IN RE OREOLUWA O., SC 19501
Judicial District of New Haven
Termination of Parental Rights; Whether Appellate Court Properly Affirmed Determinations that Reasonable Efforts Made to Reunify Child With Parent and that Child had Been Abandoned; Whether Parent Lacked Standing to Assert Claim that Child’s Fundamental Right to Family Integrity Violated. The Department of Children and Families (petitioner) filed a petition seeking that the respondent father’s parental rights in his minor son, Oreoluwa, be terminated. Although the respondent, a resident of Nigeria, did not appear at the termination trial, his attorney participated in the hearing on the merits of the termination petition. The trial court granted the petition, finding that two statutory grounds for termination—abandonment and the lack of an ongoing parent-child relationship—were proven and that termination was in the best interest of the child. The respondent appealed, challenging the determination that the petitioner complied with its statutory obligation to make reasonable efforts to reunify him with Oreoluwa. The Appellate Court (157 Conn. App. 490) affirmed the termination judgment, finding that the petitioner was not required to undertake any of the reunification steps identified by the respondent. Specifically, it held that the petitioner was not required to (1) provide the respondent with immigration counsel; (2) facilitate visitation via computer using Skype, a videoconferencing program, as the petitioner’s computers were not equipped to run the program; (3) investigate the possibility of reunification in Nigeria as any such efforts would have been futile given that Oreoluwa’s medical condition precluded him from traveling; and (4) implement a reunification plan that did not require the respondent to travel to the United States. The Appellate Court also rejected the respondent’s challenge to the trial court’s finding that he had abandoned Oreoluwa. The court stated that the evidence established that the respondent was not able to fulfill the general obligations of parenthood, as demonstrated by his failure to provide financial information required by the petitioner to implement financial support for Oreoluwa and by his failure to send correspondence or gifts to the child. Having affirmed the trial court’s abandonment finding, the court found it unnecessary to address the respondent’s challenge to the second statutory ground for termination, the lack of an ongoing parent-child relationship. Finally, the Appellate Court declined to review the respondent’s claim that the trial court violated Oreoluwa’s fundamental right to family integrity by failing to advise the respondent that he could participate in the termination proceedings through telephone, videoconference, or by other alternative means. The court stated that the respondent failed to point to any authority indicating that a parent has standing to assert such a claim on behalf of his or her child. The Supreme Court will now consider whether the Appellate Court properly affirmed the trial court’s determinations that the petitioner made reasonable efforts to reunify Oreoluwa with the respondent and that Oreoluwa had been abandoned. The court will also consider whether the Appellate Court properly concluded that the respondent lacked standing to assert the claim that Oreoluwa’s fundamental right to family integrity was violated by the use of a judicial process that deprived the respondent of meaningful notice and an opportunity to be heard. If the court answers that question in the negative, it will also consider whether the respondent should prevail on the merits of that claim.