January 23, 2014
IN THE INTEREST OF: D.L., A MINOR. APPEAL OF: B.L. IN THE INTEREST OF: K.L., A MINOR. APPEAL OF: B.L. IN THE INTEREST OF: C.L., A MINOR. APPEAL OF: B.L. IN THE INTEREST OF: S.L., A MINOR. APPEAL OF: B.L.
Appeal from the Order entered June 14, 2013, in the Court of Common Pleas of Wyoming County Civil Division, at No(s):DP-2013-8
Appeal from the Order entered June 14, 2013, in the Court of Common Pleas of Wyoming County Juvenile Division, at No(s):DP-2013-9
Appeal from the Order entered June 14, 2013, in the Court of Common Pleas of Wyoming County Juvenile Division, at No(s): CP-66-DP-0000010-2013
Appeal from the Order entered June 14, 2013, in the Court of Common Pleas of Wyoming County Juvenile Division, at No(s): DP-2013-11
BEFORE: PANELLA, MUNDY, and PLATT [*] , JJ.
B.L. ("Father"), the father of the subject children, D.L. (a male, born in February of 2005), and adoptive father of K.L. (a female born in May of 2001), C.L. (a female born in May of 1999), and S.L. (a female born in May of 1997) (collectively, the "Children"), appeals the orders of the trial court, dated June 13, 2013, and entered on June 14, 2013, which adjudicated the Children dependent under the definition of dependent child in section 6302(1) of the Juvenile Act, 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 6302(1), and ordered legal custody with DHS, and the Children placed in a foster home. We affirm.
In its opinion entered on August 7, 2013, the trial court thoroughly set forth its factual findings and the procedural history of this appeal, which we incorporate herein. We set forth only those facts and procedure as are necessary to an understanding of this appeal. On April 25, 2013, the Wyoming County Human Services ("HS") filed petitions for emergency protective custody of the Children, based on allegations S.L.'s former boyfriend made to Pennsylvania State Police that Father had sexually abused S.L. and C.L. on numerous occasions. On April 26, 2013, the trial court held a shelter care hearing. At the hearing, HS presented the testimony of Pennsylvania State Trooper Stephen T. Scoble. N.T., 4/26/13, at 6. HS also presented the testimony of its caseworker, Kelly Flaherty, the caseworker assigned to the case. Mother was present with her counsel. Attorney Kelly Carrubba, who was appointed to represent the Children, also was present. Father was not present, nor was he represented by counsel at the hearing. Id. at 3-4. On April 26, 2013, the trial court entered shelter care orders with regard to the Children, removing them from their parents' home, and placing them in a foster/kinship care home. The kinship care home was not the home of Children's paternal grandparents, however.
Thereafter, on April 30, 2013, DHS filed dependency petitions with regard to the Children. After a continuance, the trial court held a hearing on the dependency petitions on June 13, 2013. Mother appeared at the hearing, represented by her counsel, and Attorney Carrubba represented the Children. Father appeared with his criminal counsel, but without counsel to represent him in the dependency matter. After a colloquy, Father waived representation at the dependency hearing. N.T., 6/13/13, at 6-9.
On June 14, 2013, the trial court entered the orders dated June 13, 2013, adjudicating the Children dependent, and maintaining them in foster care. On July 12, 2013, Father filed timely appeals, along with concise statements of errors complained of on appeal.
On appeal, Father raises the following issues:
1. As to SL and CL, were the Trial Court Orders dated June 13, 2013[, ] wherein the Trial Court determined these children were removed from the home based upon [a] finding of abuse[, ] and the named children victims of child abuse[, ] in that they had been sexually abused[, ] contrary to the evidence, law[, ] and an abuse of discretion[, ] wherein there was only hearsay evidence, at most a dependency based on allegations without any stipulation to the veracity or accuracy of the facts, no finding in the record[, ] and [F]ather at most agreed to dependency[, ] without agreeing to abuse allegations[, ] and the Dependency Petition fails to put Father on notice[, ] since [the] Petition [did] not checked [sic] that [C]hildren are alleged victims of child abuse[, ] and [there was] no specific allegation [of child abuse in the petition]?
2. As to DL and KL, were the Trial Court Orders dated June 13, 2013 contrary to the evidence, law[, ] and an abuse of discretion[, ] wherein there are no findings of fact in the record, only hearsay evidence was offered[, ] and [the] record reflects at most dependency without any mention to agreeing to abuse allegations[, ] and the Dependency Petition alleges no allegation of abuse?
3. As to DL and KL, was the denial of [F]ather with even supervised visits contrary to the evidence, law and an abuse of discretion?
4. Was the denial of the [C]hildren [being] placed with grandparents contrary to the evidence, law[, ] and an abuse of discretion[, ] and [was] 42 Pa.C.S.A. [§] 6351 . . . totally disregarded?
Father's Brief, at 1.
Our Supreme Court set forth our standard of review for dependency cases as follows.
[T]he standard of review in dependency cases requires an appellate court to accept the findings of fact and credibility determinations of the trial court if they are supported by the record, but does not require the appellate court to accept the lower court's inferences or conclusions of law. Accordingly, we review for an abuse of discretion.
In re R.J.T., 608 Pa. 9, 26-27, 9 A.3d 1179, 1190 (2010).
Dependency matters are governed by the Juvenile Act, 42 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 6301-6364 ("Act"). Section 6302 of the Juvenile Act defines "dependent child" as follows.
"Dependent child." A child who:
(1) is without proper parental care or control, subsistence, education as required by law, or other care or control necessary for his physical, mental, or emotional health, or morals. A determination that there is a lack of proper parental care or control may be based upon evidence of conduct by the parent, guardian or other custodian that places the health, safety or welfare of the child at risk, including evidence of the parent's, guardian's or other custodian's use of alcohol or a controlled substance that places the health, safety or welfare of the child at risk.
42 Pa.C.S.A. § 6302.
Dependency must be proven by clear and convincing evidence. In re D.A., 801 A.2d 614, 617 (Pa.Super. 2002) (en banc). "Clear and convincing evidence" is defined as that evidence "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." In re J.L.C., 837 A.2d 1247, 1251 (Pa.Super. 2003) (quotation marks omitted).
Further, we have stated:
[t]he burden of proof in a dependency proceeding is on the petitioner to demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that a child meets that statutory definition of dependency.
In re G., T., 845 A.2d 870, 872-73 (Pa.Super. 2004) (quotations and citations omitted).
In In re D.A., we explained the following.
[A] court is empowered by 42 Pa.C.S. § 6341(a) and (c) to make a finding that a child is dependent if the child meets the statutory definition by clear and convincing evidence. If the court finds that the child is dependent, then the court may make an appropriate disposition of the child to protect the child's physical, mental and moral welfare, including allowing the child to remain with the parents subject to supervision, transferring temporary legal custody to a relative or a private or public agency, or transferring custody to the juvenile court of another state. 42 Pa.C.S. § 6351(a).
In re D.A., 801 A.2d at 617 (citation omitted). Further, the panel in In re D.A. stated that the question of whether a child is lacking proper parental care and control involves two discrete questions: whether the child is presently without proper care or control, and, if so, whether such care and control are immediately available. Id. at 619. The definitions of "sexual abuse and "child abuse" are set forth in section 6303 of the Child Protective Services Law, 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6303.
We consider Father's first two issues together, as they are interrelated. Father contends that the trial court erred in entering its June 13, 2013 orders, because it stated that S.L. and C.L. were removed from their parental home based on findings that they were sexually abused. He argues that there was no clear and convincing evidence to support findings of sexual abuse of S.L. and C.L. In his second issue, Father argues that the trial court erred in entering its June 13, 2013 orders stating that K.L. and D.L. were removed from their parental home based on findings that they were abused. With regard to all four children, Father claims that HS presented only hearsay evidence, through the testimony of its HS caseworker, Ms. Flaherty. He states that the parties did not stipulate to the veracity or accuracy of the facts of the case regarding the allegations of sexual abuse of the older two children and abuse of the younger two children. Father asserts that the parties, on the record, agreed to a finding that the Children were dependent, but did not agree to findings that the Children were sexually abused and/or abused. Father also asserts that the petitions did not put him on notice of the abuse and/or sexual abuse allegations. Thus, he urges that the trial court's issuance of the adjudication orders was reversible error.
We find no merit to Father's argument that the dependency petitions did not put him on notice that the dependency proceedings involved allegations that sexual abuse and/or abuse, within the definition of the Juvenile Act, had occurred. As to the two older children, the dependency petitions did include a check in the box for abuse, 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6303, and did state that allegations of sexual abuse were made by them. While the petitions did not describe the allegations of abuse in graphic detail, they stated that Mother did not believe the allegations, that Father denied the allegations, and that the Children were in protective custody in a kinship home because of the sexual abuse allegations with regard to the two older children. The evidentiary hearing on all of the petitions occurred at the same time, so Father's assertion that he was not on notice concerning the allegations of abuse with regard to the younger two children is disingenuous.
Further, at the dependency adjudication hearing, Attorney Deborah Albert-Heise accompanied Father, because he had retained her to represent him for any criminal charges that might be filed against him in relation to the abuse allegations in the dependency case. N.T., 6/13/13, at 6. Counsel for HS, attorney Thomas Daniels, objected, asserting a conflict of interest on the part of Attorney Albert-Heise, because her husband worked for DHS, and because she was not an interested party. Id. at 6-7. Thereafter, the trial court entered into the following colloquy with Father and his criminal counsel:
BY THE COURT[:] [Father], do you have an attorney hired in this matter?
[FATHER:] No, not for this.
BY THE COURT[:] Alright, do you wish the court to appoint an attorney for you to represent you?
[FATHER:] No, I don't need one. I'll represent myself for today.
BY THE COURT: Ok, you understand that you have the right to request the court to appoint legal counsel for you in this matter?
BY THE COURT[:] Ok, so you say not for this hearing, but do you want counsel appointed?
BY THE COURT[:] I'm going to appoint counsel for you, anyway[, ] with respect to this matter. I'll check with the court administrator, and we'll find an individual to represent you. I don't want you to go through this matter unrepresented even though you believe that you can. Alright? Ok, very good. Ms. Albert-Heise, you're not representing [Father] in this matter?
MRS. ALBERT-HEISE[:] Your Honor, I represent [Father] in as much as he is the target of a criminal investigation which arises out of the same factual scenario as this case that we're here for today. I believe it's considered an interested party.
BY THE COURT[:] Are you entering your appearance today as counsel for [Father] in this matter?
MRS. ALBERT-HEISE[:] Not in this matter.
BY THE COURT: Alright, then I'm going to appoint counsel for [Father]. I will excuse you, today. Thank you.
MRS. ALBERT-HEISE[:] Thank you.
BY THE COURT[:] Ok, thank you. [Father], with respect to today's hearing, understand that if you want counsel to represent you this morning, that I could continue this hearing based on your request for counsel and have counsel with you for this hearing, do you understand that?
BY THE COURT[:] And you still with [sic] to proceed without counsel this morning?
BY THE COURT[:] Alright, very good. . . .
Id. at 7-9.
Subsequently, counsel for DHS, Attorney Daniels, explained a stipulation between him and Mother's counsel, Attorney Lucas Nardini, as follows:
Mr. DANIELS[:] . . . I believe [Mother] and counsel are willing to stipulate – to stipulate to the fact that certain allegations have been made against both [Father] and [Mother]. They're not stipulating to the authenticity or veracity or truthfulness of those facts, but for purposes of today's hearin [sic]. They're willing to stipulate that certain allegations have been made which would justify continued placement of the children and that they should be adjudicated dependent as a result of that situation of those allegations.
BY THE COURT[:] Mr. Nardini, you're consenting to the dependency at this time?
Mr. Nardini[:] At this time, [Y]our [H]onor. I believe, given the allegations, which are quite frankly, horrific, that the criminal investigation needs to proceed to see if there really is any truth to these matters, and I don't think it would serve the parents or the children or the system to try to have that argument today as to whether or not these allegations are true. So we would like to defer that, reserve our right that these allegations aren't true, but for today's purposes to find them, yes, they are dependent. I believe what we would agree to disagree about today is where, pending the criminal investigation, where these children should be placed.
BY THE COURT[:] Alright, very good, and we'll note that for the record.
Id. at 10-11.
DHS then presented the testimony of its caseworker, Ms. Flaherty. Mother's counsel, the counsel for the Children, and Father were afforded an opportunity to question the witness. When it was Father's opportunity to cross-examine Ms. Flaherty, the following exchange occurred:
BY THE COURT[:] Ok, thank you. [Father], you're here without counsel, and I understand you've waived your right. You do have the right to cross-examine this witness. That is[, to] ask the witness any questions. That is your choice, sir.
[Father:] I would just like to say one thing, there. . . .
Q. Where did you get that information that they [C.L. and K.L.] had not been to their mental health appointments since January/February you had said?
A. I received information from Children's Services Center and I actually have the print out of all the missed visits. I don't have it with me, but I do have it in the file that [K.L.] had missed many med checks as well as counseling appointments[, ] and that [C.L.] had not been there is some time. I believe it was January/February was her actual last time that she was there for [a] counseling appointment.
Q. Ok, do you also know that they have also been regularly on their medication and that they are still on the same medication from the same doctor? That they have not relapsed in any medication with us or with you?
Id. at 48-49.
After further examination of Ms. Flaherty by counsel for HS and counsel for the Children, Father stated that he had no other questions for the witness. Id. at 57.
The trial court then asked the following questions of Ms. Flaherty:
BY THE COURT:
Q. Who is the therapist that's working with the children?
A. Ann Lewis.
Q. And kinship care review process. The home study and the backgrounds. How long to put that together?
A. To make the referral? We could do the referral immediately after our agency has dependency of the children, and that process could start or it would be through an outside agency, though.
Q. So however long that agency would take to do that?
Q. Thirty days? Is that common?
A. I'd say thirty to sixty days because there's clearances that need to be sent back and sometimes that takes – takes longer.
Q. Ok, very good. Thank you. You may step down.
Id. at 58.
At the close of the testimony, the trial court engaged in the following colloquy with the counsel for the parties and Father.
BY THE COURT: Well, the dependency – I haven't talked to [Father], but the dependency is stipulated to and that is correct at this point?
MR. NARDINI: Yes, it is.
BY THE COURT: Ok, and that's stipulated to, and we would have that dependency ordered today, but I would bring everyone back when we had more information on all of the other areas.
MS. CARRUBBA[:] I think that would be best. Thank you, [Y]our [H]onor.
BY THE COURT[:] Alright, very good.
MR. NARDINI[:] If I could just confer outside for one moment.
BY THE COURT[:] Let me ask [Father] open court, and then you can go out with your client. [Father], and again, you're here without counsel, you understand the court's request. Would you be in agreement with the court's position at this time?
[FATHER:] I'm sorry, about what you said that we could continue this?
BY THE COURT[:] Well, first of all, the children would be determined at this time to be dependent. They would be placed in the – they would continue in the custody of the agency, but with respect to contact with [M]other, contact with the grandparents, and so on, we would have an expedited hearing, that is one sooner than normally we would have where I would have information from the therapist regarding contact dealing with [M]other and the grandparents. We would know then at that time perhaps the investigation that involves both you and [Mother] and at that time, we may know where the District Attorney's office is going with this.
[FATHER:] I feel if that is what you think we need to do, then I would agree with that, but I would disagree to say that I don't see the – I personally don't see the reason why there cannot be supervised visitation between the mother and the grandparents, even with Children and Youth there. I have never seen a reason for that since this has began [sic] because to me, supervised is supervised so nothing weird can happen there, you know, that they think may be happening or whatever. I understand placement is a bigger deal and if we need more court dates, I agree with you with that, but I would like to see some kind of supervised calls, visitation, or anything started as soon as possible.
BY THE COURT[:] Ok, and the court would mirror your position, except the court wants to hear from the children's therapist as a professional that has more experience in the matter dealing with children than this judge does. Do you understand?
BY THE COURT[:] So, based on those parameters, are you in concurrence?
BY THE COURT[:] Ok, very good. Mr. Nardini, I'll let you meet with your client. Id. at 63-66.
After a brief recess, Attorney Nardini and Mother re-entered the courtroom, and the following exchange took place.
MR. NARDINI: Thank you for that time, your [H]onor. Yes, we are in agreement. We would ask that it preferably be thirty days, not forty-five. Obviously, the sooner the better. We want to get the therapist done.
BY THE COURT[:] Based on the court's calendar, and what – what we've circumvented today is that the relationship between the agency and the parents and the grandparents is strained at this point due to the allegations. Having testimony from the grandparents this morning and agency versus grandparents, whether they're good, whether they're not, I don't see how that's going to help us move forward in healing this matter.
MR. NARDINI: Understood, [Y]our [H]onor.
BY THE COURT: So that's what I'm looking at[, ] at this point[, ] so we can recap. Dependency will be granted today. The [C]hildren will remain in custody of the agency. They shall remain in Saylorsburg at their foster home. We're going to request that the therapist work with the [C]hildren and provide recommendations to Children and Youth and the court with respect to telephone contact and/or visitations both with – including the grandparents and the mother at this point in time. We'll wait for that recommendation. Children and Youth then[, ] now that dependency has been ordered, will begin the kinship care process with the grandparents and you'll speak with the grandparents about cooperating with the agency on all that needs to occur there.
MR. NARDINI[:] Correct.
BY THE COURT[:] And then we'll get that report based on that fact. Mr. Daniels, any matters that based on moving forward here that the court needs to address?
MR. DANIELS[:] No, [Y]our [H]onor, I think that covers it.
BY THE COURT: Mr. Nardini?
BY THE COURT [sic] [Mr. NARDINI[:] Your [H]onor, I would maybe[, ] if you could suggest to the therapist, at the therapist's discretion, that they also reach out to grandparents or mom as they see fit to do that? To maybe include them in that?
BY THE COURT[:] And definitely at the discretion of the therapist to review the matter. Very good. Ms. Carrubba?
MS. CARRUBBA[:] Nothing additional, [J]udge. Thank you.
BY THE COURT[:] Alright, so we've covered it all? [Father], you've said everything you wanted to say? Alright, [Father], your attorney that'll be appointed for you, his name will be Paul Sostak.
Id. at 66-69.
The trial court found the Children dependent, as lacking proper parental care and control, based on the allegations of sexual abuse of Father against the two older children, and the allegations that the alleged sexual abuse of the older two children resulted in abuse of the two younger children through the effect of the matter on the entire family. The parties stipulated to the dependency adjudication. We agree with the trial court that the Juvenile Act does not require proof that a parent has committed or condoned abuse before a child can be found dependent, but, rather, clear and convincing evidence that the child is lacking proper parental care and control. Trial Court Opinion, 8/7/13, at 6-7; In re R.R., 686 A.2d 1316, 1317-18 (Pa.Super. 1996). Thus, as to Father's first two issues, we find no abuse of discretion on the part of the trial court in adjudicating the Children dependent.
Next, we address Father's argument that the trial court abused its discretion with regard to the removal of the Children from their parental home, without allowing even supervised visitation with Father of K.L. and D.L., and placing the younger two children, K.L. and D.L., in foster care with persons other than their parental grandparents.
The disposition of a child adjudicated dependent is governed by section 6351 of the Juvenile Act, which provides in relevant part as follows:
(a) General rule.--If the child is found to be a dependent child the court may make any of the following orders of disposition best suited to the safety, protection and physical, mental, and moral welfare of the child:
(1) Permit the child to remain with his parents, guardian, or other custodian, subject to conditions and limitations as the court prescribes, including supervision as directed by the court for the protection of the child.
(2) Subject to conditions and limitations as the court prescribes transfer temporary legal custody to any of the following:
(i) Any individual resident within or without this Commonwealth, including any relative, who, after study by the probation officer or other person or agency designated by the court, is found by the court to be qualified to receive and care for the child.
(ii) An agency or other private organization licensed or otherwise authorized by law to receive and provide care for the child.
(iii) A public agency authorized by law to receive and provide care for the child.
(2.1) Subject to conditions and limitations as the court prescribes, transfer permanent legal custody to an individual resident in or outside this Commonwealth, including any relative, who, after study by the probation officer or other person or agency designated by the court, is found by the court to be qualified to receive and care for the child. A court order under this paragraph may set forth the temporary visitation rights of the parents. The court shall refer issues related to support and continuing visitation by the parent to the section of the court of common pleas that regularly determines support and visitation.
42 Pa.C.S.A. § 6351(a).
Moreover, the trial court is required to make the following pre-placement findings:
(b) Required preplacement findings.-- Prior to entering any order of disposition under subsection (a) that would remove a dependent child from his home, the court shall enter findings on the record or in the order of court as follows:
(1) that continuation of the child in his home would be contrary to the welfare, safety, or health of the child;
(2)whether reasonable efforts were made prior to the placement of the child to prevent or eliminate the need for removal of the child from his home, if the child has remained in his home pending such disposition; or
(3) if preventive services were not offered due to the necessity for an emergency placement, whether such lack of services was reasonable under the circumstances; or
(4) if the court has previously determined . . . that reasonable efforts were not made to prevent the initial removal of the child from him home, whether reasonable efforts are under way to make it possible for the child to return home; or
(5) if the child has a sibling who is subject to removal from his home, whether reasonable efforts were made prior to the placement of the child to place the siblings together or whether such joint placement is contrary to the safety or well-being of the child or sibling.
The court shall not enter findings under paragraph (2), (3) or (4) if the court previously determined that aggravated circumstances exist and no new or additional reasonable efforts to prevent or eliminate the need for removing the child from the home or to preserve and reunify the family are required.
42 Pa.C.S.A. § 6351.
Thus, the trial court may make an appropriate disposition in order to protect the child's physical, mental and moral welfare, including transferring temporary custody to a public agency. In re M.L., 757 A.2d 849, 850–51 (Pa. 2000).
Further, this Court has stated:
Even after a child has been adjudicated dependent, however, a court may not separate that child from his or her parent unless it finds that the separation is clearly necessary. "'Such necessity is implicated where the welfare of the child demands that he [or she] be taken from his [or her] parents' custody.'"
In re G., T., 845 A.2d at 873 (citations omitted) (alterations in original).
The primary purpose of the disposition of a dependent child is to examine what is in the best interest of the child. 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 6351(a); In the Interest of Z.W., et al., 710 A.2d 1176, 1178 (Pa.Super. 1998); see also In re Tameka M., 525 Pa. 348, 354, 580 A.2d 750, 753 (1990) (stating, "[i]n ordering a disposition under Section 6351 of the Juvenile Act, the court acts not in the role of adjudicator reviewing the action of an administrative agency, . . . rather the court acts pursuant to a separate discretionary role with the purpose of meeting the child's best interests.") (quoting In re Lowry, 506 Pa. 121, 484 A.2d 383 (1984))).
Here, in its adjudication and disposition orders with regard to K.L. and D.L., the trial court made the pre-placement findings required pursuant to section 6351(b)(1) through (5) of the Juvenile Act. The order provided:
CHILD REMOVED FROM HOME
The Court finds that based upon the findings of abuse, neglect and/or dependency of the minor child, it is in the best interest of the child to be removed from the home of [Mother and Father], natural parents.
Further, the Court hereby finds that to allow this child to remain in the home would be contrary to the child's welfare, and that [p]reventive services were not offered due to the necessity for emergency placement. The lack of services was reasonable under the circumstances. This level of effort was reasonable due to the emergency nature of the situation, safety considerations, and circumstances of the family.
REASONABLE EFFORTS TO PLACE WITH SIBLING
Reasonable efforts have been made to place the child and the sibling(s) of the child together.
CUSTODY AND CONDITIONS
Legal Custody – Temporary legal custody is hereby transferred to an Agency or Organization, specifically custody is transferred to Wyoming COunty [sic] Human Services.
PLACEMENT -- The Dependent Child is to be placed, by the agency, in the [S.] Foster Home. The Child's placement is in the least restrictive placement that meets the needs of the Child[, ] and there is no less restrictive alternative available.
CURRENT PLACEMENT – Child's Safety
The child is safe in the current placement setting.
CURRENT PERMANENT PLACEMENT PLAN
The current placement goal for the child is return to parent or guardian.
* * *
THE COURT FURTHER ORDERS: Visitation with parents and paternal grandparents are suspended until further order of court. Expedited hearing to be held in thirty to forty-five days by which time therapist Ann Marie Lewis will provide to the court a recommendation regarding visitation and/or phone contact with [sic] the children, paretns, [sic] and/or paternal grandparents. The Agency shall initate [sic] an application and shall thereafter provide to the court a final determination on the Kinship Care application made by the paternal grandparents immediately upon receipt.
Such disposition having been determined to be best suited to the protection and physical, mental and moral welfare of the child.
Trial Court Order, 6/13/13, at 1-2 (emphasis in original).
The trial court explained its disposition of the Children, including K.L. and D.L., as follows.
Even after a minor is properly declared dependent by the court, another standard must be met in order to remove the child from the custody of his or her parents. The court may remove a child from parental custody "only where the evidence demonstrates a clear necessity for removal." In the Matter of A.L., J.L., A.L., C.L., Minor Children, 779 A.2d 1172, 1175 (Pa.Super. 2001). Such necessity is implicated where the welfare of the child demands that he be taken from his or her parents' custody. Id. Further, the "decision to remove a child from his or her parents' custody must be reconciled with the 'paramount purpose' of preserving family unity." Id. This reconciliation may require that temporary custody of the child be given to someone other than the parents until such time as the welfare of the child no longer demands that he be separated from his parents. In re S.M., . . . [614 A.2d 312, 314-315 (Pa.Super. 1992).] Ultimately, a hearing court is given broad discretion in meeting the goal of entering a disposition 'best suited to the protection and physical, mental and moral welfare of the child.' Id.
After hearing in this matter, [the trial court] concluded and all parties agreed, that pending the investigations in this matter[, ] dependency was proper and in the best interest of the minor children's protection, physical, mental and moral welfare. The two (2) eldest children have reported sexual abuse by their adoptive father. Mother denies these allegations. In order to declare the minor children dependent, the [trial court] need not hear clear and convincing evidence that the actual abuse occurred or was condoned. Rather, the [trial court] needs to determine if the children are without proper parental care. Based on the testimony of record, [the trial court] determined that until the investigation is complete, these children are without proper parental care.
* * *
Based on the foregoing, and the agreement Mother [S.L.], Father, [B.L.], Human Services and Counsel for the children, the minor children were declared dependent, continued in their current placement[, ] and all visitation with Father and paternal grandparents denied pending an expedited hearing following a receipt of a report from the children's therapist.
Trial Court Opinion, 8/7/13, at 7-8.
In the present matter, where it was not yet established whether either Father and/or Mother engaged in sexual abuse and/or abuse of the Children, and where paternal grandparents had not yet been investigated, the trial court acted in the best interests of the Children to maintain their safety, as well as their physical, mental and moral welfare of the child pending the outcome of the investigations by the Commonwealth and HS. The critical issue was the best interests of the Children.
Although Father complains that the adjudication/disposition orders encroach upon his constitutional right to raise his Children, this Court has stated, in the context of a change of goal proceeding, that the trial court must make its determination "in accordance with the child's best interests and not those of his or her parents." In the Matter of M.B., 869 A.2d 542, 547 (Pa.Super. 2005) (quoting In re C.J.R., 782 A.2d 568, 569 (Pa.Super. 2001)). Moreover, we have held that the removal of children from their parental environment was necessary to prevent the continuing opportunity for the children's parents to commit acts of abuse on the children, and was proper under the Juvenile Act. In re A.M., 530 A.2d 430, 436 (Pa.Super. 1987).
After a careful review of the record, we find that the trial court's credibility and weight determinations are supported by the competent evidence in the record. Thus, we will not disturb them. In re R.J.T., 608 Pa. at 26-27, 9 A.3d at 1190 (2010). We find that the trial court complied with the mandates of the Juvenile Act and the Child Protective Services Law in order to protect the best interests of the Children in this matter. Accordingly, under the circumstances of the present case, we find no error of law or abuse of the trial court's discretion.