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    Thursday, September 28, 2023

    Lawyer for parents says DCF protecting its own interests

    New London — The attorney representing the New London parents who filed a request to sue the state on behalf of their son injured in foster care said the Department of Children and Families is trying to protect its own interests in seeking to have the case dismissed.

    Attorney Shelley Graves of New London is representing parents Kirsten Fauquet and John Stratzman in bringing a suit on behalf of their son, whom the state refers to as Baby Dylan. The parents would not benefit financially from an award to the child because his estate is protected and administered by the probate court, Graves wrote in an April 4 reply to the state's request to dismiss the case.

    The probate court appointed attorney Deborah Tedford as guardian of the child’s estate on Feb. 28, and the parents are seeking to substitute Tedford for them in filing the claim.

    “His minor parents have effectively relinquished any potential for control or access to any such monies by supporting the petition to appoint a neutral person as guardian of minor’s estate and a motion to substitute the guardian in their place,” Graves wrote.

    The child, who is now almost 3 years old, was removed from his parents’ home in June 2015 and placed in the care of an unlicensed relative when he was 13 months old. On Nov. 11, 2015, doctors at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center found that during his first five months in foster care, he suffered injuries including arm fractures, bleeding of the brain and prolonged malnourishment from starvation.

    The parents sent a request to the State Office of the Claims Commissioner a year later to sue the state Department of Children and Families on behalf of their son.

    On Thursday, Juvenile Judge Michael Mack granted a request to indefinitely suspend the parents’ visits with their son. Priscilla Hammond, the lawyer representing the child in the legal dispute between DCF and the parents over custody, asked that visits be suspended.

    The judge also granted a request by the agency to reduce visits with Fauquet's other four children from twice a week to once a week. Mack approved a DCF plan to make efforts to reunify the children with their parents, though the agency will pursue termination of parental rights if it deems the family cannot be reunited.

    The court file in the case is sealed.

    The state filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit regarding Baby Dylan in January. The state argued that since the parents lost custody and guardianship of the boy in a neglect case, they’re not appropriate parties to sue on his behalf.

    The parents are responsible for the child’s placement into foster care, the motion said. The commissioner said in prior cases that the office wouldn't grant permission to sue or allow any award “if neglectful or abusive parents would benefit,” the state argued. Assistant Attorney General Carolyn Signorelli filed the motion on behalf of Attorney General George Jepsen.

    But Graves called the arguments "disingenuous." She said the parents, not DCF, sought a claim on behalf of the child and support someone standing in their place to represent him.  By comparison, she wrote that DCF didn't seek to have a guardian appointed for the boy to consider any claim on his behalf, even after a 73-page report from the Office of the Child Advocate detailed "horrific injuries" and determined that the agency's monitoring system failed.

    The “assertions that this infant child’s claim should be dismissed because of DCF’s unfounded speculation that the parents’ motivation is personal greed is callous,” she wrote. “They wield those accusations as if they are championing the minor claimant to protect him from his parents bringing a baseless claim for their own personal benefit.”

    What the department really is seeking is to get the claim dismissed on a technicality, she wrote, “to deny this infant the opportunity to have the facts of what he endured in foster care and the actions and omissions of DCF reviewed by this Commissioner and a court of law."

    The family needs permission from the Office of the Claims Commissioner to sue because the state, unlike an ordinary citizen, is immune from liability and from suit unless the office determines otherwise.


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