Lauren R., In re

Decision Date11 August 1998
Docket NumberNo. 17334,17334
Citation715 A.2d 822,49 Conn.App. 763
CourtConnecticut Court of Appeals
PartiesIn re LAUREN R. *

John M. Andreini, with whom, on brief, was Janis C. Jerman, Hartford, for appellant (respondent).

Stephen G. Vitelli, Assistant Attorney General, with whom, on the brief, was Richard Blumenthal, Attorney General, for appellee (petitioner).

Before EDWARD Y. O'CONNELL, C.J., and SCHALLER and SULLIVAN, JJ.

SULLIVAN, Judge.

The respondent mother appeals from the judgment of the trial court terminating her parental rights with respect to her daughter. The respondent claims that the trial court improperly concluded that the petitioner, the department of children and families (department), proved, by clear and convincing evidence, the statutory grounds for termination under General Statutes § 17a-112. Specifically, the respondent claims that the trial court improperly (1) concluded that the respondent failed to achieve a degree of personal rehabilitation as would encourage the belief that she could assume a responsible position in her daughter's life pursuant to § 17a-112 (c)(3)(B), (2) concluded that the respondent's daughter was denied, by reason of the respondent's acts of commission or omission, the care necessary for her well-being pursuant to § 17a-112 (c)(3)(C), (3) concluded that the department made reasonable efforts to reunify the respondent with her daughter under § 17a-112 (e)(2), and did not prevent the respondent from maintaining a meaningful relationship with her daughter under § 17a-112 (e)(7), (4) refused to draw an adverse inference against the petitioner for failing to call a witness and (5) refused to permit the respondent to call the minor child as a witness. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The trial court found the following facts. The respondent is the mother of Lauren, who was born on September 9, 1985. Lauren's father never maintained a relationship with Lauren and he consented to the termination of his parental rights on August 16, 1996. In 1992, the respondent commenced a relationship with Jeff L., who is an alcoholic. The respondent was placed in foster care during her youth and was herself a victim of sexual abuse.

On October 26, 1992, one of the respondent's coworkers informed Jodi Boebert, an officer of the East Hartford police department, that the respondent told her that Jeff had sexually assaulted her six year old daughter, Lauren. 1 The following day, Boebert and an investigator from the department interviewed Lauren at her school. At that time, Lauren had recently turned seven years old. She stated that she told her mother that her private area hurt and that her mother told her to take a bath, but Lauren did not disclose any sexual abuse. Boebert also interviewed the respondent at her home. The respondent denied having made the statement to her coworker and refused to reveal Jeff's name or address. On November 3, 1992, Boebert returned to the respondent's home to request that Lauren undergo a physical examination. At this time, the respondent told Boebert that she did not want Jeff to know that the police were questioning Lauren. She explained that she was pregnant with Jeff's child and that she did not want to alienate Jeff.

Subsequently, Boebert received Lauren's medical report, which failed to confirm any sexual abuse. The police department closed its investigation until on March 25, 1993, when the parents of one of Lauren's friends reported to Boebert that Jeff had sexually assaulted their daughter in October, 1992. Wendy, an eleven year old friend of Lauren, told her parents that while she was at the respondent's home, Jeff had inserted his finger into her vagina and asked her to go to bed with him. Jeff also told Wendy that the respondent knew everything and not to worry.

On March 31, 1993, Boebert and an investigator from the department again interviewed Lauren at her school. Lauren disclosed that Jeff had "licked her private part and made her pee," inserted his finger into her buttocks and put his private part on her private part. This occurred in her mother's bedroom while her mother was at work and while her siblings were asleep. She stated that this contact occurred more than once over a period of one week. Lauren stated that she had told her mother and older sister what had happened and that her mother told her not to talk to anyone about it. On April 1, 1993, Boebert informed the respondent of Lauren's statements. The respondent stated that Lauren was lying and that she did not believe her daughter's allegations or those of Wendy. The respondent again refused to reveal Jeff's name. The department removed Lauren from the respondent's home on that date. On April 5, 1993, the department obtained an order of temporary custody of Lauren and filed a petition alleging neglect. The trial court entered a finding of neglect on October 21, 1993.

On April 16, 1993, the police arrested the respondent for risk of injury to a child in violation of General Statutes § 53-21, and the criminal court issued a protective order prohibiting the respondent from having any unsupervised contact with Lauren. On January 30, 1996, the petitioner filed a petition for the termination of the respondent's parental rights pursuant to § 17a-112. After a hearing on the matter, the court entered an order terminating the respondent's parental rights on April 28, 1997.

"The hearing on a petition to terminate parental rights consists of two phases, adjudication and disposition. See Practice Book § 1043.1 et seq. [now Practice Book 1998 Rev.) § 33-5]. In the adjudicatory phase, the trial court determines whether the allegations of the statutory ground for termination of parental rights exists by clear and convincing evidence. If the trial court determines that a statutory ground for termination exists, it proceeds to the dispositional phase. In the dispositional phase, the trial court determines whether the termination of parental rights is in the best interests of the child. In re Maximina V., 44 Conn.App. 80, 82-83, 686 A.2d 1005 (1997)." In re Drew R., 47 Conn.App. 124, 127, 702 A.2d 647 (1997).

"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)." In re Eden F., 48 Conn.App. 290, 309, 710 A.2d 771, cert. granted on other grounds, 245 Conn. 917, 717 A.2d 234 (1998). "On appeal, our function is to determine whether the trial court's conclusion was legally correct and factually supported.... We do not examine the record to determine whether the trier of fact could have reached a conclusion other than the one reached.... Rather, on review by this court every reasonable presumption is made in favor of the trial court's ruling...." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Id.

I

We first address the respondent's claim that the trial court improperly concluded that the respondent failed to achieve such a degree of personal rehabilitation as would encourage the belief that she could assume a responsible position in her daughter's life. The respondent claims that this finding by the trial court was not legally correct or factually supported in light of certain evidence in the record. Specifically, the respondent relies on a report by Farah Ibrahim, a psychologist, and the testimony of Dena Rosenbloom, a clinical psychologist. The respondent also points out that she attended eight sessions of a support group for survivors of sexual abuse in 1995.

Ibrahim met with the respondent and Lauren during family counseling sessions in 1993 and 1994. Ibrahim's report, dated February 8, 1994, states that Lauren should eventually be reunited with the respondent, that Lauren and her mother desperately missed each other and that significant progress was made in therapy. The report states Ibrahim's belief that the respondent would benefit from individual therapy and from a course on parenting and appropriate protection of her children. 2 The report also indicates, however, that the respondent ignored Ibrahim's recommendation for individual counseling for two years while Lauren was in foster care. In addition, at a hearing in March, 1994, concerning revocation of the April 16, 1993 protective order, Ibrahim testified that the respondent had acknowledged the possibility that Lauren was molested, but not to the extent indicated on the police report. Ibrahim did not testify at trial, although the respondent introduced a copy of her report.

The respondent also relies on the testimony of Rosenbloom, who the respondent claims expressed optimism regarding her rehabilitation. We note, however, that the trial court found that the respondent initiated counseling with Rosenbloom four years after Lauren's placement in foster care and two weeks after the commencement of the termination proceedings in this case. Furthermore, Rosenbloom did not testify that the respondent was rehabilitated and could not provide an opinion concerning how long it would be before the respondent could constructively act as a parent to her daughter.

Robert H. Neems, a psychologist who has worked with the respondent and Lauren since 1995, testified that the respondent had not achieved rehabilitation. He stated that, until September, 1996, the respondent expressed her belief that Lauren fabricated the molestation story. 3 Neems also testified to other examples of behavior that indicated a lack of rehabilitation. He testified that the respondent failed to support Lauren emotionally blamed Lauren and the department for Lauren's placement in foster care, failed to take responsibility for the course of events over the last four years and disrupted Lauren's adjustment in foster care. He stated that the respondent's continued relationship with Jeff was destructive to Lauren. ...

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