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[U] In re J.J.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

July 23, 2013

IN THE INTEREST OF: J.J., a Minor, APPEAL OF: R.J., Natural Father, Appellant IN THE INTEREST OF: J.J., a Minor, APPEAL OF: R.J., Natural Father, Appellant IN THE INTEREST OF: D.J., a Minor, APPEAL OF: R.J., Natural Father, Appellant IN THE INTEREST OF: D.J., a Minor, APPEAL OF: R.J., Natural Father, Appellant

NON-PRECEDENTIAL DECISION

Appeal from the Order entered on January 15, 2013 in the Court of Common Pleas of Blair County, Domestic Relations Division, No. CP-07-DP-0000059-2012, CP-07-DP-0000058-2012, CP-07-DP-0000057-2012, CP-07-DP-0000056-2012.

BEFORE: DONOHUE, OLSON and MUSMANNO, JJ.

MEMORANDUM

MUSMANNO, J.

R.J. ("Father") appeals from the Orders finding that aggravated circumstances existed in regard to Jad. J., one of Father's four dependent children, and establishing the placement goal of adoption for the four dependent children. We affirm.

Father is the natural father of two sons, Da. J. (born March 12, 2004) and Jar. J. (born February 28, 2006) and two daughters, Do. J. (born September 16, 2001) and Jad. J. (born July 14, 2008).

In June 2012, all four of the children were removed from Father's custody. Subsequently, Blair County Children Youth and Families ("CYF") filed Petitions for adjudications of dependency for each of the four children. The family had been involved with CYF at various times since 2005 and CYF and other agencies had provided a number of services to the family. Dependency Petitions, 5/17/12; N.T., 6/8/12, at 3-63. All of the children had behavioral issues, some of which were severe. See N.T., 6/8/12, at 7, 30-36, 43-44, 48-51.

On August 30, 2012, the trial court made an adjudication of dependency for each child. N.T., 8/30/12, at 2. The trial court also suspended contact of each child with both Father and their mother ("Mother") due to an investigation of allegations, made by the children during counseling, of physical and sexual abuse. Id. at 3. The trial court deferred establishing a placement goal until after completion of the investigation. Id.

The result of the investigation was an indicated finding[1] of sexual abuse against Father with regard to Jad. J, and against Fred Banks ("Banks") with regard to Da. J.[2] See Petitioner's Exhibits 2, 3. On October 11, 2012, the Guardian ad Litem ("GAL") for the children filed a Motion for an in camera pre-hearing with the trial judge. The GAL indicated that he was "of the opinion that the emotional pressure placed upon the children in testifying at a Review Hearing could be detrimental to their emotional well-being and could involve non-therapeutic contact of the children with their parents." Motion for In Camera Pre-Hearing, 10/11/12.

On November 9, 2012, CYF filed a Motion for Finding of Aggravated Circumstances as to both Mother[3] and Father, alleging that sexual abuse allegations were indicated for Father against Jad. J., and a male household member against Da. J.[4] The trial court conducted a permanency review hearing on November 29, 2012, at which testimony was admitted concerning whether the children were available to testify in court. The trial court determined that the children were not available to testify pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 5986. See N.T., 11/29/12, at 56-58.

A further hearing was held on January 10, 2013, at which various witnesses testified, and the trial court permitted the admission of hearsay statements of the children. On January 15, 2013, the trial court issued Orders regarding all four children, in which the court (1) determined that the indicated finding of sexual abuse against Jad. J. was founded; (2) found aggravated circumstances against Father with regard to Jad. J.; and (3) established a placement goal of adoption for all four children. Orders, 1/15/13. Father filed a timely appeal from the January 15, 2013 Order, and a Concise Statement of matters complained of on appeal. See Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a)(2)(i), (b).

Father raises the following issues on appeal:
1. Whether or not the trial court erred by admitting hearsay statements of the children?
2. Whether or not the trial court applied the correct legal standard?
3. Whether or not the trial court erred in ruling the indicated finding was founded?
4. Whether or not the trial court erred in changing the [placement] goal to adoption?
5. Whether or not the trial court erred in finding aggravated circumstances?

Brief for Appellant at 31.

Father first contends that the trial court erred by allowing hearsay testimony. Father asserts that the evidence against him was primarily produced through testimony given by Millie Baker ("Baker"), the children's counselor, as to statements made by the children. Father alleges that this evidence did not have sufficient indicia of reliability, and the children were not "unavailable" as witnesses as required by ...


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