Juvenile Matters at Hartford

      Termination of Parental Rights; Whether Specific Steps must be Issued Before Parental Rights may be Terminated on Basis of Failure to Rehabilitate Under General Statutes § 17a-112 (j) (3) (B) (i).  In 2006, the two minor children of the respondent father were adjudicated neglected.  The father, who was incarcerated during the neglect proceedings and subsequent termination proceedings, was never issued General Statutes § 46b-129 “specific steps” to take to facilitate the return of his children to his custody.  In 2010, the department of children and families brought these petitions seeking to terminate the father’s parental rights in his two children, alleging a failure to rehabilitate under General Statutes § 17a-112 (j) (3) (B) (i).  The two “failure to rehabilitate” bases for termination under § 17a-112 (j) (3) (B) are that “the child (i) has been found by the Superior Court . . . to have been neglected or uncared for in a prior proceeding, or (ii) is found to be neglected or uncared for and has been in the custody of the commissioner for at least fifteen months and the parent of such child has been provided specific steps to take to facilitate the return of the child to the parent pursuant to section 46b-129 and has failed to achieve such degree of personal rehabilitation as would encourage the belief that within a reasonable time . . . such parent could assume a responsible position in the life of the child.”  The father argued that the statutory scheme required that he be issued specific steps before his parental rights could be terminated.  The trial court rejected that claim, finding that § 17a-112 (j) (3) (B) (i) does not require a court to issue specific steps to a parent prior to terminating his rights based on a failure to rehabilitate when, as here, there was a prior adjudication of neglect.  The court also found that an order of specific steps would have been futile in light of the father’s incarceration.  After concluding that the father had failed to rehabilitate himself sufficiently and that termination was in the best interests of the children, the court terminated his parental rights.  The father appeals, claiming that, while the statutory language is ambiguous, the legislature’s intent is to require an order of specific steps before a parent’s rights can be terminated pursuant to § 17a-112 (j) (3) (B) (i).  Alternately, the father contends that, if the statutory subsection does not require an order of specific steps, it is unconstitutionally vague as applied to him because it failed to give him fair warning that his behavior would lead to the termination of his parental rights in his children.