In re Michael, No. CP01-002496-A (CT 6/2/2003)

Decision Date02 June 2003
Docket NumberNo. CP01-002496-A,CP01-002496-A
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesIn re Michael W., a person 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 Shania N. and Michael W., Sr., the biological parents of Michael W., born December 13, 2000. The Department of Children and Families (DCF or department) filed the TPR petition at issue on March 28, 2002.2 The petition against Shania N. alleged her failure to achieve rehabilitation and lack of an ongoing parent-child relationship; the petition against Michael Sr. alleged abandonment, failure to achieve rehabilitation and lack of an ongoing parent-child relationship. Donna V., the child's paternal grandmother, was granted permission to intervene for dispositional purposes. For the reasons stated below, the court finds these matters in favor of the petitioner, and terminates the respondents' parental rights.

Trial of this highly-contested matter took place on October 15 and 16, 2002. The petitioner, the child and both respondents were vigorously represented throughout the proceedings.3 Shania N. was present on each day of trial, although the respondent-father did not appear.4 On or before February 7, 2003, comprehensive briefs were submitted on behalf of the petitioner, the respondent mother, and the child.

The Child Protection Session of the Superior Court, Juvenile Matters, has jurisdiction over the pending case. Notice has been provided in accordance with the applicable provisions of the Practice Book. No action is pending in any other court affecting custody of Michael.

I. FACTUAL FINDINGS

The Court has thoroughly reviewed the verified petitions, the TPR social study5 and the multiple other documents submitted in evidence which included a psychiatric report, reports of psychological testing and evaluation, records of the Department of Public Safety and the Department of Corrections (DOC), a Pre-Sentence Investigation (PSI), records from an Alternative Incarceration Center (AIC), police reports, court documents, DCF records, laboratory reports, records from substance abuse treatment facilities, hospital records, court records, and a physician's report. The court has utilized the applicable legal standards6 in considering this evidence and the testimony of witnesses who included: the psychiatrist who performed a court-ordered evaluation of the respondent mother, the paternal grandmother, and a former DCF social worker.7 The respondent mother delivered a statement, and the child's GAL delivered his report for the court's consideration. Upon deliberation, the court finds that the following facts were proven by clear and convincing evidence at trial:8

I.A. HISTORY OF THE PROCEEDINGS

DCF has been involved with this family since the birth of Michael W., when the respondents were identified as lacking a home or resources with which to care for their premature infant. As the Department of Mental Retardation (DMR) was unable to provide a residence that could accept both its client, Shania N., and the infant, Michael was taken into DCF custody through court orders issued in January 2001. He has remained in DCF's care since that time. (Exhibits 4, 11, 20, 22.)

I.B. EVENTS PRIOR TO THE UNCARED FOR ADJUDICATION OF MARCH 26, 2001.

Shania N. was born on August 15, 1974. She received special education though High School, and has since been employed at a supermarket, a discount store, and at a hospital cafeteria; she has also had long periods of unemployment. Shania N. receives support, counseling and other assistance through DMR and a social service agency (CC) which provides a case manager for her. (Exhibits 4, 11, 24.)

Shania N. has a history of alcohol and drug abuse, cognitive deficits and mental health concerns. In 1999, she was hospitalized for psychiatric reasons and anger-related problems. (Exhibit 8.) She commenced, and then left, substance abuse treatment at a local hospital's intensive out-patient program during 1999. Depakote was prescribed for Shania N. at that hospital, but she did not take the medication regularly.9 (Exhibit 4.)

Michael Sr. was born on August 20, 1972. Throughout his adolescence, at school and at home, Michael Sr. had problems with anger, aggressive behavior, alcohol and drug use.10 Despite long-term out-patient therapy and medication management during childhood; residential treatment at several facilities; and a full menu of supportive and rehabilitative services in the community and through the criminal court system, the respondent father persisted in criminal activity, as set forth in Part I.E. From time to time, Michael Sr. has also been employed. (Exhibit 17.)

Michael was born to Shania N. and Michael Sr. at a local hospital on December 13, 2000. He was born eight weeks premature, weighed 3 lbs. 15 oz., and required hospital management. In response to Michael Sr.'s apparent absence, Shania N.'s lack of prenatal care, her apparent homelessness, and her inability to care for her premature infant's special needs, the hospital referred the matter to DCF. (Exhibits 4, 11, 12, 20.) On January 2, 2001, the court (Dennis, J) granted DCF's application for an ex parte order of temporary custody (OTC).11 On January 6, 2001, while the ex parte order was pending, Shania N. engaged in criminal activity for which she was subsequently charged with Harassment in the second degree.12 (Exhibit 2.) On January 9, 2001, when neither respondent appeared in court, the OTC was sustained (Brenneman, J.) without prejudice. (Exhibit 22.) On February 6, 2001, attended by counsel, the respondent mother appeared and agreed that the OTC should continue in effect. (Exhibit 22.)

In March of 2001, at DCF's referral, Shania N. underwent a chemical dependency assessment and drug screen at a substance abuse evaluation and treatment program (PR). Shania N. acknowledged daily use of alcohol in the past, but denied that she still drinks; however, the persistence of the respondent mother's alcohol problem became obvious, despite her denial, when PR staff observed her drinking in a public setting.13 Shania N. admitted that she has "anger issues." (Exhibit 4.) Diagnosing her with Alcohol Dependency and noting her high risk behavior, the PR program offered Shania N. an opportunity to receive substance abuse treatment through their day treatment program. (Exhibit 4.)

After hearing on March 26, 2001, Michael was adjudicated an uncared for, homeless child (Brenneman, J.) and was committed to the custody of DCF. Shania N. was present, but the court entered a default for Michael Sr., as he failed to attend that proceeding. (Exhibit 22.)

I.C. EVENTS FOLLOWING THE NEGLECT ADJUDICATION OF MARCH 26, 2001

On May 15, 2001, weeks after Michael's commitment, Shania N. was arrested and charged with Assault in the third degree. (Exhibit 2.) On May 17, 2001, upon referral through the criminal court process, Shania N. started working with a local AIC. Through the AIC, she completed the "Families in Crisis Anger and Aggression" group counseling program and submitted to a number of substance abuse screens, although "she was never tested for alcohol, her drug of choice." (Exhibit 8.) The respondent mother's criminal charges were nolled on August 2, 2001, ending her obligation to the AIC. (Exhibit 2.)

On September 5, 2001, at DCF's referral, Shania N. returned to the PR program; her admission urine screen "was returned as positive for ethanol at .025%." (Exhibit 8.) At her evaluation Shania N. presented inconsistent information, vague answers to questions about her past, and appeared to be "un-kempt with poor hygiene." (Exhibit 8.) Shania N. was diagnosed with Alcohol Dependence, with questions of marijuana abuse and cocaine dependence. The PR staff recommended her participation in a residential substance abuse program, and provided a counselor to assist Shania N. in gaining admission to a state hospital for that care. (Exhibits 7, 8.)

On January 22, 2002, Shania N. underwent a court-ordered psychological examination performed by Ruth Grant, Ph.D. Dr. Grant noted Shania N.'s unkempt appearance and her tendency to make demands in angry ways. She diagnosed Shania N. with mild mental retardation and paranoid personality disorder. (Exhibit 15.)

On February 25, 2002, the court (Brenneman, J.) conducted an evidentiary hearing to consider, among other things, the issue of whether DCF should continue to make efforts to reunify the respondents and their son.14 After consideration of the social study and identification of the services previously established by DCF, the court found that "further affirmative efforts to reunify are not appropriate" as to either Shania N. or Michael Sr. (Tr. 2/25/02.) In writing, the court found that "Upon clear and convincing evidence it . . . is not appropriate to continue to make reasonable efforts to reunify the child" with either respondent, and approved the permanency plan for Michael to be adopted. (Exhibit 22.)

I.D. EVENTS AFTER THE FILING OF THE TPR PETITION ON MARCH 28, 2002.

On June 14, 2002, upon motion by the respondent mother's GAL, the court (Jongbloed, J.) ordered Shania N. to undergo a competency evaluation. (Exhibit 22.) David Krulee, M.D. performed the evaluation on July 10, 2002. At that time, the psychiatrist found that Shania N. was "friendly and cooperative" and that she "made a striking appearance. She was disheveled and malodorous . . . Taken together, [Shania N.] performed extremely poorly on both the verbal and non-verbal intellectual portions of the mental status examination creating the impression of significant intellectual deficits." (Exhibit 1.) Based on Shania N.'s lack of capacity to fully understand the court proceedings or to cooperate with her attorney, the court-ordered psychiatric evaluator found her to be non-competent...

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