Judge revokes DCF custody of one child in Groton parental rights case

Waterford — A Superior Court judge revoked custody by the Department of Children and Families to one of Kirsten Fauquet’s five children on Thursday and awarded joint guardianship of the 2-year-old girl to her paternal grandmother and biological father, with weekly supervised visitation to Fauquet.

The child will remain in the home of her paternal grandmother, where she currently lives, under the order by Judge John C. Driscoll in Superior Court for Juvenile Matters in Waterford. The judge said he had not made a decision on the department’s request to terminate Fauquet’s parental rights.

Awarding a three-way guardianship including Fauquet is within the jurisdiction of the court, he said.

In a dramatic final day of testimony, Fauquet’s lawyer said a man arrived at the courthouse with a check to pay for Fauquet’s housing, which DCF had cited as a barrier to her reuniting with her children. Attorney Lisa Vincent said outside court that the check was for $12,000, intended to cover rent for one year, and the donor from the greater New London area wishes to remain anonymous.

The department is seeking to terminate the parental rights of Fauquet to her five children — ages 6, 4, 3, 2 and 1 — and to terminate the parental rights of her partner, John Stratzman, biological father of three of the children. The couple’s 3-year-old son suffered near-starvation and abuse in the home of an unlicensed relative after he was removed from the couple’s home.

Fauquet began to cry after the judge awarded joint guardianship of her 2-year-old to the paternal grandmother and the child’s biological father. She then composed herself in the courtroom after learning a decision was pending on her rights, before crying again outside.

She remained calm throughout her testimony on the stand. She described her last two years to the court as “personal hell.”

Fauquet said she was at the foster home when her 3-year-old son was dropped off injured and she pleaded to have him brought to the hospital. She was allowed to visit him in the hospital and did so each day, she said.

DCF’s demeanor toward her changed, she said. “John and I were pretty much treated like criminals by the department after that,” she testified. They'd been allowed to visit their children in their foster homes before then and had brought the children clothes, formula and diapers, she said. She had been nursing her daughter, she said. Visits with the children in their foster homes ended, she said.

The agency didn’t offer parenting education, but she found a 52-hour course online and took it, she said. After her son was injured, Fauquet said, she was connected to a reunification program and found it helpful. But while the provider talked about reunification, DCF denied it, she said. Recently, the department referred the couple to parent support services, but it already had filed to terminate her parental rights, Fauquet said.

Fauquet described the mental health services she went to. She started with individual therapy at one center, then moved to an outpatient program at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital after the psychologist working with DCF recommended a different kind of therapy, she said.

She missed appointments but completed the program, she testified. The program recommended follow-up therapy at one center but she chose a different site. Fauquet said the first center didn't fit her needs and the waits for appointments were long, so she opted for Change Inc.

DCF wanted her to take medication, she said. She didn’t think she needed it, but she went to United Community and Family Services, asked to see a therapist and tried several different medications, she said. One therapist said she didn’t need it and she ultimately stopped taking it, she said.

Fauquet filed with the court to revoke the department’s commitment of her children in October 2016. She and Stratzman were living on Belden Street in New London at the time, she said. They had bedrooms for the children, clothes for them, plugs in the outlets and food in the refrigerator, she said.

The two oldest children were allowed to visit three times, for about two hours, she said. The toilet in the apartment didn’t flush unless the handle was adjusted a certain way, and the department cited it as a safety concern, Fauquet said.

The children never came back, she said.

Her work suffered because of her involvement with DCF, she said. She missed work to be with her son after he was injured in foster care, the agency harassed one of her employers, and she was suspended for two days when her trial date was moved, she said.

Assistant Attorney General Stephen Vitelli, who is representing DCF, asked Fauquet how much she has saved living rent-free in a relative’s house since January. She said $500, but she’s supporting multiple foster homes that house her children, she said.

She hears from foster parents but not from DCF when she asks what’s happening, and worries that her children aren’t getting the medical, educational and emotional care they need. She bought shoes, clothes, school supplies and backpacks for the children and delivered them at visits, she said.

She described the DCF office where she and Stratzman visit the children as a “prison-like setting.” The office has no toys, so they bring their own, Fauquet said. The visitation supervisor who earlier criticized her parenting has a different view of how to parent, and is more of a “helicopter parent,” she said.

Fauquet works as a certified nursing assistant and has a more than three-hour commute to work using public transportation, she testified earlier. Stratzman washes dishes and previously held a second-shift job and a third-shift job. Fauquet told the court she plans to get an apartment and she would keep it.

No one in DCF, in the Norwich or the Willimantic office, ever spent an hour just talking to her, she said.

She said she’s not a perfect parent. But she believed the court was wrong to find her children neglected and “I still do,” she said.

Attorneys in the case must file written briefs by Dec. 1 and responses by Dec. 15. The judge has 120 days to issue a decision.

d.straszheim@theday.com

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