In re Tre N., No. T11-CP03-011754-A (Conn. Super. 5/25/2006)

Decision Date25 May 2006
Docket NumberNo. T11-CP03-011755-A,No. T11-CP03-011754-A,T11-CP03-011754-A,T11-CP03-011755-A
CourtConnecticut Superior Court
PartiesIn re Tre N. In re Alexis S. Opinion No.: 93671
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

BARBARA BAILEY JONGBLOED, JUDGE.

On August 16, 2004, the Commissioner of the Department of Children and Families, ("DCF"), filed petitions pursuant to C.G.S. §17a-112 et seq. to terminate the parental rights of Shaunda S.,1 Walter R. and Anthony N.2 to their child, Tre N., and to terminate the parental rights of Shaunda S. and Stanley H. to their child, Alexis S. The petitions were amended on September 28, 2004. Respondent fathers failed to appear for trial and defaults were entered against them. Respondent mother contests termination of her parental rights. Trial of this matter took place before this court on February 6, 7, 9 and 28, 2006 at the Regional Child Protection Session at the Middlesex J.D. For the reasons stated below, the court finds in favor of the petitioner.

The statutory grounds alleged against all four respondents as to both children were (1) abandonment, in the sense that the parents have failed to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern or responsibility as to the welfare of the children (C.G.S. §17a-112(j)(3)(A)); (2) that the children, Tre and Alexis, were found in a prior proceeding to have been neglected or uncared for and the parents failed to achieve such degree of personal rehabilitation as would encourage the belief that within a reasonable period of time, considering the ages and the needs of the children, they could assume a responsible position in the lives of the children (C.G.S. §17a-112(j)(3)(B)(i)); and (3) that there is no ongoing parent-child relationship with respect to the parents that ordinarily develops as a result of a parent having met on a day-to-day basis the physical, emotional, moral or educational needs of the children, and to allow further time for the establishment of the parent-child relationship would be detrimental to the best interest of the children (C.G.S. §17a-112(j)(3)(D)).

On November 10, 2003, DCF received a referral alleging that Courtney S., the adopted daughter of Debby S., had been sexually abused. On November 12, 2003, DCF invoked a 96-hour administrative hold as to Courtney as well as to Tre and Alexis for whom Debby S. was legal guardian. On November 14, 2003, Orders of Temporary Custody were issued (Taylor, J.) and DCF filed neglect petitions on behalf of Tre and Alexis alleging that the children were denied proper care and attention physically, educationally, emotionally, or morally and that they were permitted to live under conditions injurious to their well-being. On May 24, 2004, Tre and Alexis were adjudicated neglected and committed to the care and custody of DCF (Taylor, J.). On November 4, 2004, commitment was maintained until further order of the court (Graziani, J.). On August 16, 2004, the petitions for termination of parental rights were filed. On September 28, 2004, amended petitions were filed.

The court finds that notice of this proceeding has been provided in accordance with the provisions of the Practice Book. The court further finds that the Child Protection Session of the Superior Court, Juvenile Matters Division, has jurisdiction over the pending matter and that no action is pending in any other court affecting custody of the children.

"The termination of parental rights is defined as the complete severance by court order of the legal relationship, with all its rights and responsibilities, between the child and his [or her] parent . . . [As such, it] is a most serious and sensitive judicial action." (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) In re Jonathan M., 255 Conn. 208, 231, 764 A.2d 739 (2001); In re Bruce R., 234 Conn. 194, 200, 662 A.2d 107 (1995).

The termination of parental rights is governed by statute. C.G.S. §17a-112. In a proceeding for termination of parental rights, the petitioner must prove a ground alleged in the petition, as of the date of filing the petition or the last amendment, by clear and convincing evidence. In re Joshua Z., 26 Conn.App. 58, 63, 597 A.2d 842 (1991), cert. denied, 221 Conn. 901, 599 A.2d 1028 (1992); In re Teresa S., 196 Conn. 18, 29, 491 A.2d 355 (1985); Practice Book §32a-3(b), 35a-7. Only one ground need be established for the granting of the petition. In re Juvenile Appeal (84-BC), 194 Conn. 252, 258, 479 A.2d 1204 (1984); In re Karrlo R., 44 Conn.Sup. 101, 106, 669 A.2d 1249 (1994), aff'd, 40 Conn.App. 73, 668 A.2d 1353 (1996).

Termination of parental rights trials proceed in two stages: the adjudication and the disposition. The adjudicatory stage involves the issue of whether the evidence presented establishes by clear and convincing evidence the existence of one or more of the statutory grounds as of the date the petition was filed or last amended. In re Juvenile Appeal (84-AB), 192 Conn. 254, 264, 471 A.2d 1380 (1984). "Pursuant to Practice Book §33-3(a), [now P.B. §35a-7] in deciding the adjudicatory phase of the hearing for the termination of parental rights, the trial court's inquiry is limited to the events and facts preceding the filing of the petition for the termination of parental rights [or last amendment]." In re Daniel C., 63 Conn.App. 339, 357, 776 A.2d 487 (2001). However, "[i]n the adjudicatory phase, the court may rely on events occurring after the date of the filing of the petition to terminate parental rights when considering the issue of whether the degree of rehabilitation is sufficient to foresee that the parent may resume a useful role in the child's life within a reasonable time." In re Stanley D., 61 Conn.App. 224, 230, 763 A.2d 83 (2000) (emphasis in original); see In re Latifa R., 67 Conn.App. 742, 748, 789 A.2d 1024 (2002).

If at least one pleaded ground to terminate is found, the court proceeds to the disposition stage. The court must consider whether the facts, as of the last day of trial, establish, by clear and convincing evidence, that termination is in the child's best interest. Procedurally, the evidence as to both adjudicatory and dispositional phases is heard at the same trial without first determining if the state has proven a statutory ground for adjudication before consideration of the dispositional question. In re Eden F., 250 Conn. 674, 688-89, 741 A.2d 873 (1999); In re Juvenile Appeal (84-BC), 194 Conn. at 258; State v. Anonymous, 179 Conn. 155, 172-73, 425 A.2d 939 (1979); In re Quanitra M., 60 Conn.App. 96, 102, 758 A.2d 863, cert. denied, 255 Conn. 903, 762 A.2d 909 (2000); In re Emmanuel M., 43 Conn.Sup. 108, 113, 648 A.2d 904, (1993), aff'd, 35 Conn.App. 276, 278, 648 A.2d 881, cert. denied, 231 Conn. 915, 648 A.2d 151 (1994); In re Nicolina T., 9 Conn.App. 598, 602, 520 A.2d 639, cert. denied, 203 Conn. 804, 525 A.2d 519 (1987).

I. FACTS

At trial, the petitioner introduced the social studies and addenda, psychological evaluation, DCF narratives, Kentucky probate records, and other documentary evidence, and the testimony of DCF social workers Michael Clark, Marcy Hogan and Jessica Fitzgerald; Debra S., legal guardian; Jessica Reiser, Ph.D., and Lisa Hardcastle, therapist. Respondent mother, Shaunda S., testified on her own behalf and called as a witness Barbara P. Berkowitz, Ph.D. The child's attorney participated fully, but introduced no exhibits or testimony. The credible evidence admitted at trial supports the following facts by clear and convincing evidence.

In August 1997, Debra S. ("Debby") was employed at the Brighton Center in Newport, Kentucky where she worked as an after-school coordinator. The Brighton Center ran several programs for single women and young mothers to provide them with education, parenting skills and childcare. Debby S. was in the process of adopting a child when she learned from the head teacher in the infant room that one of the young mothers in the program wanted to put her child, Tre, up for adoption. Debby S. had covered in the infant room on occasion and knew the mother by her married name as Shaunda R., as opposed to Shaunda S. Debby spoke with Shaunda that day. Mother, then nineteen, told Debby that she did not want to keep Tre, who was then fifteen months old, and was planning to go to the Cabinet for Families and Children in Kentucky about giving him to them. When Debby told Shaunda that she would be interested in Tre, Shaunda said that Debby could come over that night and get him. Debby, and her husband Willie S., went to Shaunda's apartment in Covington, Kentucky that night. They stayed and visited a while, took Tre and left. Shaunda gave them a high chair, diaper bag, some clothing and a couple of toys. Debby S. testified that she and Shaunda had a verbal agreement that Tre would live with Debby and that eventually she would adopt him legally. Debby testified that Tre was good, did not cry a lot and was an easy child. In September 1997, Debby and Willie S. were given legal guardianship of Tre by the probate court in Kenton County, Kentucky. Debby had agreed that Shaunda could visit Tre any time she wanted. Debby testified that Shaunda did visit fairly often at first, but then less frequently (about every weekend for a couple of months), and then visitation tapered off to the point where she visited only on special occasions.

In approximately June 1998, Shaunda came to Debby again, told her that she was seven months pregnant and asked Debby if she was interested in taking this baby as well. At first Debby declined, but then had a change of heart. As they talked further, Debby said she would take the new baby under certain conditions: that Shaunda allow Debby to go to all remaining prenatal appointments; that Debby be present for the birth; and that Debby name the child. Shaunda agreed to these conditions. After the birth, Debby brought Shaunda and the baby, Alexis, back to her own house. Debby had...

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