In re Ja'La L., AC 44072

CourtAppellate Court of Connecticut
Citation243 A.3d 358,201 Conn.App. 586
Decision Date01 December 2020
Docket NumberAC 44072
Parties IN RE JA'LA L. et al

David Rozwaski, assigned counsel, for the appellant (respondent mother).

Kristin Losi, assistant attorney general, with whom, on the brief, were William Tong, attorney general, and Benjamin Zivyon and Evan O'Roark, assistant attorneys general, for the appellee (petitioner).

Prescott, Elgo and Pavia, Js.



The respondent, Shanea L., appeals from the judgments of the trial court rendered in favor of the petitioner, the Commissioner of Children and Families, terminating her parental rights with respect to her daughters, Ja'La L. and Ja'Myiaha L., on the ground that the respondent has failed to achieve a sufficient degree of personal rehabilitation pursuant to General Statutes § 17a-112 (j) (3) (B) (i).1 On appeal, the respondent concedes that the evidence was sufficient to prove an adjudicatory ground, but claims that the court improperly concluded that termination was in the best interests of the children. We affirm the judgments of the trial court.

The record reveals the following relevant facts and procedural history, as set forth by the trial court in its memorandum of decision or as otherwise undisputed in the record. The respondent is the mother of four children, only two of whom are the subject of this proceeding, namely, Ja'La and Ja'Myiaha. The respondent has a history with the Department of Children and Families (department) that dates back to 2010.2 Only the respondent's youngest child, Jordyn L., remained in her care at the time of these proceedings.3

In January, 2015, the Probate Court vested guardianship of Ja'La and Ja'Myiaha with their maternal great grandmother, due to the respondent's homelessness, substance abuse, and mental health issues. In April, 2017, the girls’ great grandmother became unable to care for them because of her own medical conditions. On May 2, 2017, the petitioner obtained an order of temporary custody of Ja'La and Ja'Myiaha. Two days later, the petitioner filed neglect petitions, and, on June 8, 2017, the children were adjudicated uncared for4 and committed to the care and custody of the petitioner.

Shortly thereafter, Ja'La and Ja'Myiaha were placed with Ja'La’s paternal aunt. In October, 2017, while in her aunt's care, Ja'La was severely burned by hot water. She spent two months in a hospital receiving treatment for second and third degree burns

, during which time the department offered to transport and supervise weekly hospital visits between the respondent and Ja'La. The respondent visited Ja'La at the hospital only once. Ja'Myiaha was removed from the aunt's care and placed in her present nonrelative foster home, and Ja'La joined her sister on her discharge from the hospital. Ja'La has since been removed from that foster home because she threatened to kill Ja'Myiaha and attempted to physically assault her on a number of occasions.5

On March 8, 2018, a permanency plan of reunification was approved by the court, and the respondent was issued court-ordered specific steps. Specifically, the respondent was ordered, inter alia, to stop using illegal drugs, seek recommended substance abuse treatment, take part in individual therapy, and visit with her children as often as the department permits. With regard to visitation, the respondent was inconsistent in her efforts to see her children. She became more consistent beginning in August, 2018, when she had two hour supervised visits every other week with both girls. In April, 2019, however, the respondent ceased attending visits entirely. Approximately six months passed before the respondent saw Ja'La and Ja'Myiaha again in connection with a court-ordered psychological evaluation.6 During those intervening six months, the respondent also did not phone her children despite being permitted to do so.

As to the respondent's substance abuse and recommended treatment, in April, 2018, the department referred her to Family Based Recovery, but she denied drug usage and chose not to submit to urine/hair testing. In December, 2018, the respondent completed a substance abuse evaluation at Midwestern Connecticut Council of Alcoholism (MCCA), at which time she acknowledged smoking marijuana two times a day, and her urine screen tested positive for marijuana. Consequently, the respondent was recommended to attend the MCCA Intensive Outpatient Program. She claimed, however, that she could not attend the program due to child care issues. The respondent was then referred to Multicultural Ambulatory Addict Services (MAAS), which is a drug treatment program with a child care component. She started the MAAS program in January, 2019, but stopped attending after a March, 2019 incident in which Jordyn assaulted another child and was banned from the program's daycare.

With regard to individual therapy, the department referred the respondent to an in-home program called K-Assist in June, 2017. She worked with K-Assist for about one year, did not attend the psychiatric evaluation that her clinician recommended, and ultimately chose not to participate in the program. For a period of time, the respondent was not willing to engage in any other services offered by the department. In February, 2019, the respondent attended an intake appointment at Integrated Wellness, but her participation in the program was short lived.

On March 8, 2019, the petitioner filed termination of parental rights petitions with respect to the two children on the ground that the court had found them uncared for in a prior proceeding and the respondent has failed to achieve the degree of personal rehabilitation that would encourage the belief that within a reasonable time, considering the age and the needs of the children, she could assume a responsible position in the lives of the children. See General Statutes § 17a-112 (j) (3) (B) (i).

The trial on the termination of parental rights petitions took place on December 16, 2019.7 The petitioner presented one witness, social worker Elizabeth Reynoso. Reynoso testified, inter alia, that (1) the respondent did not successfully utilize the department's services to address her own needs, (2) Ja'La and Ja'Myiaha have specialized needs that the respondent is not capable of meeting, (3) in a conversation the week prior to trial, the respondent acknowledged that she was not currently able to meet the needs of her children and that she had not done what she needed to do to comply with specific steps,8 and (4) the department has concerns about the respondent's ability to manage three children at once, particularly because she already was experiencing challenges with the only child currently in her care. The respondent testified on her own behalf, stating, inter alia, that she had started seeing a therapist whom she likes three weeks prior to trial.

On December 20, 2019, the court issued a memorandum of decision granting the petitions to terminate the parental rights of the respondent.9 Specifically, the court noted that the respondent ‘‘suffers from major depressive disorder

, post-traumatic stress disorder [(PTSD)] and a personality disorder. At times her anxiety precludes her from leaving her home and she habitually consumes marijuana [despite not having a medical prescription]. [The department] has made reasonable efforts to address [the respondent's] debilitating mental health issues and to foster [the respondent's] relationship and interaction with the girls. The [department's] efforts have had little to no positive impact because [the respondent] has been noncompliant and/or unengaged in referrals and services, the most glaring being her failure to engage in mental health and substance use treatment and her April, 2019 cessation of contact with Ja'La and Ja'Myiaha. Similarly, the testimony and exhibits reveal the respondent ... is unable or unwilling to benefit from reunification efforts.’(Footnote omitted.)

The court also quoted portions of Ines Schroeder's December, 2019 psychological evaluation of the respondent.10 Specifically, Schroeder indicated in her evaluation that ‘‘[the respondent] strives to meet her own needs first with little consideration for the effect on others. This was noted when she voiced that she stopped visits [in April, 2019] because she ... struggled ... greatly in having them because they left her too emotional and upset. While it is important that she took care of herself, her choice left her daughters feeling abandoned by [the respondent]. She did not share with them what she was doing, why she was doing it, or work with a therapist to help her process and manage these emotions so she can be available to her daughters. Her choices left her daughters to suffer emotionally....

‘‘While she feels more competent now than in the past, she recognizes her limits and admitted her need to stay away from visits because she is too emotionally overwrought by them. She is pessimistic about achieving her goals. She desires to be present for her children but feels emotionally unprepared. She recognizes her inability to care for the girls now but fears what her decision will mean regarding her future relationship with her children. She wishes to have more time to prepare and be available to the girls.’

Schroeder concluded that ‘‘[i]t is highly recommended that visits with [the respondent] stop unless it is determined that they are going to [be reunified] in the near future and the visits can be consistent and nurturing for them. Random inconsistent visits are very confusing to the girls and the discussion of potentially returning to her care without a clear understanding of when that might happen are emotionally damaging. When they witness their younger sister [Jordyn] engaging with [the respondent] and remaining in her care when they cannot can also be emotionally damaging. For them, it can affirm a belief that they are not wanted or valued as their siste...

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