In re Emerald C., (AC 28573) (Conn. App. 7/1/2008)

Decision Date01 July 2008
Docket Number(AC 28573)
CourtConnecticut Court of Appeals

Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of Hartford, Juvenile Matters, Hon. William L. Wollenberg, judge trial referee

Marcia McCormack, for the appellant (respondent father).

Philip Miller, assistant attorney general, with whom, on the brief, were Richard Blumenthal, attorney general, and Susan Quinn Cobb, assistant attorney general, for the appellee (petitioner).

Trudy Condio, for the minor child.

Bishop, McLachlan and Gruendel, Js.



The respondent father appeals from the judgment of the trial court terminating his parental rights in E, his minor child.1 He claims that the court (1) improperly considered his noncompliance with requirements mandated by the department of children and families (department), (2) improperly found that the department made reasonable efforts to reunify him with E and (3) improperly found that he had failed to achieve a sufficient degree of personal rehabilitation pursuant to General Statutes § 17a-112 (j) (3). We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

E was born on June 14, 2003. Weighing a mere three pounds, she spent her first month clinging to life at Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center due to her mother's admitted substance abuse while E was in utero. E's mother had a history of involvement with the department regarding substance abuse, prostitution, physical neglect, medical neglect and risk of injury concerning her four older children. She also had a history of depression and suicidal ideation for which she required hospitalization. As a result, an order of temporary custody and a petition alleging that she was neglected and uncared for was filed on her behalf when she was born. On March 25, 2004, E was adjudicated neglected and was committed to the care and custody of the petitioner, the commissioner of children and families. The order of temporary custody was sustained shortly thereafter.

For the first ten months of her life, the identity of E's father was unknown. On April 29, 2004, a paternity test confirmed that the respondent was E's father.

The respondent was born in the African nation of Ghana. In 2000, he relocated to the United States. At that time, the respondent had two daughters in Ghana, aged two and four. As the court found, "[w]hen he left Ghana, [the respondent] abandoned his daughters . . . and has not seen them since." The respondent met E's mother in the summer of 2002. The respondent maintained that their relationship never was serious, describing it as "nothing more than a sexual relationship on a few occasions that led to the conception of [E]."

In an effort to gain custody of E, the respondent on August 19, 2004, voluntarily agreed to comply with thirteen specific steps issued by the court. That court order required the respondent (1) to keep all appointments set by or with the department and to cooperate with department home visits, announced or unannounced, and visits by E's court-appointed attorney or guardian ad litem; (2) to keep E's whereabouts and his own whereabouts known to the department, his attorney and the attorney for E; (3) to participate in counseling and to make progress toward the "identified treatment goals" regarding his parenting skills; (4) to submit to substance abuse assessment and to follow recommendations regarding treatment; (5) to submit to random drug testing, the time and method of which shall be at the department's discretion; (6) to engage recommended service providers for parenting, individual and family counseling, in-home support services or substance abuse treatment; (7) to sign releases authorizing the department to communicate with service providers to monitor attendance, cooperation and progress toward identified goals, and for use in future proceedings before the court; (8) to secure or maintain adequate housing and legal income; (9) to have no substance abuse; (10) to have no involvement with the criminal justice system; (11) immediately to advise the department of any changes in the composition of the household so as to ensure that the change does not compromise the health and safety of E; (12) to maintain E within the state of Connecticut for the duration of this case except for temporary travel out of state with the authorization of the department or the court in advance; and (13) to visit E as often as the department permits.

In its memorandum of decision, the court chronicled the various efforts made by the department to reunify the respondent with E: "From April 29, 2004, to April 22, 2005, the following service providers were contacted on the [respondent's] behalf: Family Development Center, Community Child Guidance Center, New Hope and Planned Parenthood. [The respondent] was either unable or unwilling to adjust his work schedule to accommodate an intake for any of these services; therefore, these services could not be put in place. [The respondent] began having supervised visits with [E] at [the department] in July, 2004. From July 2, 2004, to April 8, 2005, these visits continued even though they were reported as being detrimental to the well-being of [the] child. On December 8, 2004, [the mother] was seen in [the respondent's] apartment. On December 17, 2004, [the respondent] was instructed by [the department] that he was not to have contact with [the mother] and [that] if he were to continue to maintain contact, it would jeopardize reunification efforts with [the] child. On April 29, 2005, [the respondent] was asked if he had any contact with [the mother], but he denied such contact. He was aware that any contact with [the mother] would jeopardize his reunification with [the] child.

"From April 22, 2005, to February 8, 2006, [the respondent and E] engaged in reunification and parenting programs with Abundant Families and [the Parent Infant Program]. Abundant Families characterized [E] as being `hysterical' but reported that the interaction was appropriate. The Parent Infant Program reported visits between [E and the respondent] as being appropriate. These reports appear to be contradictory. On February 8, 2006, [E] was reunified with [the respondent]. On March 14, 2006, [the respondent and the mother] were involved in domestic violence, and [the respondent] was arrested for disorderly conduct and unlawful restraint.2 On March 15, 2006, [E] was removed from the care of [the respondent]. From April 19 to May 25, 2006, [the respondent] submitted to one urine screen out of eight.

"After [E] was removed from [the respondent's] care on March 15, 2006, she and [the respondent] engaged in four supervised visits in the community. Two social workers and [E's] attorney were present for three out of the four visits. These visits were observed as being extremely detrimental to the well-being of [the] child. On June 8, 2006, the Juvenile Court in Hartford ceased visitation between [the] child and [the respondent] because the child was having significant adverse reaction to the visits. On June 9, 2006, it was reported to [the department by R, one of the mother's older children], that [the respondent and the mother] were living together and planning on getting married at the time of [the respondent's] reunification with [E]. [The respondent] was fully aware that any contact with [the mother] would jeopardize reunification efforts with [E] and yet he chose to withhold this information from [the department]."

On June 23, 2006, the petitioner filed a petition for termination of parental rights as to both the respondent and the mother. The ground for the petition was the failure to achieve sufficient rehabilitation pursuant to § 17a-112 (j) (3) (B) (ii).3 The court held a trial on November 13 and 17, 2006.4 At trial, the petitioner submitted five exhibits and six witnesses, and eight exhibits were submitted on behalf of E. The respondent submitted two exhibits and testified on his own behalf.

In its January 31, 2007 memorandum of decision, the court found that the department had made reasonable efforts to reunify the petitioner and E, and that the respondent had failed to achieve a sufficient degree of personal rehabilitation pursuant to § 17a-112 (j) (3) (B). It further found that termination of the respondent's parental rights was in the best interest of E.5 Accordingly, the court granted the petition and this appeal followed.


Although not a model of precision, the respondent's first claim appears to be that because he "completed all of the steps required," the court improperly considered his noncompliance with additional requirements mandated by the department. For two reasons, that claim is flawed.

First, the court never found that the respondent fully complied with the court-ordered specific steps. Rather, it made multiple findings to the contrary.6 For example, the court found that although he was required to submit to random drug testing conducted at the discretion of the department, the respondent failed to submit to several urine tests.7 The court found that although the petitioner was required to participate in counseling and to make progress toward the identified treatment goal of improving his parenting skills, "he was either unable or unwilling to adjust his work schedule to accommodate an intake" for multiple services initiated by the department, including those offered by the Family Development Center, Community Child Guidance Center, and New Hope and Planned Parenthood.8 The court found that although he was required to visit E "as often as the department permits," the respondent did not comply. Instead, "[w]hen visits were increased from one hour to two hours on December 21, 2004, [he] cancelled the first two visits, and, thereafter, he did not adhere to the increased hours. He either arrived one hour late or left one hour early." The respondent also cancelled scheduled visits with E on May 11 and June 1, 2006. Although h...

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