OTC on January 5, 2001. (Exhibit C-2.) On that date, the court ordered specific steps for AnL, obliging her to cooperate with DCF, and to participate in parenting and individual counseling to address her homelessness, anger, mental health issues, and manifest inability to provide appropriate care for AnW.11 (Exhibit 6; Testimony of JeS.) On February 9, 2001, DCF referred AnW to the Birth to Three program to address his already apparent developmental delays. (Exhibit 7.) In direct response to the court's steps, DCF referred both respondent parents to a local hospital where they could receive training and education in the care of their newborn. The department also referred AnL to TKC for assessment of her suitability for a parent aide's assistance, and referred her to SCHC for mental health treatment.12 (Exhibit 9; Testimony of JeS.)

In late May 2001, both AnL and RaW underwent court-ordered evaluations by Wendy Levy, Psy.D., a skilled and experienced psychologist. (Exhibit 17.) As Dr. Levy recommended, AnL underwent a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation, conducted by Richard Sadler, M.D., in November 2001. The respondent mother steadfastly maintained that she had no need of mental health care, in direct contravention to the recommendations of the skilled and experienced psychiatric evaluator. (Exhibits 4, 12; Testimony of Dr. Sadler.)

On December 12, 2001, after hearing, the court (Mottolese, J.) adjudicated AnW to be an uncared-for child with special needs, and committed him to the custody of DCF. (Exhibit C-3.)

I.C. EVENTS FOLLOWING UNCARED-FOR ADJUDICATION OF DECEMBER 12, 2001

On April 16, 2002, after a hearing concerning the child's proposed permanency plan, the court (Mottolese, J.) found by clear and convincing evidence that it was not appropriate to continue to make reasonable efforts to reunify AnW with the respondent father. However, the court approved the plan calling for revocation of the existing commitment, with eventual return of the child to AnL's custody. Accordingly, the court found that efforts should continue to reunify the child with AnL (Exhibit C-4.)

In response to the court's order, DCF referred AnL to SCMHS where she could access a full mental health assessment and ongoing individual counseling. AnL attended an initial intake meeting on May 6, 2002, but she thereafter failed to partake of SCMHS's proffered counseling services. (Exhibit 4.) DCF then referred AnL to family reunification services at CGCGB. AnL remained enrolled in this program from June 28 through September 9, 2002, whereupon DCF recommended that she undergo individual counseling. (Exhibit 3; Testimony of TeG.) Although AnL again protested that she did not need any counseling because she had no mental health issues, the respondent mother commenced psychiatric management and individual therapy at FSW. She continued with this counseling from September 2002 through January 2004, with a hiatus during the latter part of 2003. (Exhibits 2, 5; Testimony of ToA; TeG.)

On January 28, 2003, after hearing of a modified proposed permanency plan for the child, the court (Hudock, J.) found by clear and convincing evidence that it was no longer appropriate to continue to make reasonable efforts to reunify AnW with either respondent parent, and directed the department to submit a TPR petition. (Exhibit C-5.) At about this time, notwithstanding the court's April 2002 order declaring father-son reunification efforts to be no longer appropriate, RaW reported to DCF for the first time that he was interested in custody of the child. (Exhibit 1.)

The TPR petition was filed on March 28, 2003.

I.D. EVENTS FOLLOWING THE TPR PETITION OF MARCH 28, 2003

During the summer of 2003, the court ordered the family to undergo an updated assessment and testing performed by Mark Kaplan, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist. Although AnL was initially uncooperative with the evaluation process, Dr. Kaplan completed his assessment in mid-September 2003. (Exhibit 13.)

Dr. Kaplan made a number of relevant findings about AnW's condition at the time. He found that the child "clearly . . . has developmental disabilities . . . [H]e does have some significant problems with respect to his functioning. These include speech problems, impulsivity, oppositional behavior and developmental delays . . . Clearly, [AnW] is a child who has very special needs and needs to be in a single, consistent, enriched environment." (Exhibit 13.) AnW has now been enrolled in a preschool special education program, and he will no doubt require a high degree of advocacy from his caretakers in order to ensure appropriate educational support in the future. (Exhibit 1.) Clearly, any adult who hereafter serves AnW in a parenting role will require not only an understanding of the child's underlying particular needs, but will also need the ability and willingness to learn how to manage his physical, academic, social and emotional conditions in an effective and healthy manner.

II. ADJUDICATION

In the adjudicatory phase,13 the court has considered the evidence related to circumstances and events prior to March 28, 2003, and those occurring up until the time of trial, as the petitioner has alleged failure to achieve rehabilitation and lack of an ongoing parent-child relationship against each respondent.14 Upon review, the court has determined that statutory...

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