In re Damiano D.

Decision Date01 February 2017
Docket NumberH14CP15011548A,H14CP14011165A,H14CP14011166A
PartiesIn re Damiano D. [1] In re Jo-Leigh D., In re Danea D.
CourtSuperior Court of Connecticut

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

Stephen F. Frazzini, JUDGE TRIAL REFEREE.

On April 7, 2016, the Commissioner of Children and Families (commissioner) filed petitions under General Statutes § 17a-112 seeking to terminate the parental rights (TPR) of Danea D. to the first two children named above. TPR petitions were also filed against the children's fathers, but one of them has since died and the parental rights of the other were terminated after he was defaulted on the petition for failing to appear. The mother appeared on the initial hearing date, was advised of her rights and appointed counsel, and she entered a denial to the allegations of the petition. A contested trial on the petition was held on three days in October and November of 2016, at which all parties appeared with counsel.[2] For the reasons discussed below, the TPR petitions are granted.

For the third-named and youngest child, the matter pending is a motion for review of permanency plan (MRP) filed by the commissioner on September 16, 2016, to which the mother filed a timely objection. The MRP hearing occurred on November 16 2016, after the conclusion that day of the TPR trial. For the reasons discussed below, the plan is approved.

During trial on the TPR petitions and for later consideration on the MRP, [3] the petitioner presented the following people as witnesses:

Dr. Stephanie Leite, Psy.D., a clinical and forensic psychologist who conducted court-ordered psychological evaluations of the mother, these three children, and the fathers of the two youngest children, and a court-ordered assessment of these parents' interactions with the children; [4] Albert Johnson, a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) who has been providing the mother with a specialized form of therapy called " Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing" (EMDR), which Dr. Leite had recommended after the psychological evaluation and he described as " a type of treatment that is designed for victims of trauma" by helping them learn how to turn their emotional reactions to the trauma they had experienced into a more cognitive response;
Alison Sroka, a social worker employed by the Department of Children and Families (DCF or department) who is currently assigned to the cases of these three children; and
Aneta Letniowska, a marriage and family therapist employed by Klingberg Outpatient Center who has been providing weekly therapy to the two children since May 2015.

At the TPR trial, the court expressly advised the mother, before evidence had concluded, that no adverse inference would be drawn against her for not testifying, after which her attorney advised the court that the respondent was not offering any evidence on the petitions.

In addition, the petitioner offered various exhibits into evidence, including the TPR social study dated May 27, 2016 an addendum to the TPR social study dated August 11, 2016 another addendum to the TPR social study dated September 23, 2016; copies of the various specific steps ordered for the mother; excerpts from the Protection Order Registry showing several expired protective orders issued to protect the mother as well as one against her to protect Jo-Leigh's father; [5] copies of case incident reports from the Bristol Police Department dated December 13, 2010, [6] November 28, 2015, [7] and December 8, 2015; [8] a " Reunification Readiness Assessment" of the mother conducted by Wheeler Clinic in 2015; the written report dated February 10, 2016, prepared by Dr. Leite concerning the court-ordered psychological and interactional evaluations that she conducted; Dr. Leite's resume; and, for the MRP hearing only, the MRP social study.

Before the TPR trial began, the court granted the petitioner's motion for judicial notice and in addition informed the parties that, pursuant to § 2-1 of the Connecticut Code of Evidence, and with notice to the parties, the court would take judicial notice of the contents of the court files involving these two children and their sibling, with two exceptions: (i) factual assertions contained in pleadings, motions, or other documents filed by the parties would be taken as substantively true only if independent evidence thereof was introduced and found credible in this proceeding; and (ii) factual allegations contained in the affidavits filed on September 25, 2015, in support of an order of temporary custody for the mother's youngest child, Danea.

The court is not aware of proceedings pending in any other court regarding the custody of these children and has jurisdiction. As none of these children's parents has claimed native American heritage, the requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act are not pertinent to these proceedings. The court has carefully considered the petition, all of the evidence presented, and the information or materials judicially noticed according to the standards required by law. Uponsuch consideration, the court finds that the following facts were proven at trial by clear and convincing evidence.

I PRELIMINARY FINDINGS OF FACT

The evidence showed that Ms. D. has a long history of mental health and substance abuse problems dating back to her early adolescence. Her mother also had a significant history of substance abuse and untreated mental illness, which directly affected Ms. D.'s early life. As a young child, she was exposed to rampant drug abuse on the part of numerous family members, including her mother, sister and brother, and many members of her paternal family died of drug abuse. There was extensive domestic violence between her parents, and her father also regularly beat her as well. Her mother would leave the home for days at a time to use drugs or come home only to sleep. When she was nine years old, her father broke her mother's jaw during an argument after Ms. D.'s mother returned from a many-day absence. Her mother then took the children with her to a shelter, and they hid from their father for three months. At some point, her mother was arrested and jailed for welfare fraud, and her father moved back into their home. Her mother returned to the home after release from incarceration, but her parents got divorced when she was in the fourth grade. She then lived with her mother and never saw her father again.

By the age of 12, Ms. D. was drinking, smoking marijuana and using prescription pills regularly, and her substance abuse led to conflict with her mother, who had stopped drinking or doing drugs after the divorce. Ms. D. was placed as a teen in various foster homes and residential treatment facilities because of her mental health and substance abuse problems and she also spent time in juvenile justice facilities " as an uncontrollable teen." Petitioner's exhibit 7, TPR social study dated May 27, 2016, p. 4. She did graduate from high school, however, and even attended one semester of college.

The domestic violence, substance abuse, and untreated mental illness to which Ms. D.'s parents exposed her have also characterized her own life as an adult. She has had three children, Damiano in 2009, Jo-Leigh in 2011, and Danea in 2014, and her relationships with all three fathers have been marked by substance abuse and domestic violence. As noted by Dr. Leite, " [b]eginning with her father, who beat her continuing with three different boyfriends, Ms. [D.] has been battered by all of the men in her life. She has also spent very little time alone, moving from one man to another . . ." Petitioner's exhibit 6, Psychological Evaluation, p. 41. Damiano's father was the mother's drug dealer and regularly abused her sexually and physically. The mother told Dr. Leite that he would " [c]all me names and break me down . . ." Id., 31. Brandon C., Jo-Leigh's father, was arrested ten times for domestic violence against Ms. D. and incarcerated several times as a result. Both he and Shawn D., Danea's father, have physically beaten the mother while she was holding one of their children. Shawn D., like the mother, is a heroin addict and they often used drugs together or shared needles.

The substance abuse that began before Ms. D. was a teenager has continued throughout her adult life. She has regularly used marijuana, cocaine, and heroin, even coming inebriated to her meetings with Dr. Leite for the psychological evaluation. During the psychological evaluation, she admitted being a substance abuser. She has been in many treatment programs and facilities dating back to her teen years and had periods of sobriety, but never on a sustained basis.

The evidence introduced at trial showed that the mother's involvement with DCF as a parent began in 2010 because of the domestic violence and substance abuse in her life. DCF received a report then of the domestic violence incident with Brandon C. that is described above in footnote 6 on page 4 and learned that he had broken open the storm door to her apartment and kicked her on the face while she was holding seven-month-old Damiano. Brandon C. was arrested and incarcerated, and a protective order entered against him. She came to the department's attention again in October 2013 when DCF received a report that two-year-old Jo-Leigh was standing alone in the street without clothing, diapers, or adult supervision. Located by a housing authority official in her apartment, the mother said that she had been in the bathroom and the child must have opened the door and left her apartment. When DCF contacted the mother, the prior history of domestic violence was discussed and she told a DCF worker that she had been in domestic violence education...

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