Luis C., In re, 13452

Decision Date21 February 1989
Docket NumberNo. 13452,13452
Citation554 A.2d 722,210 Conn. 157
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesIn re LUIS C. *

Lynn B. Cochrane, with whom was Judith Solomon, for appellant (respondent mother).

Judith Merrill Earl, Asst. Atty. Gen., with whom, on the brief, were Joseph I. Lieberman, Atty. Gen., and Robert W. Garvey, Asst. Atty. Gen., for appellee (petitioner).

Antoinette Leone Ruzzier, Hartford, for minor child.


GLASS, J., Associate Justice.

This is an appeal by the respondent, Elba M., from the judgment of the trial court terminating her parental rights to Luis C., her son, pursuant to General Statutes § 17-43a(b)(2) and (4). 1 On appeal, the respondent claims that the trial court erred in concluding that she had failed to achieve a degree of personal rehabilitation that would allow her to assume a responsible position in the child's life. She also claims that General Statutes § 17-43a(b)(4) violates the due process clauses of the Connecticut and United States constitutions. We find no error.

As a result of allegations that Luis had been physically abused, on April 2, 1982, the department of children and youth services (DCYS) filed a petition in the trial court alleging that Luis was a neglected child. Luis was eighteen months old at the time the petition was filed. Pursuant to an order of temporary custody, Luis, whose biological parents were Hispanic, was taken into custody by DCYS, and was placed in the home of non- foster parents in May, 1982. Luis has been in their care since that time. Following a hearing on the petition, the trial court on September 9, 1982, adjudicated Luis a neglected child because of parental abuse, and committed him to the care and custody of the commissioner of DCYS for a period up to eighteen months. 2 With the respondent's agreement, Luis's commitment to DCYS was extended for a period of eighteen months in February, 1984, and for an additional eighteen months in August, 1985.

On October 23, 1986, the commissioner of DCYS filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of the respondent and Victor, Luis's father. The commissioner alleged that Victor had abandoned Luis, 3 and that the respondent's parental rights to Luis should be terminated on the basis of § 17-43a(b)(2) and (4). Section § 17-43a(b)(2) provides that the trial court may grant a petition to terminate parental rights based upon proof by clear and convincing evidence that the parents of a child, previously adjudicated by the Superior Court to be neglected, have failed to achieve such degree of personal rehabilitation as would encourage the belief that within a reasonable time, considering the child's age and needs, they could assume a responsible position in the child's life. Section 17-43a(b)(4) provides that parental rights may be terminated if by clear and convincing evidence it is proven that there is no ongoing parent-child relationship. 4

In March and April, 1986, the trial court conducted a hearing on the commissioner's petition to terminate the respondent's parental rights to Luis. The trial court heard testimony from several counselors who had worked with Luis and the respondent. Louise Leavenworth, a social worker, testified that she observed twenty-three visits by the respondent with Luis during the period from December, 1984, to July, 1986. She testified that she found very little interaction initiated by the mother with Luis, and that Luis reacted negatively toward his mother. Leavenworth testified that Luis had become concerned about the court proceeding and where he was going to live. She further testified that adoption by the foster parents would have a positive influence on Luis and that a reunification with his mother would be negative. She concluded that no meaningful relationship between Luis and his mother would be likely to develop.

The respondent engaged in counseling at two separate facilities beginning in 1982. In October, 1982, she was referred by DCYS to Hartford Community Health Services for parenting skills counseling. The scheduled weekly sessions were discontinued in May, 1983, because of her absences. The substance of the testimony of her counselor from Hartford Community Health Services was that the respondent did not experience any substantial increase in parenting skills as a result of the sessions. In 1984, the respondent began counseling with the Institute for the Hispanic Family, initially for the purpose of dealing with the respondent's problems of getting independent housing, reunification with Luis and parenting of her newborn child, Carlos. The main efforts of this counseling activity were directed toward Carlos, who had been a difficult child to raise. The respondent's counselor, Gloria Gerena, testified that she observed a visit between the respondent and Luis in November, 1985. She described the visit as friendly and not negative, but that Luis treated the respondent as a friend and not as his mother. Gerena also testified that, based on her work with the respondent over a two and one-half year period, it was her opinion that the respondent had the "potential" to develop adequate parenting skills.

Pursuant to the trial court's order, in September, 1985, Dr. Julia Ramos-McKay, a psychologist, performed an evaluation of the respondent, the foster mother and Luis. She testified that the respondent's and Luis's relationship was "friendly" but was not that of a mother and child. She further testified that Luis's foster mother was the child's "psychological" parent, and that Luis referred to his foster mother as "Mom." Ramos-McKay suggested that, as of September, 1985, the respondent may not have had command of common parental techniques. Dr. Henry Kranzler, a specialist in cultural psychiatry, testified for the respondent. Kranzler was unable to render a definitive opinion on whether it would be possible to reunite the respondent and Luis in the future. He also testified that it would be "disastrous" for Luis to return to an Hispanic cultural environment in light of the fact that Luis had spent the previous four and one-half years in an Anglo-American environment with his foster parents.

The trial court also heard testimony that, at the time of DCYS' initial involvement with Luis in connection with the original abuse allegation, the respondent lived on Groton Street in Hartford. Thereafter, she moved to Vine Street. She was evasive about her other residences. Housing had been difficult to obtain because of a lack of housing units and a lack of money. Gerena, one of the respondent's counselors, contacted the Hartford Housing Authority on behalf of the respondent and furnished other housing leads to her. At the time of the termination hearing, the respondent had an apartment in the Charter Oak public housing project, but according to Gerena, the street on which the respondent lived was considered the worst street in the project because of a high crime rate.

Luis, who was almost seven years old at the time of the termination hearing, did not testify. The trial court found that the parties had stipulated that Luis loved his foster parents, considered them to be his mother and father, and wanted to live with them and not the respondent. The trial court determined that because Luis has grown up as a non-Hispanic child in the foster home, his relationship to his Hispanic mother had suffered, that the difference in cultures between mother and child adversely affected their relationship, and that Luis's return to an Hispanic culture after this stay in the Anglo-American foster home would be disastrous. The trial court further found that the respondent's visits with her son at his foster home had not been productive. The visits caused Luis to experience tension and anxiety. Following the respondent's visits, Luis experienced nightmares, maladjustment at school, mood changes and bed wetting. A pediatric nurse and a kindergarten teacher confirmed Luis's negative reaction to the respondent's visits. The trial court sanctioned the cessation of the respondent's visits in January, 1986, and thereafter Luis no longer suffered from the negative reactions identified as having been caused by the respondent's visits. The trial court further found that the respondent's parenting skills were deficient and that her relationship with Luis had suffered because of this deficiency.

Pursuant to General Statutes § 17-43a(d), 5 the trial court, in its memorandum of decision, made specific findings regarding the six statutory factors necessary for consideration in a proceeding to terminate parental rights. While many of these findings are evident from our recitation of the facts, for emphasis, we will recapitulate those findings here. The court found that the counseling services provided to the respondent had little effect in improving her parenting skills. It also found that the respondent had displayed little dedication to meeting obligations that she had agreed to, such as maintaining contact with DCYS and attending parenting skills programs. It further found that Luis, who was six years of age at the time of the termination hearing, had bonded with his foster parents, and that the respondent had made only limited efforts to adjust her conduct and circumstances so that Luis's return to live with her would be in his best interests. It also found that the respondent's efforts to maintain a meaningful relationship with Luis had not been interfered with by any other person. Accordingly, the trial court found that the evidence was clear and convincing that the respondent had failed to achieve the necessary level of rehabilitation required under § 17-43a(b)(2) and that there was no ongoing parent-child relationship as provided by § 17-43a(b)(4). The trial court also concluded that the evidence was clear and convincing that it was in Luis's best interests to grant DCYS' petition to terminate the...

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