Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Lycoming County at Nos. 74-13, 091.
Gregory V. Smith, Williamsport, for appellants.
Thomas Wood, Williamsport, for appellee.
Watkins, President Judge, and Jacobs, Hoffman, Cercone, Price, Van der Voort, and Spaeth, JJ. Spaeth, J., files concurring opinion, in which Hoffman, J., joins.
[ 248 Pa. Super. Page 416]
Sometime in October 1973, Shawn Christopher Hill, born February 23, 1971, went to live with Betty Andrus*fn1 who was his paternal aunt. This was a voluntary arrangement between Shawn's mother, Mrs. Wilson,*fn2 and Mrs. Andrus. However, on April 29, 1974, Winona Gray, a caseworker with the Lycoming County Children's Services (Children's Services) filed a petition in the Court of Common Pleas of Lycoming County alleging that Denise Hill, Shawn's sister, was a child presently in need of care, guidance and control. Prior to the hearing on that petition, Mrs. Gray, was granted
[ 248 Pa. Super. Page 417]
leave of court to file an oral petition requesting that Shawn Hill be placed in the legal custody of Betty Hill. Pursuant to a "Petition for Restoration of Custody" filed by Mrs. Wilson, a hearing was held on April 29, 1976 and continued to May 14, 1976 at the conclusion of which the court ordered that Shawn Hill be returned to the custody of his mother. From that order, Betty Andrus and Grant Hill appealed to this court.
Appellants initially contend that the lower court erred when it admitted into evidence a report from the Allen County Children's Services of Lima, Ohio which contained an evaluation of the home of the natural mother. The report was in the possession of the Lycoming County Children's Services and had been sent to them by the Allen County Children's Services pursuant to the Interstate Compact on Juveniles.*fn3 The content of the report was a home study conducted by one of the caseworkers employed by the Allen County Children's Services Board. There were three separate visits by the caseworker to the home of the natural mother and her husband. The first visit was included in the report of January 29, 1976. A letter dated March 23, 1976 was later sent to the Lycoming County Children's Services and contained information regarding two subsequent visits to the natural mother's home. The caseworker from Lycoming County testified that reliance is put on such reports when the agency has to decide where a child under their supervision should be placed. The initial request for the report from Ohio was made in anticipation of the return of Shawn's two brothers, Christopher and Dustin. However, during the hearing concerning the custody of Shawn, counsel for the natural mother attempted to have the report and letter introduced into evidence. Counsel for Mrs. Andrus strongly objected on the basis that the letter and the report were hearsay and as a result he was being denied his right to cross examine.
Although the receipt of such reports is the general practice between children services agencies in different
[ 248 Pa. Super. Page 418]
states and a great deal of reliance is placed on the information contained in them by the agencies, the introduction of such reports into evidence at a hearing has not been condoned by the appellate courts of Pennsylvania. In Commonwealth ex rel. Mathis v. Cooper et ux., 188 Pa. Super. 113, 146 A.2d 158 (1958), this court was confronted with a very similar situation concerning the admission of another agency's evaluation of a sister's home. The lower court in the Mathis case actually stated in its opinion that it was relying on that evaluation in returning the child to the sister. In reversing the order we stated the general principle to be applied in such cases as these:
Ordinarily reliance by the court on reports of court investigators concerning the condition of the parties' respective homes constitutes reversible error: Commonwealth v. Rubertucci, 159 Pa. Super.Ct. 511, 49 A.2d 269 (1946). See also Commonwealth ex rel. Mark v. Mark, 115 Pa. Super. 181, 175 A. 289 (1934); ...