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In re N.H.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

October 9, 2013



Appeal from the Order Entered April 2, 2013 In the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County Orphans' Court at No(s): TPR No. 161 of 2012, TPR No. 157 of 2012, TPR No. 156 of 2012, TPR No. 155 of 2012, TPR No. 154 of 2012

Joseph D. Seletyn, Esq.




M.H (Father)[1] appeals from the trial court's order terminating his parental rights to five of his minor children, twin girls, K.H. and M.A.H. (born 9/2007), C.H. (born 4/2009), M.H. (born 7/2010), and N.H. (born 12/2011) (collectively, Children). After careful review, we affirm.

On appeal, Father presents one issue for our consideration: Did the trial court err in finding that Allegheny County Office of Children, Youth and Families presented clear and convincing evidence that involuntary termination of Father's parental rights would best meet the developmental, physical and emotional needs and welfare of the children? [2]

C.H. and M.H. were placed in CYF's care due to deplorable housing conditions and missed medical appointments; Mother admittedly abuses cold medication. N.T. Termination Hearing, 3/27/2013, at 22. In August 2011, the twins were taken into police protective custody after Mother called to inform the authorities that a Megan's Law[3] offender[4] was visiting the home that she and the twins shared with paternal grandmother. Subsequently, the twins were adjudicated dependent. CYF obtained a restraining order and emergency custody authorization for N.H. after his birth; the court ordered that N.H. remain at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh (Hospital) because he suffered from severe congenital birth defects from his premature delivery. The twins and remaining children were all placed in foster care.

CYF created a Family Service Plan (FSP) for Father consisting of the following: preventative health and dental care for Children, housing stabilization of mental health (which included learning disabilities), contact and cooperation with agencies and visitation. Id. at 32. Father's stated goals were to: recover from substance abuse; learn how to properly parent; and to become proficient at non-violent, non-physical discipline. Id. at 35. Father was also offered the opportunity for specialized care training to help him accommodate N.H.'s special medical needs. Father failed to take advantage of that opportunity, and also declined to schedule available training though the Hospital. Id. at 32-33. Finally, CYF provided Father in-home services to assist the family with household management and other household concerns. Id. at 36.

Although Father did comply to a degree[5] with CYF's service plan, CYF found that Father failed to meet his parenting goals due as a result of his pervasive mental health and intellectual issues that interfered with his ability to appropriately parent Children. As a result, CYF filed the instant petition to involuntarily terminate Father's parental rights to Children on November 20, 2012. Id. at 69. After two days of hearings, conducted on March 27, 2013 and April 2, 2013, the trial court entered an order terminating Father's parental rights to Children based upon sections 2511(a)(2) and (5) and 2511(b) of the Adoption Act.[6] This appeal follows.

Instantly, Father contests the trial court's decision to terminate his parental rights on the basis of section 2511(b). Specifically, Father claims that he loves Children, Children benefit from his love, and that it would not be in Children's best interests to be deprived of Father's love.

We review a trial court's decision to involuntarily terminate parental rights for an abuse of discretion or error of law. In re A.R., 837 A.2d 560, 563 (Pa.Super. 2003). Our scope of review is limited to determining whether the trial court's order is supported by competent evidence. Id.

A party seeking termination must first prove by clear and convincing evidence that the parent's conduct satisfies the statutory grounds for termination delineated in section 2511(a) of the Adoption Act. In re R.M.G., 997 A.2d 339, 348 (Pa.Super. 2010) (citation omitted). Only if the court determines that the parent's conduct warrants termination of his parental rights does the court engage in the second part of the analysis pursuant to section 2511(b) -- determination of the needs and welfare of the child under the standard of best interests of the child. Id. Under section 2511(b), a court must consider whether the child's needs and welfare will be met by termination of the parent's rights. In re C.P., 901 A.2d 516, 520 (Pa.Super. 2006). Intangibles such as love, comfort, security, and stability are involved when inquiring about the needs and welfare of the child. Id. The court must also discern the nature and status of the parent-child bond, paying close attention to the effect on the child of permanently severing the bond. Id. Concern for the child's welfare must remain the court's focus under section 2511(b), regardless of a parent's progress toward completing family service plan goals. In re I.J., 972 A.2d 5, 12 (Pa.Super. 2009). The demonstration of mere progress towards reunification cannot form the basis of a best interests analysis. Id.

While a parent's emotional bond with his or her child is a major aspect of a section 2511(b) best-interests analysis, it is nonetheless only one of many factors to be considered by the court when determining what is in the best interest of the child. In re N.A.M., 33 A.3d 95, 103 (Pa.Super. 2011). The mere existence of an emotional bond does not preclude the termination of parental rights. Id. Rather, the orphans' court must examine the status of the bond to determine whether its termination would destroy an existing, necessary and beneficial relationship. Id.

Here, the trial court concluded that while Father may love his children very much, "this case is . . . one of sever[e] neglect, largely based upon mental health instability and intellectual limitations[7] of the parents." Findings of Fact, 4/2/2013, at 2. The record clearly reflects Children are in significant need of stability and permanency, and that several of them have special needs. N.H. has severe congenital anomalies, having been born at 32-week's gestation and weighing only three pounds, nine ounces at birth. N.T. Termination Hearing, 3/27/2013/, at 11. N.H. suffers from congenital heart failure, has holes in his heart, and is blind in one eye and partially deaf in one ear. Id. at 13. N.H. is fed by a gastric tube and is on a ventilator. Id. at 14. The twins are being tested for possible speech delay. Id. at 18. M.H. is receiving weekly occupational, physical and speech therapy and has severe developmental impairments. Id. at 96.

Unfortunately, Father's mental limitations make him incapable of parenting Children in a safe and appropriate manner. Father has never received nor sought available training for N.H.'s medical needs. However, even with the help of Children's mothers, Father would still need around-the-clock support to parent Children appropriately. N.T. Termination Hearing, 4/2/2013, at 7. A parenting education specialist testified that Father could never be left, unsupervised, for more than 15 minutes with any of the Children. Id. at 8; In re T.D., 949 A.2d 910 (Pa.Super. 2008) (trial court's decision to terminate parental rights was affirmed where court balanced strong emotional bond against parents' inability to serve needs of child and where Mother's erratic behavior at visits caused emotional trauma to children). Moreover, although some of the Children may know Father, testimony at the hearing indicated that they do not have a primary or strong attachment to him. N.T. Termination Hearing, 3/27/2013, at 99-101.

Moreover, "[i]n the context of the involuntary termination of parental rights, the needs and welfare analysis is reviewed on a case-by-case basis and with consideration of the intangible factors such as the love, comfort, security, and stability the children enjoy with their foster parents and the importance of continuing those beneficial relationships upon their wellbeing." In re N.A.M., 33 A.3d at 104. Here, there was testimony that Children's educational, psychological and developmental needs are being met in their pre-adoptive foster homes and that Children's foster parents are nurturing and have bonded with Children. N.T. Termination Hearing, 3/27/2013, at 72-73; 105-10. Moreover, termination would provide the needed stability, permanence and safety in the Children's lives that Father is incapable of providing. Id. at 73-74. Under such circumstances, termination under section 2511(b) is proper. In re I.J., supra (concern for child's welfare must remain court's focus under section 2511(b)).

Order affirmed.

Judgment Entered.

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