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[U] B.J.S. ex rel. J.R.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

December 10, 2013



Appeal from the Orders Entered March 20, 2013 In the Court of Common Pleas of Lancaster County Criminal Division at No(s).:CP-36-DP-196-2012, CP-36-DP-94-2012, CP-36-DP-95-2012




J.S. (Mother) and R.S. (Father) (collectively "Appellants") appeal separately from three orders entered on March 20, 2013, adjudicating dependent three children: J.R., born in September of 2007; M.S., born in November of 2010; and B.J.S., born in November of 2012 (collectively the "Children"). Appellants also appeal from three orders entered on March 20, 2013, concluding that aggravated circumstances exist as to each of the Children.[1] J.R. is the daughter of Mother and S.R., who did not appeal. M.S. and B.J.S. are the daughters of Mother and Father. After review, we affirm in part, vacate in part, and remand for further proceedings.

The trial court related the following factual history:

At the time of [J.R.]'s birth, [Mother] was single. She subsequently married [Father]. When [J.R.] was nine months old, she was reported as abused to the Lancaster County Children and Youth Social Service Agency (Agency). Her injuries, as described in a Commonwealth Court opinion, included bruising and swelling of the left side of her head, bruising near the right temporal region, bruises on both sides of her neck, a large bruise on the rib cage, a buckle fracture of the left tibia and a fracture of the left 8th rib. A Protective Service Plan was put in place. [Father] was indicated as the perpetrator on August 1, 2008, and [J.R.] was placed by agreement and informally with her maternal grandparents. On June 18, 2010 the protective services case was closed. Mother has never believed that Father was a perpetrator. Father appealed his status as perpetrator to the Commonwealth Court, which affirmed the decision.
Mother gave birth to [M.S.] [in November of 2010]. Although the child went home with Mother and Father, a safety plan was established by the Agency providing that Father was to have no unsupervised contact with [M.S.]. The Family Service Plan also provided that both parents be evaluated for parental competence. After [J.R.]'s first abuse, Mother had seen a therapist, John Weigel, as part of her plan.[2] He found Mother functioning at a borderline intelligence range and had serious concerns about her ability to function as a parent. He recommended individual counseling to address the relevant issues, but Mother did not follow that recommendation. He was also concerned about her failure to accept Father as the perpetrator. His test results show that Mother had a high score on the scale indicating false answers. After the second abuse, Mother started seeing a therapist at Pennsylvania Counseling Services, but when the therapist went elsewhere, Mother did not follow up with the recommended replacement. She saw a Dr. Gransee, an Agency consultant, in May of 2011; his evaluative report recommended parent training, and on August 20, 2011, a Personal Parent Trainer (PPT) was assigned to the [family]. After some time, the parents seemed to be making progress, and [J.R.] returned to live with her parents and sister in January of 2012. The PPT, who was to stay to support the reunification, was discontinued early when [J.R.] was again abused in March of 2012 as described below. Mother also testified that she … went on her own to see another therapist, Bruce Eyer. He recommended no further necessary action, but he only knew what Mother chose to self-report. For instance, he did not even know about the first instance of abuse.
On March 16, 2012, Mother took [J.R.] to see a physician and told him that bruises on the child happened during a nightmare when [J.R.] threw herself against a wall. Then there was a second incident on March 20. On March 23, 2012, the Agency received a call from Mother to tell them that [J.R.] had banged into the wall during a nightmare and had been injured. When the caseworker went out to the house to investigate, she found that the child had black eyes, bruising and lacerations to her face. She took photographs. Mother reported that she had gone into [J.R.]'s room alone after hearing [J.R.] scream. Mother's explanation is that [J.R.], in the throes of a nightmare, either slapped or punched herself in the face, or banged her head, face first, against the wall. Mother did not see these things happen; it was a supposition or fabrication on her part. Father told his mother-in-law that Mother was hitting [J.R.]. Mother told the police that the medication she was on could have caused the incident. She later denied that. Mother insisted that [J.R.] had frequent nightmares or "night terrors." She told an Agency caseworker that "[J.R.]'s nightmares were getting worse . . . And they were going to be taking [J.R.] to the doctor because Bob was concerned that [J.R.] may be having some kind of seizures because she shakes so violently during the nightmares." The resource mother told the court that [J.R.] had had no nightmares or other nighttime disturbances while with her. In addition, when [Mi.S. (Paternal Aunt)] brought [J.R.] to see Dr. Hoshauer for an investigation of abuse, she said nothing about [J.R.] having sleep problems, although she was specifically asked. Mother also went out of her way to hide the injured child from others. During the week following the injury, she did not take [J.R.] to the doctor for treatment for the injuries, canceled her meetings with the PPT, and kept [J.R.] home from school. She did not keep an appointment for an investigative meeting with the police. She told the [c]ourt that the doctor had been unavailable when she called, but she admitted she did not seek alternative care such as an Emergency Room visit. [J.R.]'s Shelter Care Order triggered by the March 23, 2012 abuse was issued by the Lancaster County Court on May 1, 2012. On May 10, 2012, temporary custody of [M.S.] was also given to the Agency, Mother was named as a perpetrator of abuse against [J.R.] and both children were placed by the Agency. Father was named as a perpetrator by omission because he appeared to know that Mother had been hitting [J.R.]. On May 14, 2012, a scheduled hearing was continued because Father's attorney was unavailable. On May 18, 2012, [M.S.] was placed in a[n] Agency approved resource home with [J.R.]. A safety plan provided that [J.R.] and [M.S.] would live with their paternal aunt [Mi.S.] and have only supervised contact with their parents. A CASA was appointed for the case on May 22, 2012. Unfortunately, [Paternal Aunt's] significant other did not want to be a permanent resource for the child, so on June 18, 2012, after a hearing, the order was modified and the children were placed in foster care. On July 30, 2012, and September 17, 2012, hearings were continued because of a lack of time to complete testimony. On September 20, 2012, the girls' placement was modified after hearing, and they were moved to live with their maternal grandparents. Mother had no visitation outside of her parents' house. Hearings were held on October 1 and 14, December 6, 2012, and January 7, 2013 in order to complete testimony[.]
Mother informed the Agency on October 11, 2012 that she was again pregnant[, ] and her third child was born [in] November [of] 2012. The Agency took custody of [B.J.S.] and placed her in an agency approved resource home. These foster parents were willing to be a permanent resource for the little girl.
The Court received expert testimony from Cathy Hoshauer, M.D., a pediatrician and an expert in the evaluation of abuse victims. Dr. Hoshauer had seen [J.R.] and reviewed an interview of her by a forensic interviewer concerning the injuries. She subsequently prepared a report, in which she concluded that the injuries sustained by [J.R.] were inconsistent with her hitting her head on a wall. She explained further that "if you bump your head against a wall, you're not going to get injuries in multiple different places. So her injuries were her mouth, below her eye, above her eye and hemorrhage within the eye, and that's not something that will--that a child can create enough force on their own." She also responded negatively when asked if she had ever seen a child of four or so who was able to self-injure themselves with their own hands or other body parts to cause purple bruising on the face.
On March 20, 2013, aggravated circumstances were found as to Mother and Father, an adjudication order was issued and all three children were found to be dependent. [J.R.] was going into the physical custody of her father, [S.R.], [M.S.] to her maternal grandparents and [B.J.S.] to her foster parents.
Father appealed the March 20, 2013 orders concerning [M.S.] and [B.J.S.] to the Pennsylvania Superior Court … on April 17, 2013. Mother appealed the Orders concerning all ...

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