NO. 501 PITTSBURGH, 1982, Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas, Family Division-Juvenile Section, of Allegheny County, at No. J.C. 2614 of 1979.
Kathleen R. Mulligan, Pittsburgh, for appellants.
Marc Salo Drier, Pittsburgh, for appellee.
James A. Esler, Pittsburgh, for participating party.
Popovich, Montgomery and Van der Voort, JJ.
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This is a case concerned with the placement of Erica V., a three year old dependent child. The natural parents have appealed the entry of an Interlocutory Order that Children and Youth Services of Allegheny County (hereinafter CYS) develop a permanency plan for Erica, which would not include her natural parents, and that all visitation rights with the natural parents be temporarily terminated, pending a review on September 22, 1982. The parents petitioned the Lower Court to certify the Order as appealable under 42 Pa.C.S. § 702 on the ground that postponement of the appeal until after the review date set by the Lower Court
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would result in the irreparable loss of their visitation rights. The Lower Court granted the requested certification. On September 22, 1982, after this appeal had been taken, the Lower Court ordered that its earlier order temporarily terminating visiting rights continue to remain in effect.
Erica's life had a sad and brutal beginning. Born September 13, 1979, she was taken from her parents' custody seven weeks later, suffering from multiple bruises of the face and chest, fractures of both legs, fractures of several ribs, and fractures of the clavicle, an arm bone, and a hip bone. These injuries had been inflicted by her parents over the child's seven-week life span, the outgrowth of marital stress which expressed itself not only in violence between the parents, but also in brutal abuses of the child.
At the Dependency Hearing, the parents assumed full responsibility for the mistreatment of their infant daughter, and joined in the request that she be declared a dependent child and a ward of the Court. This was done by order dated November 28, 1979, in which Erica was ruled a dependent, and was placed under the supervision of the Allegheny County Child Welfare Services in the custody of Childrens & Youth Services (CYS), with permission to place her at the Parental Stress Center.
During the next six months, Erica led a chaotic existence. She remained at the Parental Stress Center for approximately one month until December 21, 1979, when she was admitted to the Children's Hospital. She remained at the hospital until January 19, 1980, when she was discharged into a temporary foster home.
In the meantime, the parents' initial attempts at rehabilitation faltered. At the review hearing in the Lower Court on January 30, 1980, the Parental Stress Center reported that the parents failed 16 of 24 scheduled appointments and were uncooperative and unresponsive to the treatment offered there. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Lower Court discharged Erica from the Parental Stress Center and placed her in the custody of CYS, with permission to place her in a suitable special foster home. On May 12, 1980, she
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was placed in the custody of John and Donna Dakleva, where she continues to reside in their custody. The foster parents are described in an unchallenged Finding of Fact by the Lower Court as "loving and capable foster parents".
On April 29, 1981, seventeen months after Erica had become a ward of the Court, her parents petitioned that she be returned to them. They alleged that they had undergone an extensive program of rehabilitation, that they had maintained regular visitations with Erica, and that they were now in a position to resume care of their child.
Over the next three months, the Court held a series of hearings on the advisability of returning Erica to her parents, during which it heard the views of some ten witnesses, including both of the natural parents, several social workers who had been involved in the attempted rehabilitation of the parents, a clinical psychologist, a therapist, and the foster mother who said that she would be supportive of whatever was in Erica's best interest, including a return to her natural parents. During the period of these hearings, the natural parents were allowed visits with Erica every other week at the Parental Stress Center.
On August 11, 1981, at the conclusion of its extensive hearings, the Court ordered that Erica should begin increased visitations with her natural parents, if ...