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In re Malachi E.

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

March 6, 2019

IN RE MALACHI E.[*]

          Argued January 11.

          Petition by the Commissioner of Children and Families to terminate the respondents' parental rights with respect to their minor child, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Hartford, Juvenile Matters, where the respondent father was defaulted for failure to appear; thereafter, the matter was tried to the court, C. Taylor, J.; judgment terminating the respondents' parental rights, from which the respondent mother appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          Joshua Michtom, assistant public defender, for the appellant (respondent mother).

          Benjamin A. Abrams, assistant attorney general, with whom were Benjamin Zivyon, assistant attorney general, and, on the brief, George Jepsen, attorney gen- eral, for the appellee (petitioner).

          OPINION

          BRIGHT, J.

         The respondent mother appeals from the judgment of the trial court terminating her parental rights with respect to her minor child, Malachi E.[1] On appeal, the respondent claims that the court erred in determining that the termination of her parental rights was in the best interest of the child because (1) the court relied entirely on its adjudicatory determination that the respondent had failed to achieve sufficient personal rehabilitation, and (2) there was no evidence to support its determination that the termination of her parental rights was in the best interest of the child.[2]We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts, which the court found by clear and convincing evidence, none of which the respondent challenges on appeal, and procedural history are relevant to the resolution of this appeal. The child was born in December, 2015, and is the respondent's only child. The child, the respondent, and the child's maternal grandmother (grandmother) have lived together in a two family home owned by the grandmother since the child's birth. On May 5, 2016, the grandmother reported to Monique Frey, a parent educator, who was employed by the Catholic Charities Nurturing Families Program and was working with the respondent, that she was concerned about the safety of the child. In particular, the grandmother reported that the respondent is an alcoholic, is aggressive when she is drunk, is depressed and has bipolar disorder, and that the child had fallen off of a bed on two occasions. Frey then reported the grandmother's concerns to the Department of Children and Families (department). On that same date, personnel from the department went to the respondent's residence to discuss the report, but the respondent was defensive and refused to cooperate.

         On May 6, 2016, the grandmother reported to the department that the respondent began drinking alcohol after its personnel had departed from the residence. The grandmother also elaborated on her prior report, stating that the respondent has a prior history of drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana, that she suffers from blackouts when she drinks, and that she appropriately cares for the child when she is sober. On that same date, the department's personnel returned to the respondent's residence. Upon their arrival, the respondent became verbally and physically aggressive, and expressed a suicidal intent. As a result, she was taken to Hartford Hospital for a seventy-two hour hold and a mental health assessment. On May 7, 2016, the respondent was discharged from Hartford Hospital.

         On May 9, 2016, personnel from the department met with the respondent regarding the future supervision of the child. At the meeting, the respondent admitted that she had a long history of substance abuse and mental health issues, that she had been in and out of treatment for many years, that she had not been taking her prescribed medications for over a year, and that the child had fallen off a bed. The respondent agreed to submit to a substance abuse and mental health assessment at Wheeler Clinic, and to comply with any recommendations stemming therefrom. She also agreed to permit the grandmother to be the primary caretaker of the child until the respondent had made progress in her treatment, and that she would have only supervised contact with the child.

         On June 20, 2016, the petitioner, the Commissioner of Children and Families, filed a neglect petition on behalf of the child and an addendum in which she claimed that the child had been denied proper care and attention as a result of the respondent's substance abuse, mental health issues, and the incidents in which the child had fallen from a bed. On June 21, 2016, Wheeler Clinic reported that the respondent had refused to comply with its recommendation that she participate in individual counseling or trauma-focused therapy to address her history of abuse and trauma. The next day, the grandmother reported to the department that the respondent continued to drink alcohol on the weekends. On August 4, 2016, the respondent, who was represented by counsel, appeared in court and denied the allegations of the neglect petition. The respondent then refused two subsequent recommendations for additional counseling services at Wheeler Clinic. On September 6, 2016, the grandmother reported to the department that the respondent had been intoxicated over the weekend and, consequently, the respondent was hospitalized first at Hartford Hospital, and then at the Institute of Living.

         On September 12, 2016, the petitioner filed a motion for temporary custody of the child that was supported by an affidavit attested to by a social worker. Therein, the petitioner alleged, on the basis of the same facts as the neglect petition, that the child was in physical danger from his surroundings, that immediate removal was necessary to ensure his safety, and that reasonable efforts had been made to eliminate the need to remove the child. On the same date, the court granted the motion for temporary custody, pending a hearing that was scheduled for September 16, 2016, and ordered specific steps for the respondent's rehabilitation. On September 13, 2016, the petitioner filed an amended neglect petition.

         On September 16, 2016, the respondent appeared in court with counsel, she agreed that the motion for temporary custody could be sustained, and the court issued specific steps for the respondent's rehabilitation. On approximately the same date, the child was removed from the custody of the respondent and placed in the care of the grandmother, who lived in the same residence. Since that time, the grandmother has continued to care for the child ‘‘full-time, '' and the respondent has maintained frequent contact and visits with the child, which have been supervised by the grandmother.

         On November 8, 2016, the respondent entered a plea of nolo contendre to the neglect petition. On that same date, the court issued final specific steps for the respondent's rehabilitation. In accordance with the specific steps, the respondent was referred to several service providers, including Radiance Innovative Services, and engaged in services to address her mental health and alcohol use. Nevertheless, she achieved limited progress and continued to minimize her issues with alcohol and her history of trauma.

         On May4, 2017, a meeting was held among the respondent, a clinician from Radiance Innovative Services, and the department's personnel. At the meeting, the clinician reported that the respondent never expressed any accountability or responsibility for past incidents, denied being intoxicated and claimed to have had just one drink when she was out at dinner with a friend, refused an offer of shelter or sober living housing because she wanted to retain her freedom, continued to minimize her issues with her alcohol use, and stated that alcohol was not an issue for her. On May 18, 2017, the department referred the respondent to the Therapeutic Family Time Program; however, on June 6, 2017, it learned that the respondent had been discharged for her failure to complete the intake process.

         On June 13, 2017, the petitioner filed a motion to review a permanency plan that recommended the termination of the respondent's parental rights and subsequent adoption of the child. On June 28, 2017, the department's personnel conducted a home visit during which the respondent adamantly refused to participate in any additional programs, and said that the department could keep the child. During that same visit, the grandmother confirmed that the petitioner was drinking alcohol the day prior to the May 4, 2017 meeting.

         In August and September, 2017, the department started facilitating weekly supervised visits at its office. During that time, the respondent reported to the department that she had been consistently attending therapy, working on her issues, and was making progress in her treatment. She expressed an interest in reunification with the child and recognized that she had made some mistakes. On September 13, 2017, the clinician reported that the respondent was more stable and was doing well and, as a result, the frequency of her sessions was reduced from weekly to biweekly. On September 20, 2017, Frey reported that their recent ...


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