Groton parents in DCF trial lost rental assistance

Waterford — The Groton parents facing termination of their parental rights lost a housing voucher because they failed to pay the rent on time and expected the Department of Children and Families to step in after the agency already had helped twice, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Vitelli told the court on Thursday.

Vitelli, who is representing DCF in prosecuting the case, said the couple's failure to make timely rent payments was noncompliance with the rental voucher program. He also noted that after the couple lost their children, they would have had additional "discretionary income" to cover rent.

Thursday was the third day of the trial before Judge John C. Driscoll in Superior Court for Juvenile Matters in Waterford. DCF is seeking to terminate the parental rights of Kirsten Fauquet of Groton to her five children, and to terminate the parental rights of her partner, John Stratzman, biological father of three of the children. The couple's son, now age 3, nearly died in the home of an unlicensed relative after DCF removed the children from the couple's home.

A program manager for a Middletown-based supportive housing program testified Thursday about what happened with the couple's housing assistance. Witnesses may not be identified by name in coverage of the trial under a direction from the judge.

The manager testified the couple initially was placed at Faire Harbour Landings apartments in New London through a program that required them to pay 30 percent of their income as rent. After a separate voucher program kicked in, the amount was supposed to rise to 40 percent, but it instead jumped from about $280 to $730 in one month, according to earlier testimony. The couple could not come up with the money.

DCF helped the couple with partial rent payments twice – in November 2014 and in May 2015. The program manager said Fauquet paid the rent every month she had the children, but did so when she got paid, so it was not on time. Late fees mounted and the couple was served with an eviction notice and legal fees by the landlord. In fall 2015, the program manager scrambled to find agencies who could help the couple save their voucher.

The housing program ultimately asked DCF to contribute $2,500 to $3,000 to retain the voucher arrangement, while the couple also made payments, the manager testified. The agency declined, she said. She further testified that "there was an insinuation that (Fauquet) should have been doing more." The couple lost the voucher.

Afterward, the couple remained involved in the supportive housing program and then rented a three-bedroom apartment on Belden Street in New London, the program manager said. They received no assistance.

Stratzman washes dishes at a Groton restaurant, and previously worked two jobs, though he was not employed for much of the time the couple lived in Faire Harbour. Fauquet works as a certified nursing assistant and previously held a second job at Dunkin Donuts, as well as a third job.

A DCF caseworker testified on Wednesday that on one occasion she visited the apartment on Belden Street and learned the couple had no heat or hot water.

Lisa Vincent, attorney for the mother, asked the caseworker if she offered to help the couple since they had lost rental assistance.

The caseworker said she asked the couple if they needed help, "but I don't recall ever getting a suggestion" as to what program they wanted.

The couple gave up the Belden Street apartment in March and are now living in a relative's basement. Both are working.

An employee for an organization that supervises visits for DCF also testified on Thursday about safety. The employee said the parents have ongoing issues with bickering and keeping their children safe during visits with the children.

Vincent questioned the employee's definition of a safety concern. She asked: Is a 4-year-old eating a piece of cake without sitting at the table, or a small child climbing on a picnic table, or a child eating sweets before enough dinner a safety concern? The employee said it was.

Vincent then asked whether Fauquet and Stratzman's 3-year-old son, was sent by DCF unaccompanied in a cab to visits. The employee confirmed that she saw him arrive alone via a livery cab three times. She said she called social workers and then started driving him to visits herself.

Priscilla Hammond, the child's lawyer, later said the child was in an approved car seat and DCF often uses that particular livery service to transport children to visits, although the arrangement was probably not a good idea.

Ryan Ziolkowski, the lawyer who represents four of Fauquet's children, questioned the parents' decision to regularly bring gifts to their children during visits. He asked the employee who supervises visits: "Doesn't that kind of distort the purpose of the visit?" She said she thought it did.

Trial resumes at 10 a.m. on Friday.

d.straszheim@theday.com

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