DCF pursued father previously uninvolved with child in Groton parental rights case

Waterford — The Department of Children and Families has placed one of Kirsten Fauquet's children with the family of a man she accused of sexual assault.

Testimony about an alleged assault came on the sixth day of a trial to terminate the parental rights of a Groton couple.

DCF is seeking to terminate the parental rights of Fauquet to her five children — ages 6, 4, 3, 2 and 1 — as well as 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 couple's home.

The state rested its case Tuesday. The parents' lawyers asked the judge to dismiss the state's case, and arguments will be heard Wednesday morning before Judge John C. Driscoll in Superior Court for Juvenile Matters in Waterford.

On Tuesday, a DCF social worker testified that Fauquet said one of her children, a 2-year-old girl, is the product of a sexual assault.

Attorney Lisa Vincent, who represents Fauquet, said in an interview outside court that the department "aggressively" pursued the biological father, who had not previously been involved in the child's life. Vincent said the agency knew the mother had some relationship with the man, who cannot be identified in media coverage under an order from a judge.

DCF sought the man's appearance in court and then sought paternity testing, Vincent said. He was later confirmed to be the child's father, according to witness testimony.

After paternity tests confirmed he was the girl's father, the department had a legal obligation to provide for his rights as a parent, Vincent said.

Fauquet said she filed a report with New London police related to the alleged assault in September 2014. Acting police Chief Peter Reichard said Tuesday the case was closed. The man has not been charged.

DCF has placed the 2-year-old girl in foster care with the man's mother. The agency is seeking joint guardianship for the child's biological father and grandmother, according to court testimony. A social worker testified that the child is doing well in the placement.

A woman who supervised family visits with the children for Fauquet and Stratzman testified last week that Fauquet became upset and "escalated" in February after confronting the worker about whether she was supervising visits between her 2-year-old daughter and the child's biological father.

The worker said she declined to provide the information, and Fauquet left the room to call her lawyer. The provider said she was afraid and later contacted police. No action was taken by police against Fauquet but the agency moved the family's visits to the DCF offices in Willimantic.

Vincent said Fauquet's reaction to the biological father is being used against her. "Reactions have created some records that are not favorable, and I think there are implications that the claim of sexual assault has been fabricated in some way," Vincent said. Fauquet is receiving counseling at Safe Futures, which provides services to domestic violence victims, according to earlier testimony.

Peter Catania, attorney for the 2-year-old girl's biological father, said in a brief interview outside court that there is no evidence to support allegations against his client. Catania said DCF records show the man was around the family and providing child care to Fauquet at one point.

Fauquet's case was handled by DCF's Norwich office before it was transferred to Willimantic. The Norwich office drafted a petition to terminate parental rights, but social workers in Willimantic re-evaluated the case, they said.

Then in December 2016, the agency called Fauquet and Stratzman to a meeting at Otis Library in Norwich and told them the department had decided to go forward with the petition.

Lori Hellum, attorney for Stratzman, questioned a social worker over reports that Stratzman was tired during supervised visits with the children. She asked if the social worker realized at the time of the report that he worked a second-shift job and a third-shift job.

She also asked if he appeared concerned for his children, showed them affection and was attentive to them. The social worker said yes. Hellum asked if he showed any favoritism to his biological children. The worker said no.

Assistant Attorney General Stephen Vitelli, who is representing DCF, said the couple lives rent-free in the home of a relative and has been there since January. When the couple moved out of an apartment in New London and into the relative's home, they didn't tell DCF, a social worker said.

The agency continued to send transportation for the couple to the New London address so they could visit their children, the worker said. The couple met the transportation in New London, and told DCF in late February they had moved, the worker said.

A social worker also testified on Tuesday that Fauquet became upset after she learned that her 3-year-old son was calling his foster parents mom and dad.

Ryan Ziolkowski, the lawyer who represents four of Fauquet's children, described it as a parent having an "emotional breakdown" over a small thing.



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