IN RE JAYCE O., SC 19669
Child Protection Session at Middletown
Termination of Parental Rights; Whether Termination of Rights Pursuant to General Statutes § 17a-112 (j) (3) (E) Violates Due Process Where Parent was a Minor When she Agreed to a Previous Termination of her Parental Rights. The Department of Children and Families (DCF) filed a petition to terminate the respondent mother’s parental rights in her second child, Jayce. DCF brought the petition pursuant to General Statutes § 17a-112 (j) (3) (E), which provides that a court may terminate a parent’s rights if it finds that the parent has neglected a child under the age of seven, that the parent failed to rehabilitate, and that “such parent’s parental rights of another child were previously terminated.” The trial court granted the termination petition, rejecting the mother’s claim that termination of her rights pursuant to § 17a-112 (j) (3) (E) was fundamentally unfair because, at the time that she agreed to the termination of her parental rights to her first child, she was a seventeen year old minor and ward of DCF who was unable to care for the child on her own. In granting the petition, the trial court noted that the statute made no allowance for a parent’s age or situation at the time of any previous termination of their parental rights. The mother appeals, claiming that the termination of her rights under § 17a-112 (j) (3) (E) based on her voluntary termination of her rights in her first child at a time when she was a minor and a ward of the state violated her due process rights. She argues that the law establishes that minors are unable to make “sound judgments” concerning some matters and that, at seventeen, she was unable to make a sound judgment as to the termination of her parental rights. She also claims that § 17a-112 (j) (3) (E) violates due process by failing to make any distinction between an involuntary and a voluntary relinquishment of parental rights and that other states’ termination schemes provide that only an involuntary prior termination can be a ground for a subsequent termination. The mother also contends that § 17a-112 (j) (3) (E) is constitutionally suspect in that, in failing to restrict the time period that a previous termination can be used against a parent in a new termination proceeding, it effectively deems a parent once found unfit forever unfit. Finally, the mother argues that the trial court wrongly found that DCF made reasonable efforts at reunifying her with Jayce and that she had failed to achieve such degree of personal rehabilitation as to encourage the belief that she could assume a responsible position in the child’s life.