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[U] In re Adoption of J.Q.R.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

February 18, 2014

IN RE: ADOPTION OF J.Q.R.
v.
APPEAL OF: C. V., MOTHER IN THE INTEREST OF: J.Q.R. APPEAL OF: C. V., MOTHER

NON-PRECEDENTIAL DECISION

Appeal from the Decree September 20, 2013 In the Court of Common Pleas of York County Orphans' Court at No(s): 2013-0027

Appeal from the Order Dated September 16, 2013 In the Court of Common Pleas of York County Juvenile Division at No(s): CP-67-DP-0000006-2011

BEFORE: MUNDY, J., WECHT, J., and FITZGERALD, J. [*]

MEMORANDUM

MUNDY, J.

Appellant, C.V. (Mother), appeals from the September 16 and 20, 2013 order and decree involuntarily terminating her parental rights to her biological son, J.Q.R., and changing his permanency goal from reunification to adoption.[1] After careful review, we affirm.

We summarize the relevant facts and procedural history of this case as follows. Mother and Father are the natural parents of J.Q.R., born in August 2008. Stipulation, 5/14/13, at 1. The York County Office of Children, Youth & Families (CYF) received a referral regarding J.Q.R. on January 14, 2011, when J.Q.R. was found unsupervised within the City of York. Id. At that time, J.Q.R. was 29 months old. Trial Court Opinion, 9/16/13, at 3. When Mother arrived at the scene, she appeared intoxicated and did not cooperate with police. Id.; Stipulation, 5/14/13, at 2. Police took 24-hour protective custody of J.Q.R. Trial Court Opinion, 9/16/13, at 3. Upon speaking with a CYF caseworker, Mother confirmed that she had no residence. However, Mother stated that she and J.Q.R. could reside with Maternal Aunt. CYF contacted Maternal Aunt, who agreed to care for J.Q.R.

On January 20, 2011, Maternal Aunt contacted CYF and advised the agency that she could no longer care for J.Q.R., as she was caring for her own daughter at the time. See N.T., 7/12/13, at 60. Following CYF's discussion with Maternal Aunt, the agency petitioned for emergency custody of J.Q.R.[2] Trial Court Order, 9/16/13, at 3. On January 21, 2011, the trial court granted CYF's petition and awarded CYF temporary legal and physical custody of J.Q.R.

Following a continuance request, the trial court held a protective custody hearing on January 31, 2011. Mother, Father, and Maternal Aunt attended. Upon her arrival, Mother appeared to be intoxicated, but she refused to take a drug and alcohol test. Mother also refused to provide a residential address to the trial court. Trial Court Opinion, 9/16/13, at 3. Following the hearing, the trial court ordered temporary legal and physical custody of J.Q.R. to remain with CYF until Maternal Aunt could arrange for appropriate daycare for J.Q.R. Once these arrangements were in place, physical custody would transfer to Maternal Aunt.[3]

On February 1, 2011, CYF filed a dependency petition, alleging that J.Q.R. was without proper care or control. Upon agreement of the parties, the trial court adjudicated J.Q.R. dependent on February 10, 2011. Stipulation, 5/14/13, at 2. At that time, the permanency goal of reunification was established. Id. The trial court also noted, "CYF has had great difficulty keeping in contact with Mother. Mother is not a resource; she has no housing and there are substance abuse issues." Trial Court Order, 2/10/11, at 1.

The trial court held a 90-day status conference on May 25, 2011. CYF explained that visits had been scheduled for Mother three times per week but Mother had not visited J.Q.R. since April 29, 2011. Id. at 4-5. The trial court subsequently reduced Mother's visits to once a week until she could demonstrate consistency with her visitation. Id. at 5.

On June 28, 2011, the trial court held a permanency review hearing. At that time, Mother was visiting J.Q.R. on a weekly basis. However, Mother tested positive for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) two of the four times she was offered a drug test; the remaining two times, Mother refused to submit to the drug test. See Trial Court Opinion, 9/16/13, at 5. The trial court found that Mother had minimally complied with the permanency plan and had made minimal efforts towards alleviating the circumstances necessitating J.Q.R.'s original placement. Stipulation, 5/14/13, at 3.

A permanency review hearing was held on December 6, 2011. Mother failed to appear despite receiving proper notice. CYF reported that Mother was regularly attending her visits with J.Q.R. and was considering entering a rehabilitation facility for her alcohol and drug use. At that time, Mother was residing with friends. Again, the trial court found that Mother had minimally complied with the permanency plan and had made minimal efforts towards alleviating the circumstances necessitating placement. Stipulation, 5/14/13, at 3.

A 90-day status hearing was held on March 6, 2012. Since the last review hearing, Mother had relapsed, entered a rehabilitation facility, and left the facility against medical advice. At the time of the hearing, Mother was residing in a shelter and was not attending therapy or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings. Trial Court Opinion, 9/16/13, at 8.

On May 16, 2012, the trial court held a six-month review hearing. Mother did not attend. N.T., 5/16/12, at 23. At that time, J.Q.R. had been in placement for approximately 16 months. Id. at 23. J.Q.R. was doing relatively well, but he had issues with aggression and frustration. He was enrolled in weekly art, play, and speech therapy and attended a specialized preschool. He had been successfully toilet trained, an area where he struggled. CYF intended to seek an evaluation of J.Q.R. for wraparound services. Id. at 2, 24.

As of that date, Mother's last visit with J.Q.R. was on April 18, 2012. Id. at 27. Although Mother had not seen J.Q.R. for approximately one month, CYF confirmed that Mother and J.Q.R. were bonded. Id. At that time, Mother was transient and unemployed. Id. at 28. Mother was not attending Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), NA, or taking her mental health medication; Mother was testing positive for drug use, to wit benzodiazepines, cocaine, and marijuana. Id. at 27-28; Trial Court Opinion, 9/16/13, at 8. The trial court found that Mother had not complied with the permanency plan and that she had made no efforts towards alleviating the circumstances necessitating placement. Stipulation, 5/14/13, at 4.

The trial court held a 90-day status hearing on August 16, 2012. Mother ceased her visitations with J.Q.R. three weeks prior to the hearing. Trial Court Opinion, 9/16/13, at 10. CYF notified the trial court of its intent to petition to change J.Q.R.'s concurrent placement plan to adoption.

Following a permanency review hearing on November 15, 2012, the trial court changed J.Q.R.'s concurrent placement plan from placement with a fit and willing relative to adoption. In the six-month period preceding this date, Mother had attended only eight visits with J.Q.R. The trial court believed that Mother was not addressing her housing, employment, and mental health needs. Trial Court Opinion, 9/16/13, at 10. The trial court found that Mother had not complied with the permanency plan and that she had made no efforts towards alleviating the circumstances necessitating placement. Stipulation, 5/14/13, at 4. CYF alerted the trial court of its intent to file a petition to involuntarily terminate Mother's parental rights. Trial Court Opinion, 9/16/13, at 10.

On February 14, 2013, a 90-day status hearing was held. At that time, Mother's whereabouts were unknown and her last visit with J.Q.R. was on October 31, 2012. Id. at 11.

On March 5, 2013, CYF petitioned to change J.Q.R.'s permanency goal from reunification with a parent to termination of parental rights and placement for adoption. Contemporaneously with that petition, CYF filed a petition to terminate Mother and Father's parental rights pursuant to 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 2511(a)(1), (2), (5), (8), and (b).

The trial court held a six-month review hearing on April 17, 2013.[4]Mother failed to appear. N.T., 4/17/13, at 18. At that time, J.Q.R. was still enrolled in specialized preschool and was receiving mobile, occupational, play, and speech therapy. Id. at 19. A Therapeutic Staff Support (TSS) worker was assigned to J.Q.R. for six hours a week. J.Q.R.'s behavior at school had improved over the past four to five months.[5] Id. CYF was in the process of obtaining a second opinion autism screening for J.Q.R. as there was conflict as to whether he fell within the autism spectrum. Id. at 27.

At that time, Mother's last visit with J.Q.R. occurred on October 31, 2012. Mother last contacted CYF on April 15, 2013. On that date, Mother refused to give CYF her residential address. During that conversation, Amanda Holtzapple, the family's caseworker, informed Mother of a number of outstanding bench warrants for her arrest. Id. at 24-25. Also, Mother's insurance had lapsed so she was not receiving her mental health medication. Id. at 25. Accordingly, the trial court held that Mother had not complied with the permanency plan and that she had made no efforts towards alleviating the circumstances necessitating placement. Stipulation, 5/14/13, at 5.

Subsequently, the trial court scheduled a hearing on CYF's goal change and termination petitions for May 17, 2013. CYF properly served Father with notice. However, on May 9, 2013, CYF requested a continuance of the hearing because it was unable to locate Mother to serve her with notice. The trial court denied this request, in part, insisting that the hearing would proceed as to Father. On May 17, 2013, the trial court took testimony regarding the termination of Father's parental rights. See N.T., 5/17/13. As Mother was not present, the trial court continued the hearing to July 12, 2013, to be held in conjunction with another 90-day status hearing. Trial Court Opinion, 9/16/13, at 13.

Proper notice of the July 12, 2013 hearing was effectuated on Mother by publication. Despite this notice, Mother did not appear.[6] Id. at 2. On that date, Holtzapple testified regarding the tortured history of this case. We summarize her testimony as follows.

The trial court adjudicated J.Q.R. dependent on February 10, 2012. Since that date, J.Q.R. has been in placement with the same foster parents. Alternatively, Mother has not resided in one residence for a continuous six-month period since the placement. N.T., 7/12/13, at 20. To wit, Mother moved approximately 17 times within this two and one half year period. Trial Court Opinion, 9/16/13, at 20. Not only was Mother transient, she typically did not advise CYF of her current address. N.T., 7/12/13, at 21. CYF last knew of Mother's whereabouts in late-February 2013. Id. at 6. Since April 2013, Mother called Holtzapple on four occasions to discuss the goal change and termination hearing. Id. at 10-14. However, Mother did not provide Holtzapple with a residential address. Holtzapple last spoke with Mother on July 11, 2013. Id.

Since the adjudication, Mother was incarcerated from September 26 to October 23, 2012, for giving a false identification to a law enforcement official. N.T., 7/12/13, at 16.; Trial Court Opinion, 9/16/13, at 10. Additionally, Holtzapple knew of four outstanding bench warrants for Mother's arrest.[7] N.T., 7/12/13, at 14-15. Mother also attended three rehabilitation facilities since J.Q.R.'s adjudication: White Deer Run from June 13 through July 7, 2011; Bowling Green Brandywine from July 28 through September 7, 2011; and White Deer Run Cove Forge from January 9 through February 13, 2012. Mother successfully completed all three of these programs. Id. at 16-17.

Mother advised CYF of two jobs that she maintained since the adjudication. Id. Mother worked at Arm & Hammer from September 7 through September 22, 2011, and Wendy's from October through November 2011. Id. CYS received allegations that Mother lost her job at Arm & Hammer due to suspected drug use. Regarding other sources of income, CYF did not believe that Mother was receiving any type of disability payments. Id. at 22.

Six family service plans (FSPs) were put into place throughout J.Q.R.'s dependency. Id. at 15-16; Stipulation, 5/14/13, at 2. Mother never objected to any of the goals set forth in these FSPs. Id. Additional services deployed by CYF for Mother's benefit included: "[a] Catholic Charities in-home team, a Justice Works in-home team, a Pressley Ridge in-home team, drug and alcohol testing, and visitation with [J.Q.R.]" Id. at 28. Mother failed to comply with any of these services. Id.

Mother's last visit with J.Q.R. occurred on October 31, 2012. Id. at 22. Regarding Mother's visits, Holtzapple testified, "[v]isits [with Mother] actually go well. [J.Q.R.] knows who [M]other is. He usually runs to her, hugs her. Visits tend to go well. There aren't any safety concerns." Id. at 26. Holtzapple agreed that Mother and J.Q.R.'s bond was more akin to an "acquaintance bond" or a "playmate bond" than a parental bond. Id. at 27.

Alternatively, Holtzapple testified that J.Q.R.'s interactions with his foster parents are of the "[t]ypical parent/child relationship [nature]. [J.Q.R.] looks to them for direction, guidance, affection, [and] supervision." Id. at 26. Regarding J.Q.R.'s bond with his foster parents, Holtzapple responded, "[J.Q.R.]'s been with them for two and a half years. I feel he is well bonded to them and their family." Id. at 27. J.Q.R. calls his foster parents "[m]ommy and daddy." Id.

Regarding CYF's goal change petition, Holtzapple opined that it is in J.Q.R.'s best interest to change his permanency goal from reunification to adoption because "[he] has been in care for two and a half years, and he deserves to have a permanent, stable home." Id. at 29. Further, Holtzapple testified, "neither parent has made enough progress towards reunification for [J.Q.R.] to return to either of their care." Id.

As to CYF's termination petition, Holtzapple opined that it would be in J.Q.R.'s best interest to terminate Mother's parental rights. Id. at 32. Holtzapple believed that the termination would have no negative impact on J.Q.R. Id. Additionally, Holtzapple identified J.Q.R.'s foster parents as his pre-adoptive resource. Id. at 32, 48.

On September 16, 2013, the trial court changed J.Q.R.'s permanency goal from reunification to adoption. The trial court entered its decree terminating Mother's parental rights on September 20, 2013. On October 16, 2013, Mother filed a timely notice of appeal along with her concise statement of matters complained of on appeal pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Appellate Procedure 1925(a)(2)(i).[8]

On appeal, Mother raises the following issues for our review.

1. Did the [trial court] err in changing the goal from reunification with parent to adoption?
2. Did the [trial court] err in granting Children, Youth and Families['] request to terminate Mother's parental rights?

Mother's Brief at 4.

Initially, Mother claims the trial court committed an error when it changed J.Q.R.'s permanency goal from reunification to adoption. Id. at 11-12. Specifically, Mother argues as follows.

In the present situation, it is acknowledged that [] Mother is not currently in a position to have [J.Q.R.] in her care. However, as the [trial c]ourt noted, Mother has attended drug rehabilitation facilities in an effort to address her issues. Although it is acknowledged that [J.Q.R.] should not have to remain in limbo forever, Mother does ask for additional time to prove she can care for [J.Q.R.] and that this is in the best interests of [J.Q.R.].

Id. at 12.

Our standard of review of a trial court's change of goal is as follows.

When we review a trial court's order to change the placement goal for a dependent child to adoption, our standard is abuse of discretion. In order to conclude that the trial court abused its discretion, we must determine that the court's judgment was manifestly unreasonable, that the court did not apply the law, or that the court's action was a result of partiality, prejudice, bias or ill will, as shown by the record. The trial court, not the appellate court, is charged with the responsibilities of evaluating credibility of the witnesses and resolving any conflicts in the testimony. In carrying out these responsibilities, the trial court is free to believe all, part, or none of the evidence. When the trial court's findings are supported by competent evidence of record, we will affirm even if the record could also support an opposite result.

In re S.G., 922 A.2d 943, 946-947 (Pa.Super. 2007) (citations omitted); see also In re R.J.T., 9 A.3d 1179, 1190 (Pa. 2010).

[I]ssues pertaining to dependent children are controlled by the Juvenile Act[, ] 42 Pa.C.S.[A.] §§ 6301-[637]5, which was amended in 1998 to conform to the federal Adoption and Safe Families Act ("ASFA")." In re A.B., 19 A.3d 1084, 1088 (Pa.Super. 2011) (emphasis in original), citing In re N.C. , 909 A.2d 818, 823 (Pa.Super. 2006).

ASFA was enacted to combat the problem of foster care drift, where children… are shuttled from one foster home to another, waiting for their parents to demonstrate their ability to care for the children. This drift was the unfortunate byproduct of the system's focus on reuniting children with their biological parents, even in situations where it was clear that the parents would be unable to parent in any reasonable period of time. Following ASFA, Pennsylvania adopted a dual focus of reunification and adoption, with the goal of finding permanency for children in less than two years, absent compelling reasons.

In re T.S.M., 71 A.3d 251, 269 (Pa. 2013) (citations omitted).

As to change of goal proceedings, our Supreme Court has concluded, "the best interests of the child and not the interests of the parent must guide the trial court, and the burden is on the child welfare agency involved to prove that a change in goal would be in the child's best interest." In re R.I.S., 36 A.3d 567, 573 (Pa. 2011) (citations omitted). We note that "[q]uestions regarding the propriety of an order granting or denying a goal change petition are… discrete inquiries requiring an analysis of interests exquisitely separable from those interests reviewed in questions relating to the involuntary termination of parental rights." Id.

Regarding CYF's goal change petition, the trial court opined as follows.

CYF has proven by clear and convincing evidence that [J.Q.R.]'s current placement continues to be necessary and is the least restrictive. Mother has abandoned [J.Q.R.] as she has had no contact with [J.Q.R.] for more than [ten] months and has refused to provide information to CYF as to her whereabouts. A multitude of services have been provided to Mother to assist in reunification efforts, prior to Mother's disappearance[. ] However Mother failed to take advantage of the services.
Mother has had the opportunity to work with three in-home teams and has been a patient in at least three drug rehabilitation facilities, as well as, at least three recovery or halfway houses. There is no indication or evidence that Mother has successfully addressed her substance abuse issues or achieved any stability in her life. More importantly, Mother has done nothing in the past year to maintain contact with [J.Q.R.] or maintain a place of importance in his young life. Mother has been content to let others care for [J.Q.R.] and meet his needs.
CYF has proven by clear and convincing evidence that [J.Q.R.]'s current goal of reunification is no longer feasible. CYF has proven by clear and convincing evidence that it is in [J.Q.R.]'s best interest to change his goal placement for adoption. [J.Q.R.] has spent one-half of his life in foster care placement and outside of the care of Mother and Father.
[J.Q.R.] needs and deserves a permanent, stable and nurturing environment. [J.Q.R.]'s best interest demands that his [permanency] goal be changed from reunification with a parent to placement for adoption.

Trial Court Opinion, 9/16/13, at 15, 17-18. We agree.

At the time of the termination proceeding, J.Q.R. was in placement since the age of 29 months, approximately two and one half years. Throughout the course of J.Q.R.'s placement, his permanency goal remained to be reunification. Despite this goal, Mother failed to maintain consistent contact with J.Q.R. At the time of the termination proceeding, Mother had not seen J.Q.R. for ten months. Additionally, Mother failed to obtain, let alone maintain, stable housing or employment. Mother did not keep her contact information current with CYF. Mother's attempts to remain drug and alcohol free were unsuccessful, despite her completion of three rehabilitation programs. Likewise, Mother was not attending AA or NA, nor was she taking her mental health medication. CYF provided Mother with a number of in-home services that were closed due to Mother's noncompliance. Instantly, Mother argues that she should be given more time to complete the reunification process. Mother's Brief at 12. However, we must look at the best interests of J.Q.R. and not Mother when analyzing goal change petitions. See In re R.I.S., supra. As Mother made little to no progress on reunification with J.Q.R. in the past two and one half years, we conclude competent evidence of record supports the trial court's decision to change J.Q.R.'s permanency goal to adoption. See In re S.G., supra. Therefore, the trial court committed no abuse of discretion, and Mother's first issue is meritless.

Within her next issue, Mother challenges the trial court's decree terminating her parental rights, pursuant to 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 2511(a)(1), (2), (5), (8), and (b).[9] Mother's Brief at 12-18. In order to affirm the termination of parental rights, we need only agree with the trial court's decision to terminate pursuant to any one subsection of Section 2511(a). See In re B.L.W., 843 A.2d 380, 384 (Pa.Super. 2004) (en banc), appeal denied, 863 A.2d 1141 (Pa. 2004). Accordingly, we will focus on Mother's argument relative to Section 2511(a)(1).

Turning to the basis of Mother's argument, she claims the trial court erroneously terminated her parental rights pursuant to Section 2511(a)(1) for the reasons that follow.

It is acknowledged that Mother has been dealing with substance and mental health issues and she continues to deal with these issues. This, however, does not mean she has relinquished her parental claim. Mother has entered a number of rehab[ilitation facilities] in an effort to deal with her issues. She has contacted CYF on a number of occasions concerning the minor child. Unfortunately, CYF was more interested in having Mother deal with [her] outstanding [bench] warrant[s] and picking up [her parental rights termination] paperwork. As a result, Mother's recent attempts to have contact with the minor child were not successful. However, she does not wish to relinquish her parental claims.

Mother's Brief at 15. Mother also claims the trial court's conclusion that she lacks a parental bond with J.Q.R. contradicts the testimony of Holtzapple. Id. at 17-18.

We begin by noting our well-settled standard and scope of review.

When reviewing a decree entered by the [trial] court [regarding a petition to terminate parental rights], this Court must determine whether the record is free from legal error and if the [trial] court's factual findings are supported by the evidence. Because the [trial] court sits as the fact-finder, it determines the credibility of witnesses, and on review, we will not reverse its credibility determinations absent an abuse of that discretion.
In other words, [i]n cases involving [the] termination of parental rights, our scope of review is broad. All of the evidence, as well as the trial court's factual and legal determinations, are to be considered. However, our standard of review is limited to determining whether the order of the trial court is supported by competent evidence, and whether the trial court gave adequate consideration to the effect of such a decree on the welfare of the child. We have always been differential to the trial court as the fact finder, as the determiner of the credibility of witnesses, and as the sole and final arbiter of all conflicts in the evidence.

In re E.M.I., 57 A.3d 1278, 1284 (Pa.Super. 2012) (citations omitted). "[W]here the [trial] court's findings are supported by competent evidence of record, we must affirm the hearing court even though the record could support an opposite result." In re M.G., 855 A.2d 68, 73 (Pa.Super. 2004) (citations omitted). Moreover, "we may uphold a termination decision if any proper basis exists for the result reached." In re B.C., 36 A.3d 601, 606 (Pa.Super. 2012).

The Adoption Act, 23 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 2101-2938, controls termination of parental rights proceedings. In re L.M., 923 A.2d 505, 511 (Pa.Super. 2007); see also 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 2511. Specifically, Section 2511 requires the trial court to engage in a bifurcated process before terminating parental rights. Id.

Initially, the focus is on the conduct of the parent. The party seeking termination must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the parent's conduct satisfies the statutory grounds for termination delineated in Section 2511(a). Only if the court determines that the parent's conduct warrants termination of his or her 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. One major aspect of the needs and welfare analysis concerns the nature and status of the emotional bond between parent and child, with close attention paid to the effect on the child of permanently severing any such bond.

In re J.M., 991 A.2d 321, 323 (Pa.Super. 2010) (citation omitted). "[C]lear and convincing evidence[]" requires "testimony that is so clear, direct, weighty, and convincing as to enable the trier of fact to come to a clear conviction, without hesitation, of the truth of the precise facts in issue." In re R.I.S., 36 A.3d 567, 572 (Pa. 2011) (citations omitted).

Instantly, the trial court determined Mother's conduct warranted termination under Section 2511(a)(1) and (b). Section 2511 states, in pertinent 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)…, 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(a)(1), (b).

When presented with a termination petition pursuant to Section 2511(a)(1), we have previously explained as follows.

The [trial] court should consider the entire background of the case and not simply:
… mechanically apply the six-month statutory provision. The [trial] court must examine the individual circumstances of each case and consider all explanations offered by the parent facing termination of his … parental rights, to determine if the evidence, in light of the totality of the circumstances, clearly warrants the involuntary termination.

In re A.S., 11 A.3d 473, 482 (Pa.Super. 2010) (citations omitted). Moreover, we have concluded, "[p]arental 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 his … physical and emotional needs." In re E.A.P., 944 A.2d 79, 83 (Pa.Super. 2008) (citation omitted). "This Court cannot and will not subordinate indefinitely a child's need for performance and stability to a parent's claims of progress and hope for the future." Id.

Further, we have described "parental duties, " as set forth in Section 2511(a)(1), as follows.

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 [C]ourt has held that the parental obligation is a positive duty which requires affirmative performance.
[T]his affirmative parental duty … requires continuing interest in the child and a genuine effort to maintain communication and association with the child.

In re E.M., 908 A.2d 297, 304-306 (Pa.Super. 2006), citing In re N.M.B., 856 A.2d 847, 855 (Pa.Super. 2004), appeal denied, 872 A.2d 1200 (Pa. 2005); see also In re Burns, 379 A.2d 535, 540 (Pa. 1977). This affirmative "parental duty requires [] a parent exert [herself] to take and maintain a place of importance in [her] child's life" and to "act affirmatively with good faith interest and effort, … in order to maintain the parent-child relationship to the best of [her] ability, even in difficult circumstances." In re E.M., supra at 305-306 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

Regarding CYF's petition to terminate Mother's parental rights pursuant to Section 2511(a)(1), the trial court concluded as follows.

CYF has proven by clear and convincing evidence that Mother has both evidenced a settled purpose and failed to perform parental duties. Mother has had no contact with [J.Q.R.] since October 2012. Mother's failure to perform even the minimal duty of maintaining contact with [J.Q.R.] evidences a settled purpose of relinquishing her parental claim. She has performed no parental duties for a period far in excess of six months preceding the filing of the petition to terminate her parental rights. Mother has failed to address her substance abuse issues or her mental health issues and therefore, has been unable to place [J.Q.R.]'s needs above her own needs. Mother has engaged in criminal activity that incarcerated her for a period of time and she has failed to appear to address a number of outstanding warrants. Mother has demonstrated no stability in her life. During the period of February 2011 through March 2012, Mother moved at least 17 times. Thereafter, Mother failed to advise CYF of her whereabouts. She has never maintained any residence for more than six months since [J.Q.R.] was placed. Mother has never established a stable source of income to provide for herself or [J.Q.R.]. Mother has not met any of the objectives set forth in the various family service plans.

Trial Court Opinion, 9/16/13, at 19-20.

Upon review, we conclude that competent evidence of record exists to support the trial court's conclusion that Mother "evidenced a settled purpose of relinquishing parental claim to a child or has refused or failed to perform parental duties[, ]" in the six month period preceding the filing of the termination petition. 23 Pa. C.S.A. § 2511(a)(1); see also In re E.M.I., supra. In the six months preceding the petition, Mother visited with J.Q.R. one time. Similarly, Mother's visitation with J.Q.R. was sporadic throughout the course of his dependency. Early in J.Q.R.'s placement, CYF reduced Mother's visits from three to one time per week as Mother inconsistently attended her visits with J.Q.R. See In re A.S., supra. By failing to maintain contact with J.Q.R., Mother could not meet either J.Q.R.'s physical or emotional needs. See In re E.M., supra at 304-306. Throughout the past six months, Mother failed to show even a passing interest in J.Q.R.'s development. Id. We find this failure troubling considering J.Q.R.'s special needs. Mother failed to "exert [herself] to take and maintain a place of importance in [J.Q.R.'s] life" and to "act affirmatively with good faith interest and effort" to maintain her relationship with J.Q.R. Id. at 305-306. Therefore, we conclude competent evidence exists to support the trial court's termination of Mother's parental rights pursuant to Section 2511(a)(1). See In re E.M.I., supra. Accordingly, Mother's claim fails.

As the trial court properly concluded Mother's rights should be terminated pursuant to Section 2511(a)(1), we now must examine whether the trial court correctly found that Mother's conduct warranted termination pursuant to Section 2511(b).

Pursuant to Section 2511(b), the trial court must engage in an analysis of the best interests of the child by taking into primary consideration the developmental, physical, and emotional needs of the child. The trial court must consider intangibles such as love, comfort, security, and stability. To this end, this [C]ourt has indicated that the trial 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.

In re J.F.M., 71 A.3d 989, 997 (Pa.Super. 2013) (citations and quotation marks omitted).

"In assessing the parental bond, the [trial] court is permitted to rely upon the observations and evaluations of social workers." In re K.M., 53 A.3d 781, 791 (Pa.Super. 2012). We note, "[t]he mere existence of an emotional bond [with a natural parent] does not preclude the termination of parental rights." Id. (some citations omitted). Also, "whether a child's primary emotional attachment is with a foster parent rather than a birth parent is a significant factor in evaluating the child's developmental and emotional needs and welfare." Id. (concluding that, although the child once had a bond with mother, terminating mother's parental rights best served the child's developmental, physical, and emotional needs and welfare because the child had not seen the mother in over one year and the child's primary parent-child bond lies with his foster parents), citing In re K.Z.S., 946 A.2d 753, 764 (Pa.Super. 2008) (stating "the bond between [the child] and [foster mother] is the primary bond to protect, given [the child's] young age and his very limited contact with [m]other").

Regarding its Section 2511(b) analysis, the trial court reasoned as follows.

The [trial c]ourt believes that termination of [Mother's] parental rights will have no significant effect upon [J.Q.R.]. Mother has been entirely absent from his life for ten months and other than one visit in October 2012, Mother had no contact since July 2012 with no explanation. … [J.Q.R.] looks to his foster family to meet his needs. He seeks their love and security when he is [in] need of comfort or consolation. The foster parents have provided him with a safe and secure life. To disturb [J.Q.R.]'s new family relationship [with his foster parents], which has been in place for [32] months, would have a very devastating effect upon him in comparison to the insignificant effect that termination of parental rights of Mother … could have.
Therefore, … termination of [Mother's] parental rights would serve the best needs and welfare of [J.Q.R.]

Trial Court Opinion, 9/16/13, at 22-23.

Initially, we agree with Mother that Holtzapple testified that J.Q.R. and Mother have a bond. See N.T., 7/12/13, at 26. However, this evidence, in and of itself, does not preclude the termination of her parental rights. See K.M., supra at 791. Instantly, the trial court based its Section 2511(b) termination decision on the overwhelming evidence that J.Q.R.'s primary parental-child relationship lies with his foster parents. N.T., 7/12/13, at 26-27. Regarding this relationship, Holtzapple testified that J.Q.R. maintains the typical parent-child relationship with his foster parents and an "acquaintance" or "playmate" bond with Mother. Id. Holtzapple testified that J.Q.R. "looks to [foster parents] for direction, guidance, affection, [and] supervision[]" as they have cared for J.Q.R. for the two and one half years that he has been in placement, i.e., since J.Q.R. was 29 months old. Id. J.Q.R. refers to his foster parents as "mommy and daddy." Id. J.Q.R.'s foster parents have agreed to become an adoptive resource for J.Q.R. J.Q.R.'s foster parents are satisfying all of J.Q.R.'s developmental, physical, and emotional needs and giving him the love and affection that he deserves, and J.Q.R. is clearly attached to them. See id. Accordingly, J.Q.R.'s bond with his foster parents was the primary bond that the trial court chose to protect, given J.Q.R.'s age, time in placement, lack of contact with Mother, and emotional needs. See In re K.M., supra; K.Z.S., supra. Upon review, we conclude there is competent evidence within the certified record to support the trial court's determination that the termination of Mother's parental rights will best serve J.Q.R.'s developmental, physical, and emotional needs and welfare. See In re E.M.I., supra. Similarly, we conclude, "the trial court gave adequate consideration to the effect of [the termination] decree on the welfare of the child." See id. Accordingly, Mother's issue lacks merit.

Based upon the foregoing, we conclude Mother's issues are devoid of merit. Therefore, we affirm the trial court's September 16, 2013 order changing J.Q.R.'s permanency goal from reunification to placement for adoption, and the September 20, 2013 decree involuntarily terminating Mother's parental rights.

Order and decree affirmed.

Judgment Entered.


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