IN RE JORDEN R., SC 18169
Judicial District of Windham
Termination of Parental Rights; Whether DCF Must Prove That it Made Reasonable Efforts to Reunify Family Before Court can Find that Parent is Unable or Unwilling to Benefit From Reunification Services; Whether Psychological Evaluation Properly Excluded From Evidence. The department of children and families (DCF) filed a petition to terminate the sixteen year old respondent mother's parental rights to her infant son after the infant sustained severe injuries of a nonaccidental nature, that left him neurologically impaired. In granting DCF's petition, the trial court concluded that the infant had been denied the care, guidance or control necessary for his well-being. It found that the mother was unable or unwilling to benefit from reunification services and that DCF was therefore relieved of its obligation to make reasonable reunification efforts. The court grounded this determination on the mother's youth and immaturity and her continued relationship with the child's father. The mother appealed, arguing that the court improperly determined that she was unable or unwilling to benefit from reunification services and improperly precluded from evidence the testimony and report of her expert, Ronald D. Anderson, Ph.D., concerning his psychological evaluation of her. In reversing the trial court's ruling granting DCF's petition, the Appellate Court (107 Conn. App. 12) noted that pursuant to General Statutes § 17a-112 (j), in order to terminate parental rights, the trial court must find by clear and convincing evidence that DCF has made reasonable efforts to reunify the parent and child unless it finds that the parent is unable or unwilling to benefit from such efforts. It then indicated that it did not agree that the mother was unable or unwilling to benefit from such efforts. It stated that her immaturity was a circumstance that advancing years would alter, that she had done what DCF had asked her to do and that she eventually obtained a protective order against the child's father. Moreover, it determined that in the absence of any suggestion that she intentionally caused the child's injuries, she was entitled to DCF's reasonable reunification efforts. As to the evidentiary claim, the Appellate Court found that the trial court abused its discretion in excluding Anderson's report from evidence. It stated that although certain information in Anderson's report, which related to the child's father, was improperly based on an earlier report from a court-appointed psychologist in violation of the father's privacy rights, the court could have redacted Anderson's report to exclude any reference to the earlier report or to the father. In addition, it determined that the court could have limited Anderson's testimony to matters regarding the mother, alone, without reference to the father and based solely on his evaluation of her. In this appeal, the Supreme Court will determine whether the Appellate Court improperly (1) interpreted § 17a-112 to require DCF to prove it made reasonable reunification efforts before a court can find a parent is unable or unwilling to benefit from reunification services, (2) substituted its judgment for the trial court's in overruling the finding that the mother was unable or unwilling to benefit from reunification services and (3) overruled the decision to exclude Anderson's report.