September 4, 2013
IN RE: A.R.K. APPEAL OF: T.S., MOTHER IN RE: E.R.K. APPEAL OF: T.S., MOTHER IN RE: C.A.S. APPEAL OF: T.S., MOTHER
Appeal from the Order entered February 25, 2013, in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Family Court at No(s): 51-FN-003788-2011; CP-51-AP-0000087-2013, CP-51-DP-0002047-2011, CP-51-AP-0000086-2013, CP-51-DP-0002046-2011, CP-51-AP-0000087-2013, CP-51-DP-0001938-2011
BEFORE: ALLEN, COLVILLE, and STRASSBURGER [*], JJ.
T.S., ("Mother"), appeals from the decrees and orders which granted the petitions filed by the Philadelphia Department of Human Services ("DHS") to involuntarily terminate her parental rights to her two male, minor children with K.K., ("Father"): E.R.K. a/k/a E.K., born in December of 2005, and A.R.K., a/k/a A.K., born in September of 2007, and a third, female child, C.A.S., born in January of 1998, who is not the child of Father (collectively, "Children"), pursuant to section 2511(a)(1), (2), (5), (8), and (b) of the Adoption Act, 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 2511(a)(1), (2), (5), (8), and (b), and changed the permanency goal for the Children to adoption pursuant to section 6351 of the Juvenile Act, 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 6351. We affirm.
The trial court set forth the factual background and procedural history of these appeals as follows:
On October 28, 2003, the Department of Human Services received a General Protective Services report (GPS) due to [M]other's present inability to provide proper food for the child [C.A.S.], failure to provide a safe living environment, and [M]other's mental illness and drug/alcohol abuse.
On November 11, 2003, the Department of Human Services received a General Protective Services report (GPS) regarding [M]other's mental health hospitalization and diagnosis of a schizaphrenic [sic] disorder. Furthermore, it was also reported that [M]other failed to provide proper food for the child. Lastly, [M]other failed to provide a safe living environment and she abused drugs/alcohol abuse [sic].
On September 23, 2011, the Department of Human Services received a General Protective Services (GPS) [report] that [M]other was requiring C.A.S. to care for her siblings while [M]other attended weekly medical appointments. It also reported that she was not taking any medication. The report was substantiated.
On September 28, 2011, [the] Department of Human Services obtained an Order of Protective Custody (OPC) for C.A.S. After a hearing before the Honorable Walter Olszewski, he lifted the OPC and ordered the temporary commitment [of C.A.S.] to the Department of Human Service [sic]. The [trial court] specifically ordered [that Mother could have] supervised visits [at the] discretion of C.A.S. The siblings of C.A.S. were placed in the care of their father, [Father].
On October 12, 2011, [the] Department of Human Services obtained an Order of Protective Custody after receiving a report of allegations E.K. and A.K. were sleeping outside of [F]ather's home on trash bags. [Father] was allegedly intoxicated at the time of the incident.
After a hearing on October 14, 2011 for E.K. and A.K. before the Honorable Alice Debow [sic], she lifted the Order of Protective Custody and ordered the temporary commitment of E.K. and A.K. to [the] Department of Human Services.
A Family Service Plan [("FSP")] meeting was held. The Family Service Plan objectives for [M]other and [F]ather were[:] (1) to meet with [the] counselor on a weekly basis to learn expected behavior for [the] [C]hildren[;] (2) [to] participate in evaluation for drug/alcohol abuse and (3) [to] maintain contact and communication with [the] [C]hildren.
The objectives specifically identified for [M]other were[:] 1) [to] participate in mental health treatment, 2) [to] participate in drug and alcohol treatment[, ] 3) to attend [a] parenting capacity evaluation[, ] and 4) [to engage in] visitation.
The matter was then listed on a regular basis before Judges of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas – Family Court Division – Juvenile Branch pursuant to Section 6351 of the Juvenile Act, 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 6351[, ] and evaluated for the purpose of determining or reviewing the permanency plan of the child[ren] with the goal of reunification of the family.
In subsequent hearings, the DRO's [Dependency Review Orders] reflect the [trial court's] review and disposition as a result of evidence presented addressing [Mother's] lack of compliance with suitable housing, employment[, ] and drug and alcohol treatment.
Trial Court Opinion (Mother), 5/3/13, at 1-2.
On February 11, 2013, DHS filed petitions for involuntary termination of the parental rights of Mother, and for a change in the permanency goal for the Children to adoption. On February 25, 2013, the trial court held a hearing on the termination/goal change petitions. At the hearing, DHS presented the testimony of the DHS social worker, Kelayne Minus. N.T., 2/25/13, at 3-11. The Child Advocate presented the testimony of the Agency social worker for Jewish Family and Children Services ("JFCS"), Amy Sesay. Id. at 39-47. When twice asked by her counsel whether she wished to testify on her own behalf, Mother declined. Id. at 67-68.
Ms. Minus testified that the Children were removed from the care of Mother for twelve months, and that they were currently residing in the pre-adoptive home of their maternal grandmother ("Maternal Grandmother"). N.T., 2/25/13, at 3-4. Ms. Minus testified that Mother's FSP objectives were to complete a parenting capacity evaluation through the ATA ("Assessment and Treatment Alternatives"); to have a drug and alcohol assessment through the Clinical Evaluation Unit ("CEU"); to provide drug and alcohol screens through the CEU; to provide parenting to the Children through the Achieving Reunification Center ("ARC"); to participate in mental health treatment; and to attend visitation with the Children. Id. at 7.
Ms. Minus testified that Mother did not complete a parenting capacity evaluation, having completed only the first part of the evaluation, and failed to comply with the court-ordered drug and alcohol evaluations. Id. at 7, 17-18. Mother never went to the ARC for parenting classes, and she did not comply with any mental health treatment. Id. at 7-8. DHS twice referred Mother to the ARC, where her case was closed. Id. at 8. Mother failed to comply with any of her FSP objectives. Id.
With regard to the welfare of the Children, Ms. Minus testified that all three children were residing with Maternal Grandmother, and that they were doing well in the home. Id. She stated that the Children were intelligent, were doing well and attending school, and were happy to be in the same home together. Id. at 10-11. Further, Ms. Minus testified that termination of parental rights was in the best interests of the Children, so that Maternal Grandmother may adopt them. Id. at 11. She also stated that when she saw the Children on January 29, 2013, they were safe, and Maternal Grandmother was meeting all of their basic needs. Id.
With regard to the bond between the Children and Maternal Grandmother, Ms. Minus testified that she observed a loving bond, and that Maternal Grandmother treats the Children as her own. Id. at 12. Ms. Minus explained that there are cousins of the children who reside in the home, and that Maternal Grandmother ensures that they all eat, are clothed, and are involved in activities. Id. She also takes them to church with her. Id. Ms. Minus also testified that she did not believe there would be any detrimental effects on any of the three children from the termination of parental rights. Id.
On re-direct examination, Ms. Minus testified that, initially, the case became known to DHS because of C.A.S.'s truancy, and it was determined that C.A.S. was serving as the caregiver for her younger siblings. Id. at 29-30. Mother was given a mental health assessment under section 302 of the Mental Health and Procedures Act. Id., at 30. See 50 Pa.C.S.A. § 7302. The core issues for the placement of the three children in the care of Maternal Grandmother were Mother's mental health, as well as Father's drug and alcohol abuse. Id.
On re-cross-examination by the Child Advocate, Ms. Minus stated that, at the time of Mother's mental evaluation, C.A.S. was living with Maternal Grandmother, and E.K. and A.K. were residing at home with Father while Mother was hospitalized. Id. at 31-32. She explained that Mother was not hospitalized for a lengthy period. Id. at 31. Ms. Minus testified that the Children were removed from Father's care because it was believed that Father was intoxicated while caring for them, and that they were sleeping outside of the home on trash bags. Id. at 32-33. This was the second report about Father's intoxication while he was serving as the sole caregiver for the Children. Id.
In response to questioning by Mother's counsel on re-cross-examination, Ms. Minus responded that it had been indicated that the parents were getting high together. Id. at 36. In response to re-cross-examination by Father' counsel, Ms. Minus stated that, in the hearing on the adjudication of dependency for the Children, the Children's aunt had testified that the parents were getting intoxicated on cocaine, and that one drug screen for Father showed elevated results for alcohol. Id. at 37-38.
On direct examination by the Child Advocate, Ms. Sesay testified that she had been assigned to the case for twelve months. Id. at 39. Ms. Sesay testified that JFCS offered a schedule of visits to the parents, and she had supervised a visit between Father and the Children, occurring in May of 2012. Id. at 40. She stated that Father had appeared a half-hour late for a second visit, which she also supervised. Id. at 41, 51. Ms. Sesay offered visitation contact information, but Father did not request any additional visits. Id. at 40-43. Ms. Sesay explained that Mother had arrived with Father for the visits, but that Mother had not visited with the Children, stating that she had difficulty parking her vehicle. Id. at 40-42.
Ms. Sesay testified that Father and Mother had not progressed to unsupervised visitation because they were not attending the scheduled visits. Id. at 43. Ms. Sesay also testified that Mother makes threats, generally. Id. at 44-45. Maternal Grandmother obtained a restraining order, and does not permit Mother or Father in her home because Mother has entered the home, threatened individuals, and broken the television and other items. Id. at 45. Ms. Sesay observed all three of the children in Maternal Grandmother's home, and stated that Maternal Grandmother meets their needs, and assumes all of the parental responsibilities. Id. at 46.
On cross-examination by Mother's counsel, Ms. Sesay testified that she was aware that Mother and Father both suffer from physical disabilities, and both walk with canes. Id. at 47. Ms. Sesay stated that she had explained to Father and Mother that they could come to visits at the JFCS center, which has free parking in front of the building and handicap access, but they did not show up for visitation there. Id. at 48-49. Ms. Sesay also testified that the visitation schedule offered to the parents was weekly, from 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., from July of 2012 to October of 2012, and from October of 2012 to January 2013. Id. at 49. Ms. Sesay did not receive the visitation schedule she mailed to Mother back in the mail as undeliverable, so she believed that Mother received it. Id. at 49-50. Ms. Sesay also testified that Mother would call prior to the visits, and would rant, at length, about the Agency keeping her from seeing her children. Id. at 50-51.
On February 25, 2013, on the record at the close of the hearing, and in separate decrees and orders entered on that same date, the trial court terminated Mother's parental rights, and changed the permanency goal for the Children to adoption.
On March 25, 2013, Mother filed notices of appeal from the termination decrees and goal change orders, along with her Concise Statements of Errors Complained of on Appeal, pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a)(2)(i) and (b).
Mother raises two issues on appeal, as follows.
[1.] Whether under the Juvenile Act, 42 Pa.C.S.A. Section 6351 and 55 Pa. Code Section 3130.74, in accordance with the provision of the Federal Adoption and Safe Families Act, 42 U.S.C. Section 671 et seq., reasonable efforts were made to reunite the [m]other with her children and whether the goal change to adoption was the disposition best suited to the safety, protection and physical, mental and moral welfare of the children?
[2.] Whether it was proven by clear and convincing evidence that Mother's paternal rights should be terminated under Sections 2511(a)(1), (2), (5), [and] (8), and 2511(b)?
Mother's Brief, at 6.
We will first review Mother's contention that DHS failed to prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that her parental rights to the Children should have been terminated under section 2511(a)(1), (2), (5), (8), and (b) of the Adoption Act. We then will review her challenge to the change of permanency goal for the Children to adoption in the dependency proceedings.
This Court reviews an appeal from the termination of parental rights and a dependency order in accordance with the following standard.
. . [A]ppellate courts must apply an abuse of discretion standard when considering a trial court's determination of a petition for termination of parental rights. As in dependency cases, our standard of review requires an appellate court to accept the findings of fact and credibility determinations of the trial court if they are supported by the record. In re: R.J.T., 608 Pa. 9, 9 A.3d 1179, 1190 (Pa. 2010). If the factual findings are supported, appellate courts review to determine if the trial court made an error of law or abused its discretion. Id.; R.I.S., [__ Pa. __, __, 36 A.3d 567, 572 (Pa. 2011) (plurality opinion)]. As has been often stated, an abuse of discretion does not result merely because the reviewing court might have reached a different conclusion. Id.; see also Samuel Bassett v. Kia Motors America, Inc., [613 Pa. 371, 455], 34 A.3d 1, 51 (Pa. 2011); Christianson v. Ely, [575 Pa. 647, 654-655], 838 A.2d 630, 634 (Pa. 2003). Instead, a decision may be reversed for an abuse of discretion only upon demonstration of manifest unreasonableness, partiality, prejudice, bias, or ill-will. Id.
As we discussed in R.J.T., there are clear reasons for applying an abuse of discretion standard of review in these cases. We observed that, unlike trial courts, appellate courts are not equipped to make the fact-specific determinations on a cold record, where the trial judges are observing the parties during the relevant hearing and often presiding over numerous other hearings regarding the child and parents. R.J.T., [608 Pa. at
28-30], 9 A.3d at 1190. Therefore, even where the facts could support an opposite result, as is often the case in dependency and termination cases, an appellate court must resist the urge to second guess the trial court and impose its own credibility determinations and judgment; instead we must defer to the trial judges so long as the factual findings are supported by the record and the court's legal conclusions are not the result of an error of law or an abuse of discretion. In re Adoption of Atencio, [539 Pa. 161, 165, ] 650 A.2d 1064, 1066 (Pa. 1994).
In re Adoption of S.P., __Pa. __, __, 47 A.3d 817, 826-27 (2012).
In a termination case, the burden is upon the petitioner to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the asserted grounds for seeking the termination of parental rights are valid. In re R.N.J., 985 A.2d 273, 276 (Pa. Super. 2009). Further, our Supreme Court accepted, without discussion, this Court's statement that the burden of proof is on the agency seeking the goal change. In re R.J.T., 608 Pa. at 19 n.7, 9 A.3d at 1185.
We have explained:
[t]he standard of clear and convincing evidence is defined as testimony that is so "clear, direct, weighty and convincing as to enable the trier of fact to come to a clear conviction, without hesitance, of the truth of the precise facts in issue."
Id. (quoting In re J.L.C., 837 A.2d 1247, 1251 (Pa. Super. 2003)).
This Court may affirm the trial court's termination of parental rights with regard to any one subsection of section 2511(a). See In re B.L.W., 843 A.2d 380, 384 (Pa. Super. 2004) (en banc). Here, we will focus on section 2511(a)(1) and (b).
Section 2511 provides, in relevant part, as follows:
§ 2511. Grounds for involuntary termination
(a) General rule.--The rights of a parent in regard to a child may be terminated after a petition filed on any of the following grounds:
(1) The parent by conduct continuing for a period of at least six months immediately preceding the filing of the petition either has evidenced a settled purpose of relinquishing parental claim to a child or has refused or failed to perform parental duties.
(b) Other considerations.--The court in terminating the rights of a parent shall give primary consideration to the developmental, physical and emotional needs and welfare of the child. The rights of a parent shall not be terminated solely on the basis of environmental factors such as inadequate housing, furnishings, income, clothing and medical care if found to be beyond the control of the parent. With respect to any petition filed pursuant to subsection (a)(1), (6) or (8), the court shall not consider any efforts by the parent to remedy the conditions described therein which are first initiated subsequent to the giving of notice of the filing of the petition.
23 Pa.C.S.A. § 2511.
We have explained this Court's review of a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence to support the involuntary termination of a parent's rights pursuant to section 2511(a)(1) as follows:
To satisfy the requirements of section 2511(a)(1), the moving party must produce clear and convincing evidence of conduct, sustained for at least the six months prior to the filing of the termination petition, which reveals a settled intent to relinquish parental claim to a child or a refusal or failure to perform parental duties. In re Adoption of R.J.S., 901 A.2d 502, 510 (Pa. Super. 2006). In addition,
Section 2511 does not require that the parent demonstrate both a settled purpose of relinquishing parental claim to a child and refusal or failure to perform parental duties. Accordingly, parental rights may be terminated pursuant to [s]ection 2511(a)(1) if the parent either demonstrates a settled purpose of relinquishing parental claim to a child or fails to perform parental duties.
In re Adoption of Charles E.D.M., 550 Pa. 595, 708 A.2d 88, 91 (1998).
Once the evidence establishes a failure to perform parental duties or a settled purpose of relinquishing parental rights, the court must engage in three lines of inquiry: (1) the parent's explanation for his or her conduct; (2) the post-abandonment contact between parent and child; and (3) consideration of the effect of termination of parental rights on the child pursuant to [s]ection 2511(b).
Id. at 92 (citation omitted).
In re Z.S.W., 946 A.2d 726, 730 (Pa. Super. 2008).
Regarding the definition of "parental duties, " this Court has stated as follows:
There is no simple or easy definition of parental duties. Parental duty is best understood in relation to the needs of a child. A child needs love, protection, guidance, and support. These needs, physical and emotional, cannot be met by a merely passive interest in the development of the child. Thus, this court has held that the parental obligation is a positive duty which requires affirmative performance.
This affirmative duty encompasses more than a financial obligation; it requires continuing interest in the child and a genuine effort to maintain communication and association with the child.
Because a child needs more than a benefactor, parental duty requires that a parent exert himself to take and maintain a place of importance in the child's life.
Parental duty requires that the parent act affirmatively with good faith interest and effort, and not yield to every problem, in order to maintain the parent-child relationship to the best of his or her ability, even in difficult circumstances. A parent must utilize all available resources to preserve the parental relationship, and must exercise reasonable firmness in resisting obstacles placed in the path of maintaining the parent-child relationship. Parental rights are not preserved by waiting for a more suitable or convenient time to perform one's parental responsibilities while others provide the child with . . . her physical and emotional needs.
In re B., N.M., 856 A.2d 847, 855 (Pa. Super. 2004).
In In re Z.P., 994 A.2d 1108 (Pa. Super. 2010), this Court instructed:
[t]o be legally significant, the [post-abandonment] contact must be steady and consistent over a period of time, contribute to the psychological health of the child, and must demonstrate a serious intent on the part of the parent to recultivate a parent-child relationship and must also demonstrate a willingness and capacity to undertake the parental role. The parent wishing to reestablish his parental responsibilities bears the burden of proof on this question.
Id. at 1119 (quoting In re D.J.S., 737 A.2d 283, 286 (Pa. Super. 1999)).
The trial court provided the following analysis of the evidence under section 2511(a)(1).
It is clear from the record that for a period of six (6) months leading up to the filing of the Petition for Involuntary Termination, [M]other failed to perform any parental duties for the [C]hildren[, ] C.A.S.[, ] E.K.[, ] and A.K. The [trial] court found by clear and convincing evidence that [M]other failed to perform her parental duties. Testimony established that Mother was disruptive and violent during visits with C.A.S.[, ] E.K.[, ] and A.K. during their several months in care. (N.T. 2/25/13, pg. 45-46)[.] Furthermore[, ] the testimony established that [M]other did not request additional visits with the [C]hildren. (N.T. 2/25/13 pg[.] 42)[.]
A parent has an affirmative obligation to act in his child's best interest. As stated in Adoption of Hamilton, [549 A.2d 1291, 1295 (Pa. Super. 1988)], "to be legally significant, the contact must be steady and consistent over a period of time, contribute to the psychological health of the child, and must demonstrate a serious intent on the part of the parent to recultivate a parent-child [relationship], and must demonstrate a willingness and capacity to under take [sic] the parental role." In re E.S.M.[, 622 A.2d 388, 395 (1993)].
In this matter, the [C]hildren have been in care for over fifteen months. (N.T. 2/25/13, pg. 15). Trial Court Opinion, 5/3/13, at 3.
We find that the trial court's determinations regarding section 2511(a)(1) are supported by ample, competent evidence in the record. See In re Adoption of S.P., __Pa. at __, 47 A.3d at 826-27. The trial court considered that the Children had been in care for more than twelve months at the time of the hearing and order, having been removed from their parents' care and custody in October of 2011. The trial court also considered Mother's post-abandonment contact. The trial court found that, during the time that the Children were in care, Mother had failed to participate in the supervised visits offered to her. Moreover, the trial court considered Mother's explanation that her mental difficulties impacted her post-abandonment contact. The trial court also considered Mother's explanation for her failure to complete her FSP objectives as being the fault of DHS workers who would not assist her because of her violent and disruptive behavior. The trial court rejected Mother's explanations as not credible.
The trial court found:
The testimony of [M]other established she did not desire to attend the present hearing[.] (N.T. 2/25/13 pgs. 4-6)[.] Secondly, testimony established [M]other did not complete [a] parenting capacity evaluation (N.T. 2/25/13 pgs. 7, 17). Testimony stated Mother failed to comply with the [c]ourt [-]ordered drug and alcohol evaluations. (N.T. 2/25/13 pg. 7).
Trial Court Opinion, 5/3/13, at 4.
Further, the trial court stated:
Lastly[, ] in the instant matter, the social worker for the Department of Human Services testified credibly. The social worker's testimony regarding Mother['s] failure to complete her Family Service Plan objectives was consistent, and was contradictory [to Mother's argument concerning her failure to complete her Family Service Plan objectives]. (N.T. 2/25/13 pg. 79)[.]
Id. at 5.
We find no merit to Mother's argument that DHS did not make reasonable efforts to assist her. We have instructed:
It is incumbent upon a parent when separated from his child to maintain communication and association with the child. This requires an affirmative demonstration of parental devotion, imposing upon the parent the duty to exert himself, to take and maintain a place of importance in the child's life.
In re G.P.-R., 851 A.2d 967, 976 (Pa. Super. 2004).
After careful review of the trial court's application of the law to the facts of this case, we find no reason to disturb the trial court's conclusions. We have stated:
a "parent's basic constitutional right to the custody and rearing of his child is converted, upon the failure to fulfill parental duties, to the child's right to have proper parenting and fulfillment of his or her potential in a permanent, healthy, safe environment." In re N.M.B., 856 A.2d 847, 856 (Pa. Super. 2004), appeal denied, 582 Pa. 718, 872 A.2d 1200 (2005). Moreover, "the parent wishing to reestablish [his or her] parental responsibilities bears the burden of proof relative to post-abandonment contact." See In re K.Z.S., 946 A.2d 753, 759 (Pa. Super. 2008).
In re Adoption of C.L.G., 956 A.2d 999, 1006 (Pa. Super. 2008) (en banc).
After we determine that the requirements of section 2511(a) are satisfied, we proceed to review whether the requirements of subsection (b) are satisfied. See In re Adoption of C.L.G., 956 A.2d at 1009. While the focus in terminating parental rights under section 2511(a) is on the parent, the focus of section 2511(b) is on the child. Id. at 1008.
In reviewing the evidence in support of termination under section 2511(b), our Supreme Court recently stated:
[I]f the grounds for termination under subsection (a) are met, a court "shall give primary consideration to the developmental, physical and emotional needs and welfare of the child." 23 Pa.C.S. § 2511(b). The emotional needs and welfare of the child have been properly interpreted to include "[i]ntangibles such as love, comfort, security, and stability." In re K.M., 53 A.3d 781, 791 (Pa. Super. 2012). In In re E.M., [620 A.2d 481, 485 (Pa. 1993)], [our Supreme Court] held that the determination of the child's "needs and welfare" requires consideration of the emotional bonds between the parent and child. The "utmost attention" should be paid to discerning the effect on the child of permanently severing the parental bond. In re K.M., 53 A.3d at 791.
See also In re: T.S.M., __ A.3d __; (Slip Op. Nos. 7-11 WAP 2013, filed July 22, 2013); 2013 Pa. Lexis 1568 (Pa. July 22, 2013).
Regarding section 2511(b), the trial court set forth the case law that provides that the best interest of the child is determined after consideration of the needs and welfare of the child, and that DHS must prove that termination is in the child's best interest by clear and convincing evidence. The trial court then explained:
The testimony established the child[ren are] in a stable environment and adoption was in the best interest of the child[ren]. (N.T. 2/25/13 pgs. 13-14)[.]
In the instant matter, the testimony established that[, regarding the termination of Mother's parental rights[, ] the [C]hildren would not suffer any irreparable harm if [Mother's] parental rights were terminated. (N.T. 2/25/13, pg. 14)[.] C.A.S., E.K.[, ] and A.K. [have not had] an opportunity to bond with [M]other due to her lack of consistent visitation. (N.T. 2/25/13, pg. 7, 79). C.A.S., E.K.[, ] and A.K. have bonded with their maternal grandmother. (N.T. 2/25/13, pgs. 10-12, 46)[.] Testimony described the relationship between C.A.S., E.K.[, ] and A.K. and their maternal grandmother as strong and loving[.] (N.T. 2/25/13, pg. 12).
Trial Court Opinion, 5/3/13, at 4.
With regard to section 2511(b), the trial court specifically found that there was no bond between the Children and Mother that would be harmed by the termination of her parental rights. The trial court could have appropriately made such a factual finding based on the testimony of the DHS social worker, Kelayne Minus. We have stated that, when conducting a bonding analysis, the court is not required to use expert testimony, but may rely on the testimony of social workers and caseworkers. In re Z.P., 994 A.2d at 1121. This Court has observed that no bond worth preserving is formed between a child and a natural parent where the child has been in foster care for most of the child's life, and the resulting bond is attenuated. In re K.Z.S., 946 A.2d 753, 764 (Pa. Super. 2008).
Mother failed to follow through on court referrals for a parenting capacity evaluation, consistent, supervised visitation with the Children, drug and alcohol treatment, and mental health treatment. Thus, Mother failed to "exhibit [the] bilateral relationship which emanates from the parent['s] willingness to learn appropriate parenting . . . [and] drug rehabilitation." In re K.K.R.S., 958 A.2d 529, 534 (Pa. Super. 2008). She did not put herself in a position to assume daily parenting responsibilities so that she could develop a real bond with her children. In re J.L.C., 837 A.2d 1247, 1249 (Pa. Super. 2003).
As part of its bonding analysis, the trial court examined the Children's relationship with their pre-adoptive caregiver. "[T]he strength of emotional bond between a child and a potential adoptive parent is an important consideration in a 'best interests' analysis." In re I.J., 972 A.2d 5, 13 (Pa. Super. 2009). In In re: T.S.M., our Supreme Court explained that the mere existence of a bond attachment of a child to a parent will not necessarily result in the denial of a termination petition, and that the court must consider whether the children are in a pre-adoptive home and whether they have a bond with their foster parents. Id., __ A.3d at __; (Slip Op. Nos. 7-11 WAP 2013, filed July 22, 2013, at 28-29); 2013 Pa. Lexis 1568, at 47-48 (Pa. July 22, 2013) (citing In re K.K.R.-S., 958 A.2d at 535, and In re K.M., 53 A.3d 781, 791 (Pa. Super. 2012)).
Here, the record includes clear and convincing evidence that the Children have developed a parental, bonded relationship with their foster parent, Maternal Grandmother, who has cared for them since their placement in foster care. Maternal Grandmother provided for all of the Children's needs. The DHS social worker, Ms. Minus, confirmed that the Children are bonded to Maternal Grandmother, and would not be negatively affected by the termination of Mother's parental rights. Thus, the trial court determined that the termination of Mother's parental rights was in the Children's best interests. There is no such evidence concerning the bond between the Children and Mother. In fact, in In re: T.S.M., our Supreme Court recognized that, in In re K.K.R.-S., this Court addressed a situation where no clear bond between the mother and child was apparent, and thus, rejected the mother's attempt to require the county children and youth agency to prove the absence of a positive bond. In re: T.S.M., __ A.3d at __; (Slip Op. Nos. 7-11 WAP 2013, filed July 22, 2013, at 29 n. 27); 2013 Pa. Lexis 1568, at 47-48 n.27 (Pa. July 22, 2013)
Pursuant to our Supreme Court's recent pronouncement in In re: T.S.M., we find competent evidence to support the trial court's determination that the termination of Mother's parental rights would serve the Children's best interests by allowing them to be with their pre-adoptive foster parent, Maternal Grandmother, with whom they are bonded. There is sufficient, competent, clear and convincing evidence in the record to support the trial court's conclusions with regard to the third prong of the test in In re Z.S.W., 946 A.2d at 730. In re Adoption of S.P., __ Pa. __, __, 47 A.3d at 826-27. As we stated in In re Z.P., a child's life "simply cannot be put on hold in the hope that [a parent] will summon the ability to handle the responsibilities of parenting." Id. at 1125.
Next, Mother challenges the trial court's change of goal for the Children to adoption under section 6351 of the Juvenile Act, 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 6351, and 55 Pa.Code § 3130.74. Mother argues that DHS failed to make reasonable efforts to reunite her with the Children.
Section 6351(e) of the Juvenile Act provides in pertinent part:
(1) [t]he court shall conduct a permanency hearing for the purpose of determining or reviewing the permanency plan of the child, the date by which the goal of permanency for the child might be achieved and whether placement continues to be best suited to the safety, protection and physical, mental and moral welfare of the child. In any permanency hearing held with respect to the child, the court shall consult with the child regarding the child's permanency plan in a manner appropriate to the child's age and maturity. . . .
42 Pa.C.S.A. § 6351(e).
Regarding permanency, section 6351(f) and (f.1), and (g) provide:
(f) Matters to be determined at permanency hearing.— At each permanency hearing, a court shall determine all of the following:
(1) The continuing necessity for and appropriateness of the placement.
(2) The appropriateness, feasibility and extent of compliance with the permanency plan developed for the child.
(3) The extent of progress made toward alleviating the circumstances which necessitated the original placement.
(4) The appropriateness and feasibility of the current placement goal for the child.
(5) The likely date by which the placement goal for the child might be achieved.
(5.1) Whether reasonable efforts were made to finalize the permanency plan in effect.
(6)Whether the child is safe.
(9) If the child has been in placement for at least 15 of the last 22 months or the court has determined that aggravated circumstances exist and that reasonable efforts to prevent or eliminate the need to remove the child from the child's parent, guardian or custodian or to preserve and reunify the family need not be made or continue to be made, whether the county agency has filed or sought to join a petition to terminate parental rights and to identify, recruit, process and approve a qualified family to adopt the child unless:
(i) the child is being cared for by a relative best suited to the physical, mental and moral welfare of the child;
(ii) the county agency has documented a compelling reason for determining that filing a petition to terminate parental rights would not serve the needs and welfare of the child; or
(iii) the child's family has not been provided with necessary services to achieve the safe return to the child's parent, guardian or custodian within the time frames set forth in the permanency plan.
(f.1) Additional determination. — Based upon the determinations made under subsection (f) and all relevant evidence presented at the hearing, the court shall determine one of the following:
(1) If and when the child will be returned to the child's parent, guardian or custodian in cases where the return of the child is best suited to the safety, protection and physical, mental and moral welfare of the child.
(2)If and when the child will be placed for adoption, and the county agency will file for termination of parental rights in cases where return to the child's parent, guardian or custodian is not best suited to the safety, protection and physical, mental and moral welfare of the child.
(3) If and when the child will be placed with a legal custodian in cases where return to the child's parent, guardian or custodian or being placed for adoption is not best suited to the safety, protection and physical, mental and moral welfare of the child.
(4) If and when the child will be placed with a fit and willing relative in cases where return to the child's parent, guardian or custodian, being placed for adoption or being placed with a legal custodian is not best suited to the safety, protection and physical, mental and moral welfare of the child.
(5) If and when the child will be placed in another living arrangement intended to be permanent in nature which is approved by the court in cases where the county agency has documented a compelling reason that it would not be best suited to the safety, protection and physical, mental and moral welfare of the child to be returned to the child's parent, guardian or custodian, to be placed for adoption, to be placed with a legal custodian or to be placed with a fit and wiling relative.
(f.2) Evidence. – Evidence of conduct by the parent that places the health, safety or welfare of the child at risk, including evidence of the use of alcohol or a controlled substance that places the health, safety or welfare of the child at risk, shall be presented to the court by the county agency or any other party at any disposition or permanency hearing whether or not the conduct was the basis for the determination of dependency.
(g) Court order.— On the basis of the determination made under subsection (f.1), the court shall order the continuation, modification or termination of placement or other disposition which is best suited to the safety, protection and physical, mental and moral welfare of the child.
42 Pa.C.S.A. § 6351 (emphasis added).
We observe that, in a change of goal proceeding under the Juvenile Act, 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 6351, the best interests of the child, and not the interests of the parent, must guide the trial court, and the parent's rights are secondary. In re A.K., 936 A.2d 528, 532-534 (Pa. Super. 2007).
Here, the trial court found, by clear and convincing evidence, that DHS met its statutory burden, and that it was in the best interest of the Children to terminate Mother's parental rights and change their permanency goal to adoption. The trial court found that the testimony established that the change in goal would best serve the Children's safety, protection, mental, physical, and moral welfare, so that Maternal Grandmother may adopt them, and they may become a permanent part of their foster family. See Trial Court Opinion, 5/3/13, at 5.
After a careful review of the record, we find that there is competent, clear and convincing evidence in the record to support the trial court's finding that a change in the permanency goal to adoption was in the Children's best interests. R.J.T., 608 Pa. at 19 n.7, 9 A.3d at 1185 n.7, 1190-91. See also In re A.K., 936 A.2d at 532-534. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court's decrees terminating Mother's parental rights to the Children, and the orders changing the permanency goal to adoption.
Decrees and orders affirmed.