Appeal from the Order entered August 10, 1988 in the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County, Civil, No. JV NO. 20386.
Ann G. Torregrossa, Chester, for appellant.
Roger R. Ullman, Swarthmore, for appellees.
George Koudelis, Upper Darby, for Children and Youth Services, participating party.
Wieand, Beck and Montgomery, JJ.
[ 388 Pa. Super. Page 382]
This case raises two issues: 1. whether an appeal will lie from an order of the juvenile court granting Children and Youth Services permission to change its goal regarding four dependent children from reunification with their mother to adoption; and 2. whether the juvenile court erred in approving the change of goal.
Appellant, L.B., is the mother of four children who have been adjudicated dependent and placed in foster care by Children and Youth Services of Delaware County (CYS). CYS has legal custody of the children. Throughout the history of CYS' involvement with the children, the goal of CYS' services had always been identified as returning the children to their own home.*fn1
By order dated August 10, 1988, the trial court granted the request of CYS to change its goal for the children from reunification with their mother to adoption. The trial court order specifically provided: (1) that the children remain in foster care; (2) that legal and physical custody of the
[ 388 Pa. Super. Page 383]
custody of the children remain with CYS; (3) that CYS be permitted to change the goal of its plan for the children to adoption; (4) that appellant cooperate with CYS by meeting regularly with social workers, giving them access to her home, visiting regularly with her children and participating in family therapy as directed by CYS; (5) that CYS and Jewish Family and Children's Service be permitted to release pertinent information regarding the family to all treating professionals; and (6) that a court review be scheduled within (6) months or sooner at the request of any party. This appeal followed.
Initially, we address the motion of CYS to quash this appeal as interlocutory based upon the assertion that an order changing the goal of CYS regarding dependent children from reunification to adoption is not final and appealable. We find that the order is a final order appealable under 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 742 (1978). As the Supreme Court stated in Fried v. Fried, 509 Pa. 89, 501 A.2d 211 (1985):
It is axiomatic that an appeal will lie only from a final order unless otherwise permitted by statute or rule.
In T.C.R. Realty, Inc., supra, [T.C.R. Realty, Inc. v. Cox, 472 Pa. 331, 372 A.2d 721 (1977)] we stated:
We have variously defined a final order as one which ends the litigation, or alternatively disposes of the entire case. Piltzer v. Independence Savings and Loan Association, 456 Pa. 402, 404, 319 A.2d 677, 678 (1974); James Banda Inc. v. Virginia Manor Apartments, Inc., 451 Pa. 408, 409, 303 A.2d 925, 926 (1973). Conversely phrased, an order is interlocutory and not final unless it effectively puts the litigant "out of court". Ventura v. Skylark Motel, Inc., 431 Pa. 459, 463, 246 A.2d 353, 355 (1968). In Marino Estate, 440 Pa. 492, 292 [sic], 269 A.2d 645, 646 (1969), we said that an order is not interlocutory if it precludes a party from presenting the merits of his claim to the lower court.
Id., 509 Pa. at 93, 501 A.2d at 213 (citations omitted).
The determination of finality is not to be made merely by ascertaining whether the order in question has
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technically ended the litigation between the parties. We must examine the practical consequences of the order to determine if the party challenging it has effectively been put out of court. See Ventura v. Skylark Motel, Inc., supra; Marino Estate, supra.
Ascertaining the practical significance of the order under review requires that we examine it in the context of the statutory and regulatory scheme governing disposition of dependent children. The Juvenile Act, 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 6301 et seq. (1982) (the "Act"), and various Department of Public Welfare regulations contain this scheme. The Act permits the trial court to determine whether a child is dependent within the Act's definition of that term. Id. § 6341. Once the dependency determination is made, the Act then permits the court to make one of a number of initial dispositions of the child. The permissible alternatives include permitting the child to remain with his parents under conditions prescribed by the court or transferring temporary custody of the child to a private or public agency. Id. § 6351. The Act then provides for periodic disposition review hearings. At these hearings, the court is directed to:
(1) determine the continuing necessity for and appropriateness of the placement;
(2) determine the extent of compliance with the service plan developed for the child;
(3) determine the extent of progress made toward alleviating the circumstances which necessitated the original placement;
(4) determine the appropriateness and feasibility of the current placement goal for the child; and
(5) project a likely date by which the goal for the child might be achieved.
The court must then further determine what disposition of the child should be ordered as a result of the ...