Second day of DCF trial focuses on parents' mental health

Waterford — A psychologist who evaluated the Groton parents facing termination of their parental rights testified Wednesday that the mother has not rehabilitated to the point she can independently care for her children.

Lisa Vincent, the lawyer for mother Kirsten Fauquet, asked the psychologist if he knew that the oldest daughter “cries and holds onto her mother at the end of every visit?” He said he didn’t, but saw the oldest two children bonded with their mother, and described anxiety in the girl.

Severing the girl’s bond with Fauquet would be “profoundly psychologically harmful” to the child, he confirmed in testimony. Regarding father John Stratzman, the psychologist testified that the children “recognize him as a father figure, if not a father in fact.”

Wednesday was the second day of the trial in the Superior Court for Juvenile Matters in Waterford. The parents, whose 3-year-old-son nearly died in an unlicensed foster home, are seeking to be reunified with their children. DCF is petitioning to terminate the parental rights of Fauquet to her five children and of Stratzman, her partner and biological father of three of the children.

Judge John C. Driscoll asked that witnesses not be identified by name in coverage of the proceedings, which are typically closed.

Both parents sat in the courtroom, separated by their lawyers in the center at a U-shaped table before the judge. On one side of the parents sat the workers from the Department of Children and Families testifying in support of severing their parental rights and Assistant Attorney General Stephen Vitelli, representing DCF. On the other side sat the two attorneys for the children, along with a man who is the biological father of one of Fauquet’s children and his lawyer.

During breaks from testimony, lawyers for the children chatted with DCF workers at times. The parents, who looked down, took notes or appeared solemn for much of the proceedings, sat alone or with their lawyers during breaks.

At one point during the proceedings, Vincent broke down in tears and asked for a brief recess. She was asking a DCF caseworker if she called Fauquet to tell her the court had suspended her visits with her son who was injured in foster care. The suspension was requested by Priscilla Hammond, the child’s lawyer, and later granted by a judge.

The caseworker testified that Fauquet didn’t know the visits were suspended until she arrived to see her child and he wasn’t there. Vincent asked the caseworker if DCF gave Fauquet a final visit with her son.

“We did not, no,” the caseworker said.

Much of the testimony Wednesday focused on the parents’ mental health, the services they received and whether they complied with those services, and whether the department made the “reasonable efforts” required by law to assist them.

The psychologist said he did not recommend reunifying the children with their parents. He said the children need permanency now. They have been moved multiple times. The 3-year-old boy who was injured has been in seven placements, including one home on two separate occasions, a caseworker testified.

The psychologist said he diagnosed Fauquet as having a personality disorder and an adjustment disorder with some anxiety and depressed mood. He did not find evidence of any other issue, such as a major mood disorder, he said. The psychologist said Stratzman’s evaluation was consistent with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Both parents attended counseling sporadically but not consistently, he said.

“Response will be suboptimal so long as participation is irregular,” the psychologist said of the mother.

Vincent posed this question to the psychologist: If the two parents remained together through the near death of one of their children, the loss of their housing, homelessness and a deteriorating relationship with DCF, wouldn’t that give him confidence they could withstand the stressors of daily life?

The psychologist said he couldn’t say without direct clinical evidence.

The trial resumes at 10 a.m. Thursday.

d.straszheim@theday.com

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