Found Neglected Child So Return to Mother Was Not in the Child’s Best Interests

Appellate Court of Connecticut: Child Custody Action

In a child custody action involving a neglected child, the Appellate Court of Connecticut upheld a trial court’s determination that it was not in the best interests of a minor child to place him in the custody of his mother, who suffered from anger management issues, faced a criminal charge of risk of injury to her other minor child, and had unresolved mental health and substance abuse issues.

On January 22, 2010, the respondent, mother, gave birth to her second child. However, the child was placed directly into custody with the Department of Children and Families (Department) under an administrative ninety-six hour hold. Six days later, the commissioner of the Department filed a neglect petition and obtained an order of temporary custody, alleging the child was being denied proper care and allowed to live in conditions and circumstances that would be detrimental to his well-being. On March 4, 2011, the trial court determined that the child was neglected and committed him to the custody of the commissioner. The mother appealed this decision.

Public Policy Concerns

Pursuant to public policy concerns, the State has authority to act before harm actually occurs in order to protect the health and welfare of that child. In other words, the Department does not have to wait until the child is actually harmed before intervening. A child will be declared “neglected” if the court determines that the child is being denied proper care and attention, be it physically, educationally, emotionally, or morally, or if the child is subject to conditions, circumstances, or associations that could injure his or her well-being.

In this case, the commissioner alleged that the respondent had cognitive limitations and ongoing unresolved mental health and substance abuse issues. The mother exhibited poor parenting skills, and was prone to outbursts of anger. She was facing criminal risk of injury to a minor, her older child, and was involved in numerous incidents of domestic violence with the father of her younger child. In light of this evidence, the Appellate Court determined there was sufficient ground to find the child neglected, and the Department did not err by stepping in immediately after the child was born to prevent potential harm.

Child Adjudicated as Neglected

Once a child is adjudicated as neglected, the court must determine whether to commit the child to the commissioner of the Department, vest guardianship in a third party, or return the child to the parent with or without protective supervision. The best interest of the child is paramount, and is determined by considering where a child’s sustained growth, development, well-being, and continuity and stability of his or her environment will be fostered. Placement with the commissioner is not permanent, for specific steps are taken to facilitate the return of the child to the custody of the parent.

In this case, the Appellate Court upheld the trial court’s placement of the child with the commissioner. It was reasonable to find the mother was not yet able to control and support the child due to her history with the Department, anger management issues, and her inability to work with the Department to improve her parenting skills. Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining it was in the best interests of the child to commit him to the custody of the commissioner.

Whether advancing or defending a motion regarding child custody, a parent is best served by consulting with an experienced family law practitioner. Should you have questions regarding matrimonial matters, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.