In re Roshawn R.

Decision Date17 November 1998
Docket Number(AC 17590)
Citation51 Conn. App. 44,720 A.2d 1112
CourtConnecticut Court of Appeals

Foti, Landau and Sullivan, Js. David B. Rozwaski, for the appellant (respondent father).

Lawrence G. Widem, assistant attorney general, with whom, on the brief, was Richard Blumenthal, attorney general, for the appellee (petitioner).

Justine FitzGerald Miller, for the minor children.



The respondent father appeals from the judgments of the trial court terminating his parental rights in two of his five children, R and M.2 On appeal, the respondent father claims that the trial court improperly found that (1) he had abandoned his children, (2) he had failed to achieve rehabilitation and (3) that it was in the best interests of R and M to terminate his parental rights pursuant to General Statutes (Rev. to 1995) § 17a-112 (b).3 We affirm the judgments of the trial court.

On March 3, 1995, the commissioner of the department of children and families (petitioner) filed termination of parental rights petitions against the respondents4 with respect to six children; the petitioner filed a similar petition with respect to a seventh child, J, in February, 1996.5 The respondent was subsequently determined not to be the biological father of two of the seven children, and the petitions with respect to those children were dismissed as to him. The amended petitions against the respondent alleged three grounds for termination pursuant to § 17a-112 (b): Abandonment, parental failure to achieve rehabilitation and acts of commission or omission. The parties were heard on numerous days from October 23, 1996, to April 17, 1997. The petitioner placed twenty exhibits in evidence and offered testimony from sixteen witnesses, including a court-appointed psychologist. The respondent testified on his own behalf, placed twenty-five exhibits in evidence and called five witnesses. Counsel for the children placed one exhibit in evidence. Counsel for the petitioner, the respondent and the minor children submitted posttrial briefs. The trial court rendered judgments terminating the respondent's parental rights in R and M on July 24, 1997. This appeal followed.

In a comprehensive memorandum of decision, dated July 24, 1997, the trial court found the following facts. On January 22, 1992, the respondent's children, S, Y and R, were placed in the petitioner's temporary custody, where they remained continuously until the time of judgment. On that same date, the petitioner filed neglect petitions with respect to each of these children, who were subsequently committed to the petitioner for a period not to exceed eighteen months. These eighteen month commitments were extended three times. Shortly after he was born, M was voluntarily placed with the petitioner by his mother and thereafter committed to the petitioner. That commitment was twice extended.

The respondent has a history of chronic substance abuse. For more than five years, the respondent's chemical dependency has rendered him unable to care for his children. Not only did the respondent use illegal drugs, but he also sold them. When he was using illegal drugs, the respondent cared more about drugs than about his children. There was testimony that the respondent is a "nice man" when he is substance free, but becomes angry and aggressive when he abuses drugs. He physically abused the children's mother and once assaulted a correction officer. The respondent attributed that behavior to heroin withdrawal.

As a result of the respondent's experience with illegal drugs, he has an extensive history with the criminal justice system. He was imprisoned for six months in 1992 and seven months in 1993. He was incarcerated in 1994 until late March when the department of correction sent him to Crossroads, a residential drug treatment facility. While he was in treatment, he tested positive for illegal drug use. Less than two months after he arrived at Crossroads, the respondent left the facility without permission. As a result of his unauthorized departure from treatment, he was charged with the criminal offense of escape from custody. He was apprehended and returned to prison in 1995, where he remained at least until the end of the termination hearing. The respondent saw his children only sporadically on the street or in their foster homes between 1992 and 1995. He had only occasional and cursory involvement in the lives of his children from 1992 until his most recent incarceration in 1995.

Between 1992 and 1995, the petitioner was unable to offer services to the respondent due to his lifestyle, substance abuse, frequent periods of incarceration and lack of interest in services. The respondent's leaving Crossroads demonstrated his resistance to rehabilitative assistance during that period of time. Since his return to prison in 1995, however, the respondent's attitude toward reunification services has changed significantly. The respondent sought and participated successfully in a number of rehabilitation programs offered by the department of correction, including fatherhood seminars, the tier program, Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, the alternative to violence project, the families activities and parenting program, and the Connecticut prison association resettlement program.

To the extent possible, since 1995, the respondent has attempted to reunify with his children. He requested permission to visit with them, he solicited Christmas gifts for some of them through an inmate assistance program, and he took advantage of the limited number of parenting programs the department of correction offers to prisoners. The respondent's efforts to achieve reunification with his children during the past two years were consistent.

As a result of his evaluation of the respondent in 1995, Anthony Campagna, a court-appointed psychologist, found that an active and vital parent-child relationship existed between the respondent and S and Y. He found that there was no relationship between the respondent and R and M. Campagna concluded that the respondent could not be expected to achieve a sufficient degree of rehabilitation within a reasonable period of time so that he could assume a responsible position in their lives due to his need for drug rehabilitation therapy and other psychological problems. In commenting on the best interests of the children, however, Campagna evaluated the children individually on the basis of their developmental needs, ages and relationships with the respondent. He concluded that it was in the best interests of R and M to terminate the respondent's parental rights, but that it was not in the best interests of S and Y, who were emotionally attached to the respondent.

At the conclusion of the adjudication phase of the trial, the trial court found that the petitioner had proved by clear and convincing evidence that the respondent had abandoned his four oldest children pursuant to § 17a-112 (b) (1). With respect to S, Y and R, this ground was proven to have existed for more than one year prior to the initiation of the termination proceedings. Although one year had not yet passed between M's birth on March 17, 1994, and the petitioner's initiating termination proceedings against the respondent on March 3, 1995, the trial court found by clear and convincing evidence that the petitioner had proved that it was in M's best interest, given all the facts and circumstances of this case, that the statutory one year requirement be waived.

Regarding the allegation of failure to achieve rehabilitation, the trial court found with respect to R and M that the petitioner proved by clear and convincing evidence that for a period of more than one year, the respondent had failed to achieve such degree of personal rehabilitation as would encourage the belief that within a reasonable time, he could assume a responsible position in their lives. Although the petitioner proved by clear and convincing evidence that the respondent had failed to achieve a sufficient degree of rehabilitation for the requisite period of time prior to March 3, 1995, with respect to S and Y, the petitioner failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that there was no belief that the respondent could assume a responsible position in their lives within a reasonable time.

The petitioner failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the respondent denied his children the care, guidance and control necessary for their physical, educational, moral or emotional well-being as the result of acts of parental commission or omission. The counts of the petitions with respect to that allegation against the respondent were dismissed.

Following the dispositional phase of the trial, the trial court found, on the basis of Campagna's report, that it was not in the best interests of S and Y to terminate the respondent's parental rights. It found, however, that it was in the best interests of R and M that the respondent's parental rights be terminated with respect to them and rendered judgments accordingly. On appeal, the respondent challenges the trial court's factual findings and termination of his parental rights in R and M.

"The standard for review on appeal [from a termination of parental rights] is whether the challenged findings are clearly erroneous. In re Luis C., [210 Conn. 157, 166, 554 A.2d 722 (1989)]; In re Christina V., 38 Conn. App. 214, 223, 660 A.2d 863 (1995). The determinations reached by the trial court that the evidence is clear and convincing will be disturbed only if [any challenged] finding is not supported by the evidence and [is], in light of the evidence in the whole record, clearly erroneous. Pandolphe's Auto Parts, Inc. v. Manchester, 181 Conn. 217, 221-22, 435 A.2d 24 (1980). In re Juvenile Appeal (84-3), 1 Conn. App. 463, 478, 473 A.2d 795, cert. denied, 193 Conn. 802, 474 A.2d 1259 (1984). In re Luis C., supra,...

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