Tabitha P., In re

Decision Date19 September 1995
Docket NumberNo. 14028,14028
Citation39 Conn.App. 353,664 A.2d 1168
CourtConnecticut Court of Appeals
PartiesIn re TABITHA P. et al. *

Page 1168

664 A.2d 1168
39 Conn.App. 353
In re TABITHA P. et al. *
No. 14028.
Appellate Court of Connecticut.
Argued May 23, 1995.
Decided Sept. 19, 1995.

Page 1170

Barbara J. Claire, New London, for appellant (respondent).

Benjamin Zivyon, Assistant Attorney General, with whom were Dennis Antonacci, Assistant Attorney General, and, on the brief, Richard Blumenthal, Attorney General, and Susan T. Pearlman, for appellee (petitioner).

Richard A. Otto, Hartford, for minor children.

Before SCHALLER, SPEAR and FRANCIS X. HENNESSY, JJ.

FRANCIS X. HENNESSY, Judge.

The respondent mother appeals from the judgment of the trial court terminating her parental rights with respect to her children, Tabitha and Damion. The respondent claims that the trial court improperly (1) relied on outdated reports by a clinical psychologist, (2) failed to credit the testimony of "joint" witnesses who testified on behalf of the respondent and stipulated testimony filed by the respondent, (3) concluded that there was no parent-child relationship even though this [39 Conn.App. 355] ground for termination was not alleged by the petitioner, and (4) concluded that there was sufficient evidence of the respondent's failure to rehabilitate herself. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

This matter came to the trial court by petitions of the department of children and youth services (DCYS) 1 filed on October 24, 1992, 2 requesting the termination of the respondent's parental rights with respect to her children Tabitha and Damion. At the time the petition was filed, Tabitha was eight years old and Damion was six years old. Each of the petitions recites the same allegations in connection with the respective child. The petitions allege that the children are committed to the custody of DCYS, having been found in a prior proceeding to be neglected or uncared for, and that the respondent has failed to achieve such a degree of personal rehabilitation as would encourage the belief that within a reasonable time, considering the ages and needs of the children, she could assume a responsible position in their lives 3 and that this reason for termination has existed for not less than one year. See General Statutes § 17a-112(b)(2). A trial was held on these petitions commencing on

Page 1171

January 14, 1994, and concluding on March 7, 1994.

[39 Conn.App. 356] In a written memorandum of decision, the trial court found the following facts. The respondent has had four children. The respondent voluntarily terminated her parental rights as to her first two children, born in 1980 and 1982, with the termination as to her second child occurring one month after Tabitha's birth in 1984. There has been almost continuous DCYS involvement in the respondent's relationship with Tabitha since her birth, and in the respondent's relationship with Damion since his birth in 1986.

Despite the assistance of DCYS and an equivalent agency in Pennsylvania, 4 the respondent has had great difficulty in parenting Tabitha and Damion. The children have been removed from the custody of the respondent on several occasions either through voluntary placement or through court order. During much of the time that the children were in the respondent's care, DCYS provided protective supervision.

The first petitions alleging that Tabitha and Damion were neglected and uncared for were filed in March, 1987. That occurred after Damion, who was less than one year old, had been referred to DCYS for a broken leg of unknown origin. At that time, the respondent, who was temporarily homeless, consented to the placement of both children with their maternal aunt. In May 1987, upon the respondent's admission to allegations of neglect, Tabitha and Damion were adjudicated neglected and uncared for and guardianship was transferred to their maternal aunt. The respondent visited the children sporadically at first, and then, with some consistency starting in February, 1988.

In May, 1988, the respondent filed petitions to revoke the commitments, and, without waiting for court action [39 Conn.App. 357] on these petitions, the maternal aunt returned the children to the care and custody of the respondent. The trial court ordered a psychological evaluation in connection with the respondent's petition. Although the court appointed psychologist, David Mantell, expressed concerns for the children's well-being, the respondent's guardianship of the children was restored in August, 1988, subject to an order of protective supervision by DCYS for one year.

At the time that custody and guardianship were restored, the respondent was living with Tabitha's father, Robert V. He was one of several abusive men with whom the respondent was involved during the time since Tabitha's birth. Two weeks before the expiration of the protective order in July, 1989, the respondent, who was experiencing personal and financial problems, asked the children's maternal aunt to take both children. The maternal aunt was unable to control the children and asked DCYS to place them in foster care. DCYS secured an order of temporary custody and filed new petitions alleging abuse and neglect.

The trial court ordered updates of Mantell's evaluations, which were filed with the court in October, 1989. In conducting these evaluations Mantell met with the children, their foster mothers and the respondent. Mantell recommended that DCYS file petitions to terminate the respondent's parental rights in both children. He concluded that "[t]he consequence of not terminating parental rights will be two psychologically maladjusted and behaviorally disordered children who will be incapable of taking their place in society. If the circumstances surrounding the children are not changed and permanently now, they are likely to be lost forever."

On November 14, 1989, DCYS filed additional petitions seeking the termination of the petitioner's parental [39 Conn.App. 358] rights as to each child. By agreement of the parties, on July 19, 1990, the trial court, Axelrod, J., adjudicated the children neglected and also found that the grounds alleged for termination of parental rights existed as to each child. The disposition on the termination petitions was continued, however, and an additional psychological evaluation was ordered. The children were committed to DCYS based on the

Page 1172

neglect petitions and the respondent entered into a service agreement with DCYS providing for her ongoing contact with both children.

Thereafter, on February 27, 1991, the trial court denied the termination of the respondent's parental rights, but terminated the parental rights of the father of each child. One month later, in March, 1991, Tabitha was returned to the custody of the respondent with the assistance of the intensive family preservation program of DCYS.

In July, 1991, Tabitha's commitment to DCYS was revoked and the respondent's custody and guardianship were restored subject to a six month period of protective supervision. During this six month period, there were numerous reports to DCYS of violent episodes between the respondent and Jeffrey S., her boyfriend at the time. These violent episodes were witnessed by Tabitha. During this period of protective supervision, various support services were discontinued due to the respondent's failure to cooperate.

In December, 1991, the trial court ordered an additional six months of protective supervision, and the respondent signed an agreement that no males would reside in the household without the approval of DCYS. Despite this agreement, Jeffrey S. remained resident in the household until January, 1992.

In January, 1992, DCYS sought a reinstatement of Tabitha's commitment. Following an evidentiary hearing, the trial court ordered Tabitha committed to DCYS [39 Conn.App. 359] for eighteen months and she was returned to foster care. While in foster care, Tabitha disclosed incidents of maternal maltreatment that had not previously been reported. Tabitha also reported that she did not like living with her mother, and did not make references to missing her mother, wanting to see her mother, or having any emotional attachment to her mother. After Tabitha was returned to foster care, the respondent missed a number of scheduled visits. On one scheduled visit, the respondent told Tabitha that she would kill herself if Tabitha was ever adopted.

During 1992, the respondent did not take advantage of services offered to assist her personal rehabilitation. In the eight months prior to the filing of the petitions to terminate her parental rights, the respondent visited Tabitha only sporadically, failed to attend meetings scheduled with the family service parent education and support group, declined to take advantage of a residential program designed to meet her treatment needs, discontinued an educational and job training program, and missed eleven out of twenty-six scheduled appointments with her child and family agency therapist. 5 DCYS filed the present termination petitions in October, 1992.

The trial court ordered psychological evaluations of the respondent and her children in connection with these petitions. The court appointed psychologist, Robert Meier, found that as of the time of the petitions, most available interventions had been attempted, and that the respondent persisted in blaming others for not doing enough to help her without assuming any responsibility for rehabilitating herself. He concluded: "Given her present personality pattern, her history as indicated by her, the information in the petitions, and the observed focus of attention on her own immediate needs, the prognosis for major change is poor."

[39 Conn.App. 360] On the basis of these findings, including the evaluation by Meier, the trial court concluded that DCYS had established by clear and convincing evidence that the respondent had failed to achieve personal rehabilitation as defined by § 17a-112(b)(2). The trial court further found, on...

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