Parents who lost parental rights say goodbye to their children
Waterford — The parents whose rights were terminated by a Superior Court judge saw their children for the last time on Thursday.
Judge John C. Driscoll issued the decision on April 13 in Superior Court for Juvenile Matters in Waterford, severing 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 biological father of three of the children.
The couple saw the oldest two children and the youngest child Thursday. Fauquet has not seen her 2-year-old daughter since the trial in November, despite court-ordered visits. The couple last saw their 3-year-old son a year ago, after the child's attorney filed a motion to end visits.
“We never got the chance to say even goodbye, to tell them we loved them,” Fauquet said of her son, who turns 4 on Saturday, and her daughter, who turns 3 next month. Fauquet said a DCF social worker told her last week, before the judge’s decision was released, that she should prepare to see her children for the last time.
DCF issued the following statement Friday morning: "In light of the court decision earlier this week, the department will continue to focus on achieving timely permanency for each of the children involved. We thank the families who are now caring for the children and who are devoted to serving their best interest by providing loving, stable and permanent homes."
The judge cited the couple's noncompliance with providers, untreated mental illness and chronic housing instability among his reasons for terminating their parental rights.
Others viewed the case differently, describing it as vengeance by the agency after it made mistakes and the couple's son nearly died in an unlicensed foster home.
“Having needlessly taken the children in the first place and having placed one of the children in a home where he nearly died, DCF was not about to be further embarrassed by letting them return to the mother from whom they never should have been taken,” said Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.
“And I believe DCF wanted to send a message to any parents who dare to speak out about what the agency did to their children. DCF has traumatized these children over and over. Now the agency has done it again,” he said.
DCF did not respond to a request for comment.
Wexler said the case would tarnish the legacy of Joette Katz, who has "done more good at DCF than any commissioner in decades." Katz has pushed for greater family involvement and increased the number of children placed with relatives and others known to them.
“She’s accomplished so much partly because she has a streak of stubbornness, and a conviction she is right, that mostly has served her well,” Wexler said. “This time I believe that stubbornness got in the way of her better judgment. The children are suffering for it.”
Attorney Michael Agranoff, who fought for the state’s mini-Miranda rule informing parents of their rights in child welfare cases, said he can’t say with certainty that the judge was wrong.
The parents were angry and noncompliant, the psychologist who interviewed them picked up on that and it doomed them, Agranoff said.
“When faced with a (petition to terminate parental rights), your lawyer is your only friend. The entire state is against you,” he said. “It’s worse than a murder trial, as you have a secret court with no press or public, no jury, relaxed rules of evidence, relaxed burden of proof (not ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’) and judges who will bend over backwards, in close cases, to protect children," Agranoff said. "No one wants a disaster on their hands. Therefore, you have to have a strong lawyer, and do what the lawyer says.”
The couple brought to their visit a gift box with birthday presents, letters to the children and family photos. The child who was injured in foster care, who was not present for the last visit, turns 4 this weekend.
“I continue to miss so much while others take my place,” Fauquet said. “It’s killing me.”