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In re Hunter H.

Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Windham, Willimantic, Juvenile Matters

May 19, 2016

In re Hunter H.[1] Opinion No. 133758

          Judge (with first initial, no space for Sullivan, Dorsey, and Walsh): Foley, Francis J., J.T.R.


          Foley, J.T.R.

         On December 3, 2015, Joette Katz, as she is the commissioner of the department of children and families (department or DCF), filed a petition pursuant to C.G.S. § 17a-112 et seq. to terminate the parental rights of Charlotte F. and John R. to the minor children, Hunter H. (dob. 10/29/11) and Michael H. (dob. 10/13/13). The respondents have appeared and are represented by counsel.

         Consolidated with the termination petition is a neglect case in the matter of Eddie V. (dob. 8/24/15). This child was born to Charlotte F. and Edward V. Both respondents appeared at the initial hearing and had counsel appointed. Charlotte is believed to be living with Edward at the present time. The child, Eddie, was removed by order of temporary custody at birth and the neglect petition was simultaneously filed. This child is in placement with the paternal great grandparents since birth.

         Indian Child Welfare Findings (ICWA)

         Both Charlotte and John R. claim to have Native American ancestry. Charlotte claims to be of the Blackfoot tribe and John claims to be of the Blackfoot/Piikuni Tribe. Neither tribe is a federally recognized tribe. ICWA does not apply to non-recognized tribes. Thus the parents are not accorded the ICWA protections. The court is aware of no other proceedings pending in any other court regarding the custody of these children. This court has jurisdiction.

         Of the three parents, Charlotte and the two fathers, only John R. came to court for the contested hearing by virtue of a writ of habeas corpus addressed to the Connecticut Correctional Institution where he is presently held. At the commencement of the case, the father of Hunter and Michael, John R., has presented, through his court-appointed counsel, a properly executed form consenting to the termination of his parental rights to Hunter and Michael. Having canvassed the father, [2] this court finds that he has been represented by competent counsel who was present with him when he executed the consent form. The court further finds that the consent has been knowingly and voluntarily entered with a full understanding of the legal consequences of his action. The consent of John R. has been accepted by the court.

         The Department of Child and Families (DCF) through counsel has moved to amend the petition to withdraw the non-consensual grounds and to change the grounds to consent of the father pursuant to § 17a-112(i). Without objection, the motion was granted.

         While the putative father of Eddie V. was served with the neglect petition and attended the preliminary hearing on the Order of Temporary Custody, he has not participated in any of the subsequent proceedings, and as will be described, he has exhibited no interest in the child whatsoever. His appointed counsel was present in court. He is defaulted for failure to attend court.

         Charlotte has had counsel appointed for her. She discharged her first attorney with a barrage of profanities and new counsel was subsequently appointed. Her attorney was present in court, but Charlotte failed to appear. The social worker contacted her a week before the trial to offer her transportation. The social worker confirmed the trial date by letter. Her failure to come to court may in part be due to her recent arrest for threatening to kill the child of her DCF social worker.

         Charlotte has had inconsistent visitation with her children. The visitation occurs at the DCF office. In the same building is an agency known as Child First. Charlotte's former therapist from Community Health Resources (CHR) now works at Child First and the therapist has encountered Charlotte a few times, before and after Charlotte's visits at the DCF office. On March 10, 2016, the therapist notified DCF that Charlotte was distressed following a visit and said to the therapist " what if I killed her kid, see how she would like it" or " I'm going to kill her kid and see how she likes it." These comments by Charlotte were referring to the assigned DCF social worker who supervised Charlotte's visitation.

         A Threat Assessment Team meeting was held and determined that since Charlotte was not attending her mental health services, and since this is the second such threat Charlotte has made, that visitation would be suspended until such time as Charlotte obtains a mental health assessment. The State police were notified and have subsequently, as of April 1, 2016, applied for an arrest warrant. This is not the first of Charlotte's explosive outbursts. Nor is the first of her many arrests.

         Since this episode, Charlotte has not attended her recommended mental health assessment and she has not been attending substance abuse counseling. Visitation has been suspended. Another social worker has been assigned to the case. The new social worker testified that she has recently gone to the home of Eddie V., with whom Charlotte is living. The apartment was redolent of the smell of marijuana. The conditions of the home were deplorable.

         Based upon Charlotte's recent conduct, her residence with Eddie V., the findings of the court-appointed psychologist and the observations of the new social worker, the court finds that Charlotte is not in the military or naval service of the United States and she is defaulted for her failure to attend the final hearing on the termination of her parental rights and neglect hearing.

         Neglect of Eddie V.

         With respect to the neglect allegations that the child Eddie has been neglected, " [O]ur statutes clearly and explicitly recognize the state's authority to act before harm occurs to protect children whose health and welfare may be adversely affected and not just children whose welfare has been affected . . . General Statutes § 17a-101(a) provides: The public policy of this state is: To protect children whose health and welfare may be adversely affected through injury and neglect; to strengthen the family and to make the home safe for children by enhancing the parental capacity for good child care; to provide a temporary or permanent nurturing and safe environment for children when necessary; and for these purposes to require the reporting of suspected child abuse, investigation of such reports by a social agency, and provision of services, where needed, to such child and family." (Citation omitted; emphasis in original; internal quotation marks omitted.) In re T.K., 105 Conn.App. 502, 511-12, 939 A.2d 9, cert. denied, 286 Conn. 914, 945 A.2d 976 (2008). The doctrine of predictive neglect provides that " [t]he department, pursuant to [§ 46b-120], need not wait until a child is actually harmed before intervening to protect that child . . . This statute clearly contemplates a situation where harm could occur but has not actually occurred." [fn4] (Internal quotation marks omitted.) In re Jermaine S., 86 Conn.App. 819, 831, 863 A.2d 720, cert. denied, 273 Conn. 938, 875 A.2d 43 (2005).

         Here, child protection agencies in Massachusetts and Connecticut have been engaged in assisting Charlotte regarding her mental health and substance abuse issues for many years. The older two children were removed in August of 2014 and as of the date of birth of Eddie a year later, Charlotte was failing to consistently participate in substance abuse counseling and mental health therapy.

         DCF was aware that Charlotte's problems have been issues since her early childhood. She had been in a psychiatric inpatient facility for her aggressive and sexually acting out behaviors. She has been on psychiatric medications since her teenage years. She is diagnosed with cannabis use disorder, attention deficit disorder, anxiety, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. She has borderline intellectual functioning. She is not always medication compliant. She has limited parenting skills and has had extremely poor parental role models. She herself was removed from her own parents due to neglect and domestic violence.

         There is ample evidence that, at the time of the birth of Eddie, he was seriously at risk. The child tested positive for marijuana. The hospital authorities voiced concern over a lack of bond between both parents and the child. The hospital personnel noted conflict between the parents and frequent mood swings. The child was placed in foster care directly from the hospital.

         Eddie's father, Edward, does not visit with him and has exhibited little interest in the child. He does not inquire about the child's welfare. Edward is currently on probation for selling narcotics. He received a three-year, suspended ...

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