Judge terminates parental rights of Groton couple
Waterford — A Superior Court judge has terminated the parental rights of the couple whose children were removed by the Department of Children and Families, and whose son nearly died in an unlicensed Groton foster home in November 2015.
Judge John C. Driscoll issued the decision on April 13 in Superior Court for Juvenile Matters in Waterford, before leaving on vacation. He was unavailable to comment.
Driscoll’s 20-page decision severed the parental rights of Kirsten Fauquet, 26, to her five children, ages 7, 5, 3, 2 and 1, and of John Stratzman, 27, her partner and the biological father of three of the children. The couple, whose son nearly died of starvation in a foster home, waited a year for trial on their motion to revoke the commitment of their older children and their motion to vacate the order of temporary custody for the youngest.
The judge said no provider had recommended reunification of the children and parents, and that the children’s lawyers, Priscilla Hammond and Ryan Ziolkowski, recommended terminating parental rights.
“Their mental health remains untreated," Driscoll wrote of Fauquet and Stratzman. "Their chronic housing issues continue unabated.They are facing eviction again. They have no stable income, and are evasive or misrepresent their income. They have been rejected for reunification services. They have had years of supervised visitation, and have shown no significant progress.”
Fauquet and Stratzman are both employed and living in her sister’s house in New London.
In November, Driscoll awarded custody of Fauquet’s 2-year-old girl to her paternal grandmother and biological father, with weekly supervised visitation to Fauquet. The visits did not occur, Fauquet said. She has not seen her daughter since November.
“Because John and I aren’t rich, we’re just an average family, we’re the scapegoats. They don’t want to take responsibility for their abuse and their cruelty,” Fauquet said of DCF. The department took her children, placed her son in a home where he was seriously injured, then contacted her employers and landlords, costing her jobs, she said.
“They claim I’m angry but look at what I’ve been through, look at what my kids have been through,” Fauquet said. “My son almost died.”
Lisa Vincent, Fauquet’s attorney, said she was disappointed and concerned that an appeal could be difficult. Fauquet has filed a request to appeal the decision.
Vincent raised three constitutional issues during trial, none of which were addressed in the written ruling. First, she argued that the parents were held to an unreasonable and unlawful standard for child safety during supervised visits. During trial, a caseworker testified that allowing a child to climb the wrong way up a backyard slide, eat sweets before dinner, or climb on a picnic table were safety concerns.
Second, Vincent argued that many of the couple’s problems stemmed from poverty, which cannot legally be used as justification for terminating parental rights. Assistant Attorney General Stephen Vitelli, who represented DCF, told the court during trial that the couple lost a housing voucher because they failed to pay the rent on time and expected DCF to step in after the agency already helped twice. Vitelli did not return a phone call seeking comment on Driscoll's decision.
Third, Vincent argued that the court shouldn’t deny the parents rights to all of their children, but should consider each child individually.
“The issues raised by the parents during trial are really not addressed in the decision. And the reality of that is it may mean that the case is not appealable,” Vincent said.
“It’s hard to read, and it causes me to question my advocacy on behalf of these people. I could have just written them off and no one would have batted an eye. But I think Kirsten Fauquet deserved a defense. I am saddened that the facts that placed the mother into a more favorable light were not credited by the court,” she said.
Lori Hellum, attorney for Stratzman, said she hadn’t received a copy of the decision yet but was aware of it. “I have not yet spoken with John, will be calling him shortly, and I believe he will utilize the appeal review process that is available,” she wrote in an email, declining further comment.
Stratzman said the attorneys for the children didn’t act in the children's best interests.
"If they were representing them they would have done more investigation. Going to a (family) visit for five or 10 minutes is not an investigation. We had visits that were four hours."
During the trial, a psychologist testified that severing the bond between the oldest child and her mother would be "profoundly psychologically harmful" to the child. Regarding Stratzman, the psychologist testified that the children "recognize him as a father figure, if not a father in fact."
"The children know (Fauquet and Stratzman) as parents who love them," the judge wrote. "(The 2-year-old girl) is losing her attachment to (Stratzman) as she spends more time with her (biological) father... and becoming bonded with him. (The 7-year-old girl) is very close to her mother, and (the 5-year-old boy) to his father."
But the judge wrote that the children have been out of their parents' care for a substantial period of time and need permanency. The child who was injured in foster care has serious medical issues and needs a stable, supportive environment, Driscoll wrote.
The boy "was removed from visitation with his parents in June 2017 on the motion of his attorney, so his bond is presumably weakening," the judge wrote. The children are all in pre-adoptive homes with the oldest two together, and all five, especially the three youngest, are bonded with their foster families, Driscoll wrote.
On the last day of Fauquet and Stratzman's trial, 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. Vincent said the check was for $12,000, intended to cover rent for one year, and the donor from the greater New London area wished to remain anonymous. The money was to remain in escrow pending a decision in the case.
Driscoll wrote, “While the court is impressed with the suggested kindness of a stranger, there is no reasonable prospect of either (Fauquet) or (Stratzman) managing and maintaining stable housing for an extended period, even with assistance, based on past performance.”
Both parents are high school graduates, and Fauquet has a certified nurses’ assistant license, but a history of inconsistent employment, the judge wrote. The couple lost a housing voucher and have mental health issues, he wrote.
Fauquet works as a certified nursing assistant and has a more than three-hour daily commute to work. She told the court during trial she leaves the house at 11:40 a.m., takes one bus from Groton to New London, takes another bus to Norwich, and then walks 30 to 40 minutes from the nearest bus stop to work. She works from 3 p.m. until 11 p.m.
"They denied me my civil rights, my fundamental rights," Fauquet said. "There's no justice. The kids' best interests were not looked after. For any of the kids."
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