CT Appellate Court cites Safe and Together model in sustaining termination of parental rights of domestic violence perpetrator
by David Mandel
In re: Jaime S. was an opinion issued by the Connecticut Appellate Court on April 27, 2010 regarding the termination of parental rights of a father on the grounds of abandonment. The mother had petitioned to terminate the parental rights of the father in Probate Court. The mother alleged that father had threatened her life and that the only way that she and the child would be safe was if father’s parental rights were terminated. As indicated in the court’s opinion “She sought to terminate the father’s parental rights on the grounds of abandonment, denial of care, guidance or control necessary for the child’s well-being and no ongoing parent-child relationship pursuant to § 45a-717 (g).” (p. 3)
The father contested the case, which was transferred to Juvenile Court . The CT Department of Children and Families was asked to produce a Probate Study for the court. After interviewing the mother, the father, the child and collaterals including a therapist working with mother and child, the Department’s social worker, Ryan E. Williams, recommended that father’s parental rights be terminated.
The opinion quotes the worker when it summarizes the reason for the recommendation: “The recommendation was based on the fact that the father ‘‘has failed to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern or responsibility for [the child’s] welfare based on a pattern of volitional inconsistent, irresponsible, threatening and criminal behavior that has had a negative [e]ffect on [the child’s] psycho-emotional well being.’’ The department’s ‘‘recommendation is further based on the fact that [the child] repeatedly reported to [Williams] that he has no desire to have a relationship with his father, based on [the father’s] inconsistent, unorthodox, threatening and criminal behavior. . . . This [d]epartment’s recommendation is believed to be in [the child’s] best interests because allowing the re-establishment of the relationship between [the child] and [the father] would present a detriment to the child’s psychoemotional well being.’’” (p.6)
The opinion then goes on to directly reference the Safe and Together model domestic violence consultation provided to the Department by the Bridget Reilly, one of the Department’s Domestic Violence Consultants. The Appellate Court summarizes Ms. Reilly’s consultation note section by section including her description of father’s pattern of coercive control, actions he took to harm the child, mother’s efforts to promote the safety and well being of the child, the impact of father’s behavior on the child and the other factors impacting the mother and child’s risk and vulnerabilities. The Court concludes this section by directly quoting from Ms. Reilly’s note: “Reilly concluded ‘‘from the LINK search and additional information provided by . . . Williams that [the father] continues to pose a significant risk to [the mother] and [child] and a termination of his parental rights is in the best interest of [the child’s] physical and emotional well-being.’’” (To find the entirety of the Court’s section on Ms. Reilly’s note, see pages 6-8)
Based on the evidence presented them which included testimony from the mother, the DCF worker, and the Safe and Together consultation note developed by Bridget Reilly, the trial court ultimately found “ by clear and convincing evidence that the mother had proven with respect to the father that ‘‘the child has been abandoned by the parent in the sense that the parent has failed to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern or responsibility as to the welfare of the child . . . .’’” (p. 11) The Appellate Court also quoted the trial court’s finding connecting the father’s abuse of the mother to the best interest of the child. “The Appellate Court indicated that “The court concluded that the ‘‘father’s mental health issues, his history of substance abuse, his emotional abuse, threats and other behavior intended to control, frighten and at times terrorize the mother have made it impossible for him to have a relationship with [the child] because, inter alia, he has destroyed his relationship with [the child’s] primary caretaker, the mother. It is thus in [the child’s] best interest to terminate the father’s parental rights.’’” (p. 11)
In upholding the trial court’s ruling the Appellate court wrote “ In this case, we conclude that the court’s factual findings, by clear and convincing evidence, support its conclusion that the father abandoned the child by failing to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern or responsibility as to the child’s welfare.” (pp. 12-13) The court opinion also disagrees with the father’s claim that trial court was wrong in determining that it was in the child’s best interest to have his parental rights terminated. In explaining its opinion the Appellate Court indicated that the mother, in pursuing safety for herself and the child by moving, seeking protective orders and other steps, had not engaged in any “unreasonable” efforts to prevent the father from having a relationship with the child. (pp.14-15)
To read the full Appellate Court ruling click here.