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In re S.C.B.

February 17, 2010


Appeal from the Orders of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Orphan's Court Division, Nos. CYF 261 of 2007 and CYF 260 of 2007. Before HENS-GRECO, J.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Shogan.

Argued October 21, 2009


C.B., ("Mother"), appeals from the orders entered on April 21, 2009, granting the petitions filed by the Allegheny County Office of Children, Youth and Families ("CYF"), to involuntarily terminate her parental rights to her twin minor children, S.C.B. and J.G.B., (collectively, "Children"),*fn2 pursuant to the Adoption Act, 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 2511(a)(1), (2), (5), and (8), and (b). In this appeal, Mother challenges, inter alia, the allowance of the termination of parental rights hearing to proceed in the absence of her guardian ad litem. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

The trial court set forth the factual background and procedural history of this appeal, as follows.

The Children were born in early August 2006 in Mercy Hospital, where [Mother] was hospitalized for both medical and psychiatric care. Within days of the [C]hildren's birth, they were taken into care by the Allegheny County Office of Children, Youth and Families (hereinafter "CYF"). At the time of the hearing, the [C]hildren were two and a half years old. They have never been in [Mother's] custody. They have never had an overnight visit with [Mother]. They have never had an unsupervised visit with [Mother].

Upon discharge from the hospital, the [C]hildren were placed in foster care on August 24, 2006, for S.C.B. and August 29, 2006, for J.G.B. They have lived with the same foster family since their birth.

On October 11, 2006, the [C]hildren were adjudicated dependent. The man identified by [Mother] as the [C]hildren's father, [D.T.[B.]], was located by CYF and given notice of the dependency proceedings as well as the instant termination proceeding. At no time has he had any contact with CYF or with the [C]hildren; nor has he met any of the goals CYF set for him. No other person has asserted paternity of S.C.B. and J.G.B.

Within two weeks of the [C]hildren's birth, [Mother] sustained massive injuries after jumping from a balcony to escape from an apartment that she had entered willingly with a man who was unknown to her. She spent one month at Mercy Hospital, six months at a nursing home, and nine months at an assisted living personal care home, recovering from her injuries, which included a broken back. She then underwent a stay of two or three months at Mercy Behavioral Health Residential Treatment for Adults and Western Psychiatric Center. [Mother] testified that she had two or three psychiatric hospitalizations since the birth of the [C]hildren and seven to ten psychiatric hospitalizations over the course of her life. Testimony clearly established that at least some of these psychiatric hospitalizations were involuntary, for the reason that [Mother] posed a danger to herself or others.

The family service plan [("FSP")] goals that CYF established for [Mother] were to: obtain and maintain safe, stable housing; continue mental health treatment; visit with the [C]hildren; attend parenting classes; utilize community resources; and communicate and cooperate with CYF.

The testimony established that [Mother] achieved the goal of obtaining and maintaining safe, stable housing on or about 2008; that she was continuing her mental health treatment; that she achieved her goal of visiting with the [C]hildren; and that she attended parenting classes at Children's Hospital and Mercy Behavioral Health, but that she did not attend additional parenting classes that had been scheduled for her because she was hospitalized at the time. There was no testimony shedding light on whether [Mother] had attended or enrolled in any of a list of additional parenting programs to which CYF had referred her in March 2009. As to her goal of utilizing community resources, [Mother] is utilizing significant mental health treatment resources on a daily basis. Specifically, members of a treatment team visit [Mother] generally two times a day, to ensure that she takes her medication and to assist her with other activities of daily living. As to her goal of communicating and cooperating with CYF, the [trial court] found that [Mother] has generally met this goal.Trial Court Opinion, 6/22/09, at 2-4.

On December 28, 2007, CYF filed a petition for involuntary termination of Mother's parental rights as to each of the Children. In February of 2008, CYF filed a motion to appoint a guardian ad litem for Mother, based on her mental health issues. CYF suggested that the same counsel who was appointed as Mother's guardian ad litem in the Juvenile Court proceedings with regard to the Children, James Robertson, Esquire, should be appointed as her guardian ad litem in the termination matters. In February of 2008, the trial court, by Judge John T. McVay, Jr., appointed Attorney Robertson as Mother's guardian ad litem. In the order, Judge McVay provided that the appointed guardian ad litem shall:

1. Make personal service of the Petition and Notice of Hearing upon [Mother].

2. Personally interview the said parent concerning the matters referred to in the petition to terminate her parental rights.

3. Attend all conferences and hearings that shall be scheduled in this matter and notify the mother of all conferences and hearings scheduled in this matter.

4. File a written report. . . .Trial Court Order, 2/8/08. Privately-retained counsel entered her appearance on behalf of Mother on February 29, 2008.

By an order dated October 3, 2008 and entered on October 13, 2008, Judge McVay granted Mother's motion for him to recuse himself. In an order dated November 5, 2008 and entered on November 7, 2008, the administrative judge of the trial court directed that the hearing in the matter would be re-scheduled to occur before either Judge Kathryn Hens-Greco or Judge Alan Hertzberg. On November 14, 2008, the guardian ad litem for Mother filed a written report with the trial court, directing the report to Judge McVay.

The trial court held hearings on the petition on January 15, 2009, February 2, 2009, February 5, 2009, February 11, 2009, April 20, 2009, and April 21, 2009, before Judge Kathryn M. Hens-Greco. At the hearings, Mother's guardian ad litem was not present. Mother was represented by counsel. On April 21, 2009, with regard to each of the Children, the trial court, by Judge Hens-Greco, entered the orders terminating Mother's parental rights to the Children.

On May 21, 2009, Mother filed notices of appeal which stated that they included Concise Statements of Errors Complained of on Appeal, as required by Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b). The trial court's docket does not reflect that Mother filed Concise Statements with her notices of appeal, but, rather, that she filed a motion for enlargement of time to file her Rule 1925(b) Statements, which the trial court granted. Mother filed an Amended Concise Statement in each case on June 16, 2009, in compliance with the deadline established by the trial court's order. Accordingly, as no party has objected to Mother's request, which the trial court ...

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