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In re D.C.D.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

April 23, 2014

IN THE INTEREST OF: D.C.D., MINOR; APPEAL OF: J.T.W., FATHER

Submitted  February 25, 2014

Appeal from the Decree of the Court of Common Pleas, Clinton County, Orphans' Court Division, No. 12-2012. Before MILLER, J.

David A. Strouse, Lock Haven, for appellant.

Michael D. Angelelli, Lock Haven, for Clinton County, appellee.

David I. Lindsay, Lock Haven, for Guardian Ad Litem, appellee.

BEFORE: GANTMAN, P.J., DONOHUE and STABILE, JJ. OPINION BY DONOHUE, J.

OPINION

Page 174

 DONOHUE, J.

J.T.W. (" Father" ) appeals from the trial court's July 23, 2013 decree, which granted the petitions filed by Clinton County Children and Youth Services (" CYS" or " the Agency" ) to involuntarily terminate his parental rights to D.C.D. (" Child" ) pursuant to 23 Pa.C.S.A § 2511(a)(2) and (b). Upon review, we find that the orphans' court erred as a matter of law by terminating Father's parental rights in spite of its finding that CYS failed to provide him with reasonable efforts to promote reunification prior to filing its termination petition. We therefore reverse.

In deciding a prior appeal, we previously summarized the facts of this case, in relevant part, as follows:

CYS became involved with the family the day after D.C.D.'s March 2011 birth.

Page 175

The [A]gency intervened due to medical problems that D.C.D. suffered as a result of Mother's drug use and the unavailability of the then unknown birth father. The juvenile court adjudicated D.C.D. dependent on April 14, 2011. A court-ordered test subsequently confirmed Father's paternity on May 6, 2011. CYS initially placed D.C.D. in kinship care with her maternal uncle and the uncle's paramour for approximately two months; however, when that relationship dissolved, [C]hild resided with the uncle's paramour for an additional month until the paramour relinquished D.C.D. to the [A]gency during July 2011. [Child was placed in the Barnes foster home until November 2011, and was subsequently placed with the Barnes' adult daughter and her husband, where she remained at the time of the instant appeal].
* * *
Father has been incarcerated throughout D.C.D.'s life. [N.T., 5/31/12,] at 8, 38-39. [Father is serving an aggregate sentence of 93 to 192 months, which he began serving prior to Child's birth. His minimum release date from prison is July 15, 2018, at which time Child will be more than seven years old. Father's maximum sentence date is October 15, 2026.]
On November 29, 2011, Father requested virtual visitations with D.C.D. via live video from prison in Virginia. By order dated December 12, 2011, the juvenile court directed that virtual visitation occur monthly beginning January 2012. Id. at 17. That order was entered over Mother's and the guardian ad litem's objections. Id. The first visitation occurred as scheduled on January 12, 2012. Id. at 8, 16. It lasted approximately fifteen to thirty minutes. Id. at 9, 40. However, due to Father's separation from the general prison population and placement in the prison's segregation unit, the Virginia prison authorities refused to permit additional virtual visitations to occur, notwithstanding the juvenile court's order. Id. at 18, 19. Father sought CYS's assistance in getting the virtual visitations reinstated, but [his] attempts were unsuccessful. Id. at 17-19. After he returned to SCI Graterford during March 2012, Father requested in-person visitation with D.C.D. because that facility was not equipped for virtual visitation. Id. at 35, 41, 44. However, CYS never responded to Father's request or sought to initiate visitations in accordance with the juvenile court's December 12, 2011 order. Id. at 20, 22, 44. Thus, despite his several requests for visitations with D.C.D., as of the date of the [first] termination proceedings, Father's total contact with his daughter amounted to a single virtual visitation. Id. at 9, 38.
Throughout the course of his incarceration, Father corresponded with CYS monthly and provided D.C.D. birthday and Christmas cards and gifts. In addition, he designated his niece, S.R., as a possible kinship placement resource until he was released from prison. Id. at 8, 16, 42-43, 44. CYS communicated with Father regularly; however, it declined to offer S.R. temporary kinship care of D.C.D. Id. at 57-58, 62. Instead, the [A]gency informed S.R. that it intended to terminate Father's parental rights and that she would be considered only as a permanent placement option or adoptive resource for D.C.D. Id. at 57-58. CYS has not interacted with S.R. since April 16, 2012, when it instructed her to contact ...

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