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In re Joheli V.

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

August 6, 2018

IN RE JOHELI V.[*]

          Argued June 5, 2018

         Procedural History

         Petition by the Commissioner of Children and Families to terminate the respondent's parental rights with respect to his minor child, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of New Britain, Juvenile Matters, and tried to the court, Hon. Henry S. Cohn, judge trial referee; judgment terminating the respondent's parental rights, from which the respondent appealed to this court; thereafter, the court issued an articulation of its decision. Affirmed.

          Stein M. Helmrich, for the appellant (respondent).

          Stephen G. Vitelli, assistant attorney general, with whom, on the brief, were George Jepsen, attorney general, and Benjamin Zivyon, assistant attorney general, for the appellee (petitioner).

          Alvord, Sheldon and Prescott, Js.

          OPINION

          SHELDON, J.

         The respondent father, Luis V., appeals from the judgment of the trial court terminating his parental rights with respect to his minor child, Joheli V.[1] On appeal, the respondent claims that the court erred when it determined, pursuant to General Statutes § 17a-112 (j) (3) (B), that he had failed to achieve such degree of personal rehabilitation as would encourage the belief that within a reasonable time, considering the age and needs of Joheli, he could assume a responsible position in her life, based solely upon the fact that he is currently incarcerated and awaiting trial for allegedly sexually assaulting Joheli.[2] We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         On August 6, 2015, the petitioner, the Commissioner of Children and Families, filed a neglect petition in the interest of Joheli, who has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair, alleging that she was neglected in that she was being permitted to live under conditions injurious to her well-being. On September 21, 2015, Joheli was adjudicated neglected and a six month period of protective supervision with the respondent was ordered. The court further ordered the respondent to comply with several specific steps to safely retain custody of Joheli. Those steps directed the respondent, among other things, to: develop stronger parenting skills in the areas of supervision, hygiene, educational support and medical care; increase his understanding of Joheli's developmental issues; develop a support system to assist with childcare responsibilities; maintain a safe, nurturing and sober environment for Joheli; provide consistently for Joheli's specialized medical needs; attend recommended treatment consistently and comply with all aspects of his treatment plans; and develop strategies to maintain sobriety and establish sober supports.

         On November 9, 2015, Joheli reported to her school tutor that she had been sexually assaulted by the respondent. The tutor reported the incident to Joheli's teacher, who reported it to the police, who, in turn, contacted the petitioner. Joheli was temporarily placed in the custody of her maternal cousin, Rebecca Soto. The court again ordered the respondent to comply with several specific steps to regain custody of Joheli.

         On January 28, 2016, Joheli was committed to the care and custody of the petitioner until further order of the court. The court again issued specific steps to the respondent.

         On April 6, 2016, the respondent was arrested on charges of sexual assault in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-70 (a) (2) and risk of injury to a child in violation of General Statutes § 53-21 (a) (2). He has been incarcerated, awaiting trial, since that date.

         On March 15, 2017, the petitioner filed a petition to terminate the respondent's parental rights. The petitioner alleged that the Department of Children and Families (department) had made reasonable efforts to reunify Joheli with the respondent, but that the respondent was unable or unwilling to benefit from those reunification efforts. The petitioner further alleged, in accordance with § 17a-112 (j) (3) (B), that the respondent had failed to achieve such degree of personal rehabilitation as would encourage the belief that within a reasonable time, considering the age and needs of Joheli, he could assume a responsible position in her life. The petitioner set forth the following facts in support of that allegation.[3] ‘‘At the time of Joheli's removal the presenting problems were [the respondent's] unaddressed mental health and substance abuse issues, allegations of sexual abuse by him and his inability to demonstrate an ability to protect and meet Joheli's needs on a daily basis.

         ‘‘[The respondent] has a history of mental health and substance abuse issues. These concerns appeared to have intensified around the death of his children's mother . . . . [The respondent] has a historic inability to provide for the physical and emotional needs of his children evidenced by leaving them unsupervised on several occasions while under the influence. [The respondent's] substance abuse is evidenced by reports to the department of him being under the influence. [The respondent] has had criminal charges, which included breach of peace, stemming from his substance abuse issue. Based on the department's records, [the respondent] has participated in a variety of treatment programs including individual and group therapy with little benefit or change achieved. A significant barrier to his ability to make progress toward rehabilitation is his incarceration based on the allegations of sexual abuse. [The respondent] has failed to benefit, gain knowledge, and make positive changes from these services as evidenced by continuing to abuse substances and failing to address his mental health. [The respondent] continues to fail to meet the demands of adulthood, let alone the demands of parenthood. Additionally, he has failed to appropriately and genuinely address his mental health [or] substance use despite access to services to assist him in doing so.''

         The petitioner noted that Joheli, then eight years old, has ‘‘medically complex issues and requires an adequate caregiver in order for her to appropriately grow emotionally, developmentally, medically and physically and who must meet every aspect of her basic needs.''

         The petitioner concluded: ‘‘[The respondent] is unable to meet his own basic needs at this time and therefore unable to properly care for Joheli, who has severe medical needs. [The respondent] has been observed to minimize his substance use and the severity of his mental health concerns. [The respondent] will not be able to fully resume [the role of] a responsible party in the life of his child within a reasonable time period.''

         On July 25, 2017, the petitioner moved to amend the termination petition to include an allegation, pursuant to § 17a-112 (j) (3) (D), that there was no ongoing parent-child relationship between the respondent and Joheli, which motion was granted on August 22, 2017.

         On November 9, 2017, after a trial, the court orally granted the termination petition. The court found that the department made reasonable efforts to reunify the respondent with Joheli, but that the respondent ‘‘did not really seize upon these opportunities and improve his situation.'' The court further found, by clear and convincing evidence: ‘‘[The respondent] had unaddressed mental health and substance abuse issues. There was an allegation, not proved yet, of sexual abuse by him of the child, [he] has a history of mental health and substance abuse issues and these concerns appear to have intensified around the death of the child's mother, [he] has a . . . historic inability to provide for the physical and emotional needs of his children.

         ‘‘And . . . [the respondent] turned down in-home care services. He also neglected various health issues of the child. She's got cerebral palsy. She's clearly got to have medical attention periodically, dental attention, and that was not shown to have happened.

         ‘‘And the idea is that even if he somewhat engaged in these, he did go to a therapist and he had some sessions with a therapist and was trying to work on these problems, the statute requires that . . . there be a second portion of it, that even if this is going on, that there be a reasonable time under which this reunification and resolution, rehabilitation could-the child would and the father would resolve his problems and take into account the needs of the child. We don't see that happening here.

         ‘‘At the time, he was-at the time of the filing of the termination petition, he was just not meeting the standards. The child was reporting trauma due to drinking. The poor kid was trying to pick up her father [from the floor] and couldn't do it with her . . . cerebral palsy . . . .'' The court further found that the respondent was not in compliance with the specific steps that had been issued, and there was no evidence that ‘‘the [respondent has] made realistic and sustained efforts to conform . . . his conduct to even a minimally accepted parental [standard]. Giving him additional time will not likely bring his performance . . . within acceptable standards.'' On the basis of the foregoing, the court concluded, in accordance with § 17a-112 (j) (3) (B), that the respondent had failed to achieve such degree of personal rehabilitation as would encourage the belief that within a reasonable ...


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