IN RE JAMES O., JR., et al., SC 19579
Child Protection Session at Middletown
Termination of Parental Rights; Whether Trial Court's Comparison of Mother's and Foster Parent's Abilities to Parent Factored into Determination that Mother Failed to Rehabilitate. The respondent mother's children were adjudicated neglected and committed to the custody of the Department of Children and Families (DCF). DCF determined that the children had special needs because of traumas they had experienced, and it placed them in a foster home with a licensed therapeutic foster care provider. DCF later petitioned to terminate the mother's parental rights on the ground that she had failed to achieve the degree of rehabilitation necessary to assume a responsible position in her children's lives within a reasonable time. The trial court granted the termination petition, concluding that the mother would be unable to meet the children's particular needs based on her failure to rehabilitate. The mother appealed, arguing that the trial court improperly compared her parenting abilities with those of the children's therapeutic foster parent in reaching its conclusion that she had failed to rehabilitate. She claimed that the trial court, in relying on such a comparison in resolving an aspect of the adjudicatory portion of the termination proceedings, prematurely focused its analysis on the best interests of the children rather than limiting its inquiry to whether there was clear and convincing evidence that she had failed to rehabilitate. The Appellate Court (160 Conn. App. 506) affirmed the trial court's judgment, ruling that the trial court did not improperly compare the mother's and the foster parent's abilities to parent in concluding that the mother failed to rehabilitate but, instead, clarified that the children needed a calm environment with a caregiver who understands their needs and can appropriately manage their anxiety. It determined that the trial court properly considered only those factors relevant to the mother's rehabilitative status as it related to the particular needs of her children. The Appellate Court also indicated that although the trial court found that the level of care that the children were receiving from the foster parent met the children's special needs, the trial court did not state that it would be in the best interests of the children to remain with the foster parent. The mother appeals, and the Supreme Court will decide whether the Appellate Court properly found that the trial court did not compare the mother's and the foster parent's parenting abilities in determining that the mother had failed to rehabilitate.