Supreme Court Establishes New Standard in Predictive Neglect Cases

Neglect of Minor Children

In a decision involving the Department of Children and Families, the Connecticut Supreme Court established a new standard governing the doctrine of predictive neglect, overturning precedent which the Appellate Court previously established in In re Kamari C-L.  In the matter of In re Joseph W., the Department of Children and Families pursued neglect petitions against the parents of two minor children.

After trial, the court found that both children were in fact “neglected” under the doctrine of predictive neglect.  From a factual standpoint, the trial court based its decision primarily on the mother’s long term mental health issues and failure to comply with treatment plans, as well as the father’s noncompliance with DCF requirements and inability to recognize the mother’s problems.  The trial court essentially concluded that under the doctrine of predictive neglect both children were “at risk” for harm.  On appeal, the father claimed that DCF should have been required to satisfy a more burdensome standard.

Doctrine of Predictive Neglect

In reviewing the doctrine of predictive neglect, the Supreme Court explained that DCF need not wait until a child is actually harmed before intervening to protect that child.  As the Supreme Court stated, “Our statutes clearly and explicitly recognize the state’s authority to act before harm occurs to protect children whose health and welfare may be adversely affected and not just children whose welfare has been affected.”  The Court explained, “The doctrine of predictive neglect is grounded in the state’s responsibility to avoid harm to the well-being of a child, not to repair it after a tragedy has occurred… Thus, [a] finding of neglect is not necessarily predicated on actual harm, but can exist when there is a potential risk of neglect…”

Under the standard set forth in In re Kamari C-L, DCF could establish its case merely by proving by a preponderance of the evidence the existence of a “potential risk” of neglect. However, as the Supreme Court noted, under this standard, DCF could theoretically prevail even if there was only a 10% chance of future harm to a child.  According to the Supreme Court, the “potential risk” standard gives insufficient weight to the “combined family integrity interests of parent and child.”

Determining Predictive Neglect

In formulating a more burdensome standard, the Court held that in predictive neglect cases, the trial court must find with respect to each parent that, if the child were to remain in that parent’s independent care, the child would be denied proper care and attention, physically, educationally, emotionally or morally, or would be permitted to live under conditions, circumstances or associations injurious to the well-being of the child or youth.  Where parents will be caring for the child together, the trial court may treat the parents as a single unit in determining whether DCF has met its burden of proving predictive neglect.

By: Joseph Maya, Esq.

Should you have any questions regarding the foregoing, or DCF matters generally, please feel free to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya directly.  He can be reached in the firm’s Westport office at (203) 221-3100, or by e-mail at JMaya@mayalaw.com.

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