Court Issues Guidelines For Parental Rights Cases

, The Connecticut Law Tribune

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Dana Hrelic
Dana Hrelic

Elvin G. is a father of two children whose parental rights were terminated while he was serving a lengthy prison sentence for federal firearm charges.

The father challenged the state's decision all the way to the state Supreme Court. He claimed that he should have been given specific steps which, if completed, would have proved he was rehabilitated and prevented the loss of his parental rights. Last week, the state's highest court agreed with his premise, a decision that will change the process the the state Department of Children and Families uses when terminating parental rights.

That was as far as the good news went for the father though, whose full name was not revealed in court records to protect the identities for the minor children involved. The overall decision to terminate his parental rights was upheld.

Elvin G.'s appellate lawyer, Dana Hrelic, of Horton, Shields & Knox in Hartford, said she and her client were happy with the decision to require the state to let parents know about any specific steps they might take to preserve their parental rights.

"Specific steps provide parents with notice and guidance as to what they need to do to reunify with their children and hopefully prevent the termination of their rights," said Hrelic. "This recognition by the court is a victory for all parents who find themselves in my client's position."

DCF Commissioner Joette Katz said that moving forward, her department will consult with its in-house attorneys before filing all termination petitions. The attorneys will have to document the consultation, consider every ground for termination, and explain whether or not there is legal sufficiency for each ground.

Further, Katz said the in-house attorneys must determine if parents have been issued the specific steps they might take in order to retain custody of their children. If not, the in-house attorneys must immediately bring this issue to the attention of the Assistant Attorney General handling the case.

"These consults will ensure that we are providing parents with proper notice about what they need to do to achieve reunification" with their children, said Katz. "In cases in which we determine that termination will provide permanency for children in our care, these consults will ensure that we are pleading the correct grounds when we file the termination petition."

Hrelic said she was disappointed that the justices opined that a failure to give her client specific steps was a harmless error in this case. The justices, in a majority opinion penned by Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers, were frank in their assessment that Elvin G. was not fit to be a parent.

"Specific steps would not have made any difference in [Elvin G.'s] failure to rehabilitate," wrote Rogers, who noted that the father was in jail for all but five weeks of one of his child's lives and all but about a year of the other son's life.

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