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In re Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights to A.T.S.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

October 29, 2013



Appeal from the Decree entered May 30, 2013 In the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County Orphans' Court at No(s): A2012-0039, A2012-0039




A.A.S. (Mother) and A.T.S. (Father) appeal[1] from the trial court's final decrees terminating their parental rights to their son, A.T.S. (born 1/2009). After careful review, we affirm based upon the cogent opinion authored by the Honorable Michele A. Varricchio.

Lehigh County Office of Children and Youth Services (Agency) became involved in this case in January 2009 when Mother tested positive for opiates at A.T.S.'s birth. Mother was also determined to have mental health issues at that time. The Agency referred Mother to the STOPP[2] program which provided her assistance in obtaining appropriate housing, baby care, and transportation to and from any necessary appointments or services. Mother was uncooperative with the Agency's program, refusing to attend appointments or meet with caseworkers. In March 2009, on an unannounced home visit, a caseworker found A.T.S. in his crib in a soiled diaper and hungry. Mother became increasingly agitated at the caseworker during the visit, yelling and cursing at her. Mother admitted to the caseworker that she had not taken her psychiatric medication for at least a week. Mother acted erratically during the entire visit, ultimately telling the caseworker that she "couldn't do it anymore, " was exhausted and on the verge of passing out. After an ambulance took Mother to the emergency room of a local hospital to be evaluated, the Agency took A.T.S. into custody, adjudicated him delinquent, and placed him in foster care.

In March 2009, Father presented himself at the Agency, claiming to be A.T.S.'s biological father. In June 2009, the Agency returned A.T.S. to the custody of Father, after paternity tests confirmed his biological connection. The Agency, however, continued to provide support and services for Mother and Father until Father moved out of the county in September 2009.

On November 24, 2009, the Agency received a referral indicating that Father was incarcerated and that there was an outstanding warrant out for his arrest. A.T.S. was placed in the care of Father's friend in Lehigh County. Father was released from custody and moved into a shelter in January 2010. In February 2010, A.T.S. was placed into emergency custody by the police and transferred to the Agency after employees of a restaurant reported that Father was publically intoxicated in the presence of A.T.S. In March 2010, the Agency created a family service plan (FSP) which outlined goals for both Mother and Father for reunification with A.T.S. Father's goals were to: maintain housing; complete a drug and alcohol evaluation; attend parenting classes; submit to urinalysis; and cooperate with the Agency. For Mother, the Agency set the following FSP goals: maintain stable housing, comply with mental health treatment, have bi-weekly supervised visits with A.T.S., and cooperate with Agency services.

At May and June 2010 permanency hearings, the Agency deemed Mother's and Father's compliance with FSP goals as uncooperative to moderate. Nonetheless, A.T.S. was returned to Father in mid-May, although legal custody of A.T.S. remained with the Agency. In August 2010, A.T.S. was placed in foster care after police responded to a call that Father had left A.T.S. home alone at 3:00 a.m., housing conditions were deplorable and A.T.S. was in his playpen in a soaking wet diaper. Father was charged with, pled guilty to and was incarcerated for endangering the welfare of a child in connection with this incident. A.T.S.'s maternal grandmother attended a family group conference in August 2010 and was present at no less than five permanency hearings where she indicated she would like to be considered as a placement resource for her grandson. The Agency took grandmother's repeated requests under advisement, and ultimately determined that due to her housing situation and lack of cooperation she was not a suitable placement resource. N.T. Termination Hearing, 12/6/2012, at 75.[3]

In September 2010, the Agency set new FSP goals for Father, consisting of: resolving all criminal charges; submitting to urinalysis; undergoing drug and alcohol treatment; maintaining stable housing; sustaining a legal source of income; having bi-weekly supervised visits with A.T.S.; and cooperating with Agency services.

Father was released from prison in January 2011; during the year 2011, Father missed forty scheduled urinalyses. In 2011, Mother attended four out of seventeen scheduled supervised visits with A.T.S. In 2012, she made twelve out of twenty-six scheduled visits. In 2011, while incarcerated, Father attended all visits with A.T.S; upon his release he attended fourteen out of twenty-eight scheduled visits. At the time of a scheduled October 2011 permanency review hearing, Father appeared intoxicated, was found to be in violation of his parole, was arrested on-site, and incarcerated. After the hearing, Mother was determined to be minimally compliant with FSP goals, continually failing to provide the Agency with any documentation indicating that she has completed mental health treatment. While incarcerated in 2012, Father attended every scheduled visit with A.T.S.; Mother attended twelve out of twenty-six visits in 2012.

At the time of the termination hearing in December 2012, A.T.S. had been in his current foster home for more than two years, residing with two foster siblings. A.T.S.'s current foster parents are a potential adoptive resource. Father was still incarcerated at the time of the termination hearing; however, he appeared in person and pro se at the hearing.

After the termination hearing, the trial court granted the Agency's petition to terminate on the bases of sections 2511(a)(1), (2), (5), & (8) and 2511(b) of the Adoption Act.[4] Mother and Father filed separate, timely, ...

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