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In re Savannah Y.

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

March 29, 2017

IN RE SAVANNAH Y.[*]

          Argued February 2, 2017

         (Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of Litchfield, Juvenile Matters, Ginocchio, J.)

          David B. Rozwaski, assigned counsel, for the appellant (respondent mother).

          Cynthia E. Mahon, assistant attorney general, with whom, on the brief, were George Jepsen, attorney general, and Benjamin Zivyon, assistant attorney general, for the appellee (petitioner).

          Geraldine Mann, for the minor child.

          Alvord, Bentivegna and Pellegrino, Js.

          OPINION

          BENTIVEGNA, J.

         The respondent mother, Ashley R., appeals from the judgment of the trial court, rendered in favor of the petitioner, the Commissioner of Children and Families, terminating her parental rights with respect to her minor child, Savannah Y.[1] On appeal, the respondent claims that the court improperly determined that (1) the Department of Children and Families (department) made reasonable reunification efforts, (2) she had failed to achieve a sufficient degree of personal rehabilitation to encourage a belief that she could assume a responsible position in Savannah's life within a reasonable period of time, (3) there was no ongoing parent-child relationship, and (4) termination of her parental rights was in the best interest of the child. We affirm the judgment of the court.

         We set forth the following relevant facts and procedural history. In April, 2014, the department received a report of domestic violence in Savannah's home and opened the present case. That report involved the respondent and Savannah's father, D.Y. On June 22, 2014, D.Y. was arrested for allegedly strangling and assaulting the respondent. The respondent's children were present during this event. Following the assault, a full protective order was imposed between D.Y. and the respondent. On two different occasions, D.Y. violated the protective order when he was found present in the respondent's home. In addition to the reported domestic violence, the department was also concerned with issues relating to ‘‘alcoholism, hygiene and unkempt conditions in the home.''

         Following the initial referral, the department worked with the respondent and D.Y. for several months. These efforts were unsuccessful. On September 24, 2014, the order of temporary custody was filed and granted for Savannah. On March 9, 2015, the court adjudicated Savannah neglected and committed her to the care, custody and control of the petitioner. On August 5, 2015, a permanency plan of termination of parental rights and adoption was approved. Thereafter, on January 15, 2016, the petitioner filed a petition to terminate the rights of both parents.

         Following a trial, the court granted the petition, making the following findings of fact by clear and convincing evidence. Savannah was born in July, 2013. The respondent has given birth to several children and currently has two children, Savannah and Carter O. She also gave birth to another child named Mercedes. In 2007, Mercedes died tragically when she was crushed by boxes that fell onto her from a closet above. This traumatic event significantly impacted the respondent's mental health.

         The respondent has been in several romantic relationships throughout her life, including relationships with S.O. and D.Y. She met S.O. while working at a restaurant in 2004. There was a history of domestic violence throughout the respondent's relationship with S.O. Following the death of Mercedes, S.O. became physically abusive and the respondent expressed that their relationship ‘‘just was not working out and it was too stressful for him.'' The respondent and D.Y. later met through mutual friends, and their relationship was also abusive. The respondent and D.Y. separated because D.Y. became violent toward her. The respondent is currently not in a relationship with S.O., D.Y., or anyone else.

         The respondent has a history of mental health and substance abuse issues that have existed and persisted since the birth of Savannah. Although the respondent has received some treatment to address these issues, she has not consistently complied with her various treatment plans. At one point, the respondent had stopped treatment services entirely, but she reengaged in October, 2014. Notably, the respondent did not participate in mental health treatment of any sort from February through September, 2015.

         The respondent also has a criminal history. Recently, the respondent was incarcerated from June 23 through September 17, 2015. The respondent was released to a transitional housing program in September, 2015 as a requirement of the pretrial phase of her criminal case.

         The court concluded ‘‘by clear and convincing evidence that [the department] has made reasonable efforts to reunify [the respondent] with Savannah and/ or [the respondent] is unable and/or unwilling to benefit from reunification efforts.'' The court further concluded that ‘‘[a]fter due consideration of the child's sense of time, her need for a secure and permanent environment and the totality of the circumstances; and having concluded that grounds exist for termination of parental rights; and having considered all the statutory criteria and having found by clear and convincing evidence that grounds exist for termination of parental rights; and having concluded that termination of the parental rights at issue will be in the child's best interests, '' the court terminated the parental rights of the respondent mother and the child's father. The respondent's appeal followed.

         I

         ADJUDICATION PHASE

         The respondent raises three claims arising from the adjudication phase of the termination proceeding. She claims that the court erred with respect to: (1) its reasonable efforts determination; (2) the respondent's failure to rehabilitate; and (3) the lack of an ongoing parent-child relationship. After ...


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