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decided: October 28, 1977.



Thomas H. Newbraugh, Southwestern Pa. Legal Aid Society, Waynesburg, T. P. Hennessy, Uniontown, for appellant.

R. Wallace Maxwell, Waynesburg, for appellee.

Eagen, C. J., and O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Nix, J., filed a concurring and dissenting opinion. Manderino, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

Author: Roberts

[ 474 Pa. Page 619]


Sandra Burns appeals from the January 30, 1976 decree of the Orphans' Court Division of the Court of Common Pleas of Greene County terminating her parental rights with regard to her minor children Shannon Coleen Burns and Kelly Taylor.*fn1 Acting upon a petition filed by Child Welfare Services of Greene County, the orphans' court found that appellant had abandoned the two children and had failed to perform parental duties for a sufficient period to justify involuntary termination of her parental rights.*fn2

Appellant raises two issues. First, she contends that the evidence is insufficient to support a finding of abandonment. Second, she challenges the termination of her parental rights to Kelly Taylor as improper in light of the orphans' court's determination that the natural father preserved his parental rights. We find appellant's claims without merit, and affirm.


The record establishes that the home situation of appellant and her family seriously deteriorated in late 1973. Appellant and her husband, Gary Burns, were living in a trailer with their child, Shannon Coleen Burns, then one and one half years old, and appellant's two older children by previous marriages, Kelly Taylor, then seven, and John

[ 474 Pa. Page 620]

McDowell, then fourteen.*fn3 Neighbors from the trailer court, including the owner of appellant's trailer and his wife, testified that appellant and her husband were both out of work, drank heavily, and regularly left the children unattended for hours at a time.

Child Welfare Services became involved after receiving a report in December, 1973, from a resident of the trailer park who was concerned about the lack of care being received by appellant's children.*fn4 An agency worker visited the trailer twice on January 7, 1974. Neither appellant nor her husband were present at either time. The three children were left alone without an adult in charge. The worker observed that clothes were strewn throughout the living room, that Kelly's eye was pink, and that the baby, Shannon Coleen, was dirty and improperly clothed. John said that his mother and stepfather were out trying to find a doctor, but that he did not know who the doctor was. When asked if he and the other children had anything to eat, John replied that appellant and her husband would bring groceries back when they returned. The worker made a third visit to the trailer later in January and again found the children unattended.

Shortly thereafter, appellant and her husband were given notice to vacate the trailer because its condition was rapidly deteriorating from their lack of care. When the Burnses showed no intention of leaving, their landlord, upon his attorney's advice, locked them out. Appellant, her husband, and the two older children moved to an apartment in

[ 474 Pa. Page 621]

Waynesburg. Appellant asked a friend, Mrs. William Corwin, to take care of Shannon.*fn5

After the eviction, Mr. Burns contacted the Child Welfare Services worker, who had written to the Burnses after her unsuccessful efforts to visit them at the trailer. The worker contacted the trailer owner on behalf of the Burnses, and obtained their clothing from the trailer. On January 23, she met with appellant at the apartment to discuss the family's situation. Appellant was in considerable discomfort, however, and the meeting was short. The same day, appellant entered the hospital and subsequently suffered a miscarriage.

After entering the hospital appellant asked a nurse's aide, Mrs. Flora Davis, if she would take care of Kelly while appellant was in the hospital. Mrs. Davis agreed to do so. Mr. Burns was to bring Kelly to an agreed upon location in town where Mrs. Davis was to receive the child. He did not appear, however, and the following day both Kelly and John arrived at Mrs. Davis' house in a taxi. Although appellant had never asked her to take care of John, Mrs. Davis took both children and kept them for at least four days. Appellant did not notify Mrs. Davis when she was discharged from the hospital. When Mrs. Davis learned from the hospital that appellant had been discharged, she took the children and began looking for appellant. Mrs. Davis located the mother at a bar or restaurant and returned Kelly and John. Appellant appeared to have been drinking and gave an incoherent explanation for not contacting Mrs. Davis after her discharge from the hospital.

Shortly after appellant left the hospital, she and her husband went to Uniontown, Pennsylvania, to look for a new place to live. John was left with a relative. Kelly was left with Mrs. Corwin, who had been taking care of Shannon since appellant entered the hospital. In late January, however, Mrs. Corwin suffered a ...

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