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In re Madison M.

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

October 18, 2018


          Argued September 6, 2018 [**]

         Procedural History

         Petitions by the Commissioner of Children and Families to terminate the respondents' parental rights with respect to their minor children, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of New Britain, Juvenile Matters, and tried to the court, Hon. Stephen F. Fraz-zini, judge trial referee; judgments terminating the parental rights of the respondent father, from which the respondent father appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          David J. Reich, for the appellant (respondent father).

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

          DiPentima, C. J., and Prescott and Flynn, Js.

          DiPENTIMA, C. J.

         The respondent, Donald S., appeals from the judgments of the trial court terminating his parental rights with respect to his minor children, Madison M., Deanna S., and Emma Grace S.[1] On appeal, the respondent claims that he was not provided the specific steps mandated by General Statutes § 17a-112 (j) (3) (B) (i) and, consequently, was unable to achieve a level of rehabilitation that would reasonably encourage a belief that at some future date he could assume a responsible position in the lives of his children.[2] Additionally, the respondent contends that the failure to provide him with the specific steps did not constitute harmless error. We do not agree with either argument and, therefore, affirm the judgments of the trial court.

         The following factual findings of the trial court, which are not challenged, and procedural history are relevant to our consideration of the issues raised on appeal. Prior to the filing of the neglect petitions, the Department of Children and Families (department) had received numerous reports that the respondent and the children's mother were not acting as responsible parents. In 2011, the department substantiated separate instances in which the parents had failed to follow up on important medical appointments for Madison and Deanna. The next year, the department also substantiated a report that the parents had cancelled appointments for Emma Grace, only three months old at the time, against the advice of her doctor. Then, in 2013, Emma Grace missed multiple appointments with medical specialists, as well as appointments with her pediatrician.

         The parents were arrested in September, 2014, on charges of risk of injury to a child; see General Statutes § 53-21; after Deanna, then six years old, was found wandering alone outside in a dirty and disheveled condition. Several months later, in April, 2015, the department received a report from Deanna's school that there was a six inch red mark on her backside. Deanna told school staff that the respondent had struck her with a knife and that he sometimes hits her with a belt. She also told school staff that "it hurts" when he hits her, but that she was "not afraid to go home." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Following an investigation, however, "the department decided not to substantiate either parent for neglect."

         During this time, the respondent was cooperative with the department's investigation. In May, 2015, he informed the assigned investigative social worker that Madison had been exhibiting behavioral issues at school and scheduled a meeting to address her individualized needs. Then, on June 2, 2015, he contacted the department to notify officials that Emma Grace had been injured when the stroller she was in fell down a flight of stairs onto pavement. Two days later, on June 4, 2015, however, the department received reports that the respondent had been arrested on June 3, 2015, for breach of peace and interfering with a police officer, stemming from an incident at the family's home. The department's follow-up investigation revealed that the respondent had been drinking and acting "nasty" toward the mother. She told him to leave, but he refused. He later passed out in the backyard. When he woke up, he began ringing neighbors' doorbells and screaming. At some point, the mother called the police, and he was arrested. In connection with this incident, a protective order was issued, and the respondent moved out of the family's home.

         The next day, June 5, 2015, the respondent attended an evaluation at Wheeler Clinic for mental health and substance abuse issues. It was recommended that he enroll in an intensive outpatient program at its facility. He agreed and successfully completed the program in July, 2015. The respondent was then referred to a relapse prevention group. Shortly after enrolling in this program, however, he was discharged "unsuccessfully" after he notified Wheeler Clinic staff that he was moving to New Haven.

         In August, 2015, the respondent again was arrested, this time on motor vehicle charges. He failed to appear in court on these charges, as well as the criminal charges from the June 3, 2015 incident. Then, in October, 2015, police began an investigation into allegations made by the mother that the respondent had sexually assaulted Madison. Although the police eventually concluded that there was insufficient evidence to charge him, it was at this time that the respondent's whereabouts became unknown to the department.

         In December, 2015, department social worker Brenda Matta was assigned to the children's case. She attempted to contact the respondent by using phone numbers that the department had listed for him but was unsuccessful. She also contacted a friend of the respondent and left a message for him; her call was not returned. After searching the state Judicial Branch ...

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