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In re Sydnei V.

Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Middlesex, Middletown, Child Protection Session

October 29, 2015

In re Sydnei V.[1]

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

Barbara M. Quinn, Judge Trial Referee.

Jonathan and Kimberly V., the legal guardians of Sydnei V. and her paternal uncle and aunt, filed a petition in their local probate court seeking to terminate the parental rights of Sydnei's mother, Amanda V., pursuant to General Statutes § 45a-717. Sydnei's father is deceased. The petition was transferred to the Superior Court for Juvenile Matters in December 2014 on motion of the attorney for the minor child.

Termination is sought on the grounds of abandonment § 45a-717(g)(2)(A) and because there is no ongoing parent-child relationship § 45a-717(g)(2)(C). The ground of failure to rehabilitate was withdrawn. The court finds, from the record, that there are no other pending proceedings concerning this child and that it has jurisdiction. All parties were represented by counsel. This matter was heard over three days commencing on October 5, 2015 and concluding on October 8, 2015. From the clear, convincing and probative evidence, the court finds the allegations of the petition proven and grants the petition.

A. FACTS

1. Early History

Amanda and Sydnei's father, Jason V., had been dating since high school and were married. Sydnei is their only child, born in 2005. The couple's relationship was volatile with domestic violence and considerable alcohol use. By 2006, Jason and Amanda were living apart. Despite their differences, they did try to patch things up, with tragic consequences. They went out to dinner and after dinner, their vehicle veered off the road. Both Jason and Amanda were ejected from the car when it hit a tree. Jason died of his injuries at the scene and Amanda had a broken collar bone and leg injuries. The accident investigation concluded that Jason had been driving and each of them was intoxicated, with blood alcohol counts in excess of the legal limits.

Amanda next was married to George Underhill with whom she had a son, Zachary. This relationship was also characterized by domestic violence and a great deal of turbulence, to which Sydnei was regularly exposed. There continued to be drug and alcohol abuse. During the course of their relationship, serious fights between them resulted in numerous arrests. While Amanda reported Mr. Underhill was the instigator of their disputes, she was the primary aggressor.

In January 2010 Amanda was so angry, she attacked Mr. Underhill with a knife and tried to cut his face. Sydnei was almost five and recalls this incident, when she and Zachary were sleeping and woke to the fracas. The Department of Children and Families, hereafter " DCF, " sought an order of temporary custody and removed both children from their parents. Sydnei and Zachary both were placed with Sydnei's paternal uncle and aunt. Sydnei was adjudicated neglected in November 2010, and guardianship was transferred to her aunt and uncle. In the meantime, Zachary had been placed with his father.

2. Events Since 2010 and Prior to the Filing of the Termination Petition

At the time of the neglect adjudication on November 22, 2010, specific orders were entered for visitation between Amanda and Sydnei. There was to be joint counseling for Amanda and Sydnei. The therapist was to work with both to improve their relationship and expand visitation. The therapist was authorized to make recommendations regarding the progression, duration and frequency, as well as the supervision of the visits. The initial order established supervised visitation between Amanda and her daughter at least once a week.

The hoped-for normalization of their parent-child relationship did not take place. First, Sydnei had been traumatized by the constant violence in the home. When she first came into her uncle's home, she was terrified of knives and any mention of them. She was shy and withdrawn, had night terrors and was anxious. She was nervous in the car and fearful that her mother was following them and would take her away. Her guardians took her to therapy, which helped to some extent.

During the first year and a half after the transfer of guardianship, there were visits between Sydnei and her mother. Sydnei was often anxious before the visits and some of her symptoms would increase, according to her aunt. When her past with her mother is mentioned, she does not want to talk about what took place, even now, more than five years later. Her visits with her mother were sporadic and did not always occur on schedule. There were difficulties surrounding scheduling and the choice of location. Her guardians requested adequate notice so that Sydnei could be prepared emotionally to be ready to visit. Often Amanda gave notice at the last minute, after Sydnei had gone to bed for the night, making it difficult to prepare her for these events.

Visitation took place at restaurants, in the community and in parks. Sometimes Sydnei's younger brother Zachary would come or the court appointed Guardian ad litem. On the way to the visits, Sydnei would complain of stomach aches and say she needed to throw up. The visits lasted about an hour each time, sometimes longer and many times shorter when Sydnei wanted them to end. Amanda occasionally brought gifts. At one point, during a visit to the mall, Amanda took Sydnei to a " Build a Bear" store, where she then purchased a bear for Sydnei. Once back home with her aunt and uncle, Sydnei wanted to throw the bear out. She apparently did not relish mementos from her mother. By early 2012, visits were sporadic and few and far between. No joint therapy was established and no recommendations were made to increase the time Amanda had with her daughter.

In March 2012, Amanda filed a motion for increased visitation. Again, an agreement was reached, [2] with clear guidelines to permit increased visitation between Amanda and her daughter after therapy had taken place. In detail, the new agreement provided that, after three individual therapy sessions, Amanda could have therapeutic visitation with Sydnei in addition to the Monday times specified. Amanda never attended all three required therapy sessions, and all visits ceased. Amanda's last visit with Sydnei was on April 9, 2012. There has been no contact since then.

Amanda's failure to continue in therapy and engage in therapeutic visitation with her daughter was for financial reasons; she claims. She had no insurance to cover the cost of therapy and inadequate income from her employment. However, there is also no evidence that Amanda made any attempts to seek therapy on a sliding scale or asked others, including the Guardian Ad Litem, for assistance in locating therapy that was affordable. She made only a minimal effort to comply with the court conditions for increased access to her daughter.

In addition to her failure to take advantage of the methods by which her access to Sydnei could have been increased, Amanda has also not taken other avenues open to her to demonstrate her commitment to her daughter. Amanda has not provided financial support, or sent Sydnei cards letters or gifts. She has not inquired about Sydnei's school progress, attended doctors' visits or inquired about her life generally. Whatever her level of concern may have been, it was not manifested in any concrete action by Amanda to inform herself about her daughter's daily life and progress, Amanda filed another motion for visitation in the Superior Court for Juvenile matters in December ...


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