IN RE JOSEPH W., JR., et al., SC 18951/18952

Child Protection Session at Middletown  

Juveniles; Neglect; Americans With Disabilities Act; Whether the Doctrine of Predictive Neglect Should be Overruled; Whether the Evidence was Sufficient to Support the Finding of Neglect; Whether the Trial Court's Refusal to Appoint an ADA Coordinator for the Parents Violated Their Due Process Rights. The department of children and families (department) took custody of the respondents' two children shortly after their births. Subsequently, the department filed neglect petitions based on the doctrine of predictive neglect. The petitions were premised on allegations regarding the mother's mental health issues and the father's alleged inability to acknowledge the mother's parenting limitations. Prior to trial, the respondents filed a request for relief under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They contended that the department was not in compliance with the ADA and asserted that an ADA coordinator should have been appointed to oversee the department's handling of their case. The trial court denied the respondents' request, stating that a child protection proceeding is not a "service, program or activity" under the ADA and, therefore, the ADA neither provides a defense to nor creates special obligations in such a proceeding. After trial, the court determined that "the children's health, safety and well-being were and would be at risk" in the respondents' care. Accordingly, the court adjudicated the children neglected. The parents appeal separately from the trial court's judgment. In his appeal, the father argues that the doctrine of predictive neglect should be overruled because, under that doctrine, the department only has to show that there is a "potential risk" of neglect or harm. He asserts that that standard is much lower than the standard for actual neglect contained in General Statutes 46b-120 (6), which requires the department to prove, by a preponderance of evidence, that the child is being (a) denied proper care and attention, or (b) permitted to live under conditions, circumstances or associations that are injurious to his or her well-being. In the alternative, the father claims that, because the department failed to present evidence establishing the existence of a "specific risk" to the children's well-being, such as substance abuse by the parents or domestic violence, the evidence was insufficient to support the court's finding of predictive neglect. Finally, the father claims that, because both parents have disabilities that affect their ability to process information, the appointment of an ADA coordinator was an accommodation that they needed to properly participate in the trial. He maintains that the court's failure to provide them the requested accommodation in contravention of the ADA violated their due process rights because it denied them a fair trial. In her appeal, the mother challenges the trial court's finding of predictive neglect. Specifically, she argues that, because she has never had an opportunity to take care of the children, the court's conclusion that she would be a threat to the children's safety and well-being was based on pure speculation. She also challenges the denial of her request for appointment of an ADA coordinator.