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[U] In re K.S.C.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

March 6, 2014

IN RE: K.S.C., A/K/A K.S.C., A/K/A BABY GIRL C., A MINOR APPEAL OF: ALLEGHENY COUNTY OFFICE OF CHILDREN, YOUTH AND FAMILIESIN RE: K.S.C., A/K/A K.S.C., A/K/A BABY GIRL C., A MINOR APPEAL OF: K.S.C., A/K/A K.S.C., A/K/A BABY GIRL C., A MINOR CHILD

NON-PRECEDENTIAL DECISION

Appeal from the Decree entered on July 11, 2013 In the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County Orphans' Court at No(s): TPR 045 OF 2013

BEFORE: BENDER, P.J.E., LAZARUS, J., and MUNDY, J.

MEMORANDUM

MUNDY, J.

In these related appeals, Appellants, the Allegheny Office of Children, Youth and Families (CYF), and K.S.C., [1] appeal from the July 11, 2013 decree denying CYF's petition to involuntarily terminate the parental rights of J.M.B. (Father), to K.S.C. After careful review, we vacate the decree of the orphans' court and remand this matter with instructions in accordance with this memorandum.

The relevant facts and procedural history of this case are as follows. K.S.C.'s mother is J.D.C. (Mother).[2] At the time of K.S.C.'s birth, Mother's three other children had already been adjudicated dependent and placed in foster care. N.T., 7/1/13, at 30, 54. On June 27, 2011, CYF obtained a restraining order to prevent K.S.C.'s removal from the hospital after Mother tested positive for various drugs throughout her pregnancy. Thereafter, on June 29, 2011, CYF removed K.S.C. from Mother. On July 1, 2011, the orphans' court conducted a shelter care hearing, and adjudicated K.S.C. dependent on July 8, 2011. Id. at 11-12. K.S.C. has been in the care of pre-adoptive parents ever since. Id. at 27.

The record reflects that both Father and the orphans' court were informed of his paternity to K.S.C. on March 12, 2013. Id. at 9, 12, 55. Father testified that he became aware that Mother had identified him as K.S.C.'s father in December 2011 when Mother signed a voluntary consent to adoption when K.S.C. was approximately six months old. Father admitted that he knew that Mother was pregnant and that K.S.C. was possibly his. Father also admitted that Mother had written him a letter asking him to pay for an abortion. Id. at 108-109. Father testified that the first time he met K.S.C. was when he showed up for paternity testing and that his first visit with her was in March 2013. Id. at 24, 100.

On August 23, 2011, Father was arrested at his sister's home, and sent to the Renewal Center, a community correctional facility. Id. at 46-47, 91-92, 119. Thereafter, on February 21, 2012, Father was sentenced to three to six years' imprisonment, and was subsequently transferred from the Renewal Center to SCI Camp Hill and then to SCI Pittsburgh. Id. at 19, 92, 116. Father's release date is December 1, 2014, but he might be eligible for release as early as March 1, 2014, contingent upon good behavior and his acceptance into a therapeutic community. Id. at 87, 108. Upon his release from SCI Pittsburgh, Father will reenter the Renewal Center for at least four months, and the earliest possible date Father could take custody of K.S.C. would be July 2014, when K.S.C. would be more than three years old.

After a series of permanency review hearings, CYF filed its petition to terminate the parental rights of Mother and Father on March 1, 2013. Mother consented to the termination of her parental rights on July 1, 2013. At the July 11, 2013 termination hearing, CYF presented the testimony of its caseworker, Marie Duranti, and foster care case specialist, Courtland Forsythe. Father testified by phone from prison.

The record reflects that CYF created six Family Service Plans (FSP) for Father. Duranti testified that Father's initial FSP goals were "contact and cooperation[, ]" and CYF was aware of Father's incarceration at SCI Pittsburgh. Id. at 15, 38, 57. The June 12, 2012 FSP also contained the additional goals of addressing drug and alcohol issues and parenting. Id. at 15, 37. Duranti testified that she believed that CYF sent the FSPs to Appellant in prison, as well as to his sister's residence. Id. at 36, 111. However, Duranti stated she not know if Father ever received any FSPs or hearing notices. Id. at 58-60. Father admitted receiving at least one FSP, and has been represented by an attorney at all proceedings in this case since October 2011. Id. at 111. Duranti further testified that CYF was not aware of the progress that Father had made on his FSP goals. Duranti testified that she did receive one letter from Father in which he stated that he was attending A.A. and N.A. meetings, but he did not mention participation in any other programs. Id. at 17.

Additionally, Duranti testified that K.S.C.'s foster family is meeting her educational, developmental and psychological needs, that there is an observable bond among K.S.C. and her foster family when they interact, and that K.S.C.'s foster mother is the only mother K.S.C. has ever known. Id. at 27, 81-82.

Father, in turn, testified that he attends N.A. and A.A. meetings, that he has been sober since August 2011, and that he has been living in a recovery block for the past year. Id. at 101, 102. Father acknowledged, however, that he has had no formal treatment for his gambling and drug abuse problems, and that he has never spent time in the community without gambling or using illegal substances. Id. at 126.

On July 11, 2013, the orphans' court concluded that CYF had failed to meet its burden of proof and declined to terminate Father's parental rights to K.S.C.. CYF and K.S.C. filed timely notices ...


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