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In re Barbara J.

Supreme Court of Connecticut

May 8, 1990

In re BARBARA J. et al. [*]

Argued February 28, 1990.

Page 204

Sara R. Martin, New Haven, for appellant (respondent).

Mary-Anne Mulholland, Asst. Atty. Gen., with whom, on the brief, was Judith Merrill Earl, Asst. Atty. Gen., for appellee (petitioner).

Gail S. Kotowski, Guilford, for the minor children.

Before PETERS, C.J., and SHEA, CALLAHAN, GLASS and COVELLO, JJ.

[215 Conn. 32] GLASS, Associate Justice.

Pursuant to General Statutes § 17-43a(a), [1] the commissioner of the department of children and youth services (DCYS), on April 6, 1988, filed three petitions to terminate the parental rights of Maureen J. to her children, Barbara J., Walter J. and Margaret J. In a bifurcated hearing, the trial court found that the allegations in the petitions had been proven by clear and convincing evidence and that it was in the best interest of each child that the parental rights of the mother be terminated. We find no error.

[215 Conn. 33] In its memorandum of decision, the trial court found that the petition pertaining to each child alleged that the reasons for the termination of the mother's parental rights had existed for not less than one year, and that the mother's parental rights should be terminated for three of the four grounds specified in § 17-43a(b), [2] namely:

Page 205

(1) that each child had been abandoned by the mother; (2) that each child in a prior proceeding had been found to have been neglected or uncared for, and that the parent had failed to achieve such a degree of personal rehabilitation as would encourage the belief that within a reasonable time, considering the age and [215 Conn. 34] needs of each child, she could assume a responsible position in each child's life; and (3) that there was no ongoing parent-child relationship.

The birth dates of the children named in the petitions are as follows: Barbara, October 14, 1980; Walter, January 1, 1983; and Margaret, November 21, 1984. The children were committed to DCYS on November 2, 1985, as uncared for and neglected, and the commitment was extended for an eighteen month period on October 22, 1987. The termination of parental rights petitions were filed on April 6, 1988. On April 28, 1988, counsel for the respondent mother appeared and denied the allegations in each petition. Hearings on the merits of the petitions were held on July 20, 27 and 28, 1988. [3] At the hearings, the petitioner presented the testimony of three DCYS treatment workers, Patricia Williamson, Annette Rizzolo and Theresa Polverari, to whom the cases of the children had been successively assigned prior to the filing of the termination petitions. The petitioner also presented the expert testimony of Ellis A. Perlswig, a child psychiatrist. Exhibits included a report containing a psychological evaluation of the family by Perlswig, and four letters written to DCYS by Barbara's foster mother.

Williamson was the treatment worker from the date of commitment until April, 1986. During that time, the respondent, who had a history of mental illness, began counseling, and a weekly schedule of visitation was established with Barbara at the DCYS office, and with Walter and Margaret at their foster home. In her visits [215 Conn. 35] with Barbara, the trial court found that on some occasions the respondent would promise to make a home for her, and on other occasions she would make critical comments about her appearance. These events caused such a disturbance in Barbara that her foster mother could not control her. The respondent did not visit Barbara in December, 1985, and when she resumed visitation with her in January, 1986, Barbara again evidenced control problems. As a result, DCYS requested and obtained a suspension of the respondent's visits with Barbara for three months beginning on February 14, 1986. Barbara began counseling at this time.

Rizzolo was the treatment worker from April, 1986, until August, 1987. She testified that, when she took over, visits with the children were arranged at the office of DCYS. The respondent's visits with Barbara were reinstated in June, 1986, once per month, and semi-monthly with Walter and Margaret. The trial court found that, at these visits, the respondent paid little or no attention to the children. Instead, she spent most of the time talking to the treatment worker. In response to the suggestion of Barbara's therapist, the respondent's

Page 206

visitations with Barbara were suspended again in January, 1987, because of Barbara's disruptive behavior after the visits, which led to her admission to Highland Heights for day treatment. In April, 1987, Barbara's behavior deteriorated to the point where she was admitted to Highland Heights for in-patient treatment.

In August, 1987, the case was assigned to Polverari. She testified that the respondent's visits with Barbara continued once per month, and semi-monthly for Walter and Margaret. Polverari provided the respondent with transportation for visitations, although the respondent would not disclose her residence to Polverari. [215 Conn. 36] The trial court found that visitations continued reasonably well until November, 1987, when the respondent disappeared and refused to disclose her whereabouts to DCYS. She reappeared in February, 1988, and, thereafter, until the filing of the petitions, had several visits with the children.

The trial court found that, from the date of the commitment to the time of trial, the respondent had lived in a variety of housing accommodations in New Haven. In July, 1985, she lived on Davenport Avenue. In November, 1985, she lived at a family shelter on Sylvan Avenue. Thereafter, she moved to Read Street. When she was evicted from there, she moved to Downing Street in the late spring of 1986. She lived at the YWCA shelter in the winter of 1986-87, and, in the summer of 1987, she moved to Hallock Avenue. The trial court found that, when the petitions were filed, the respondent's whereabouts were unknown, and service on her was by publication.

The trial court found further that, during the period between the commitment and the filing of the petitions, the respondent had attended several counseling sessions. She terminated counseling, however, and refused to continue after November, 1986. The trial court also found that, in the year prior to the filing of the petitions, the respondent had been employed at a pet store, and that she had maintained contact with the Hallock Avenue address. She did not, however, inform DCYS as to how she could be contacted, and visitations occurred only when she contacted DCYS.

The petitioner also presented the testimony of Perlswig. The trial court admitted into evidence a report prepared by Perlswig, which contained a psychological evaluation of the respondent and the children. This report, dated February 2, 1988, referred to interviews with the respondent and the children that had been conducted[215 Conn. 37] by Perlswig from April 27, 1987, through June 24, 1987. The report also included an evaluation of Margaret by Linda C. Mayes, a pediatrician, that was conducted in June, 1987, and an evaluation of Walter by Fred Volkmar, a ...


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