IN THE INTEREST OF: Z.V., A MINOR APPEAL OF: D.S., MOTHER
from the Order Entered March 16, 2016 in the Court of Common
Pleas of Philadelphia County Family Court at No(s):
BEFORE: SHOGAN, MOULTON, and FITZGERALD, [*] JJ.
("Mother") appeals from the order entered in the
Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas that directed the
Department of Human Services ("DHS") to add a
concurrent permanency plan of adoption for Z.V., born
November 2008 ("Child"). Mother claims that the trial
court erred in changing the prior plan of reunification
without a hearing. We vacate the order and remand for further
relevant procedural history is as follows. On May 10, 2015,
DHS obtained an order of protective custody ("OPC")
regarding Child based on reports that Mother repeatedly hit
Child with different implements. Following a shelter care
hearing, the trial court granted DHS legal and physical
custody over Child. Child was initially placed with
Child's maternal grandmother.
15, 2015, DHS filed a dependency petition regarding Child.
DHS asserted aggravated circumstances, namely, the
involuntary termination of Mother's parental rights to
Child's sibling. Dependency Pet., Statement of Facts,
5/15/15, at ¶¶ l-m. On May 27, 2015, the trial
court adjudicated Child dependent and set a permanent
placement plan of "return to guardian." Order,
5/27/15, at 1. The court referred Mother to the Clinical
Evaluation Unit for a drug screen and a dual diagnosis
assessment. Id. at 2.
29, 2015, following a permanency review hearing, the trial
court entered an order indicating Mother did not meet the
criteria for substance abuse intervention. Order, 7/29/15, at
1. The court referred Mother to Behavioral Health Systems for
a consultation or evaluation and directed the Community
Umbrella Agency ("CUA") to refer Mother to anger
management counseling. The court directed that Child be
placed in foster kinship care with Child's maternal aunt.
December 16, 2015, the trial court convened a permanency
review hearing. At the beginning of the hearing, DHS's
counsel indicated that a ruling on DHS's allegations of
aggravated circumstances had been deferred. N.T., 12/16/15,
at 5. DHS entered copies of a September 29, 2004 order
involuntarily terminating Mother's parental rights to
Child's sibling into the record. Id. DHS's
counsel requested that DHS make no reasonable efforts toward
reunification. Id. Following arguments by
Mother's counsel, the court directed that "no
reasonable efforts are needed." Id. at 7.
presented additional testimony from Child's CUA case
manager, who indicated that visitation had been suspended
based on the recommendation of Child's therapist.
Id. at 9-10. Mother's counsel objected
suggesting that DHS did not present evidence of a grave
threat to Child. Id. at 10. In response, DHS
presented the case manager's testimony that Child
reported (1) her sibling sexually abused her when Child and
sibling were in Mother's care, (2) Mother and Child's
sibling taught Child sexual behaviors, and (3) Child placed a
firearm against her own head because her Mother told Child
she was "bad." Id. at 16-18. DHS's
counsel indicated that child protective services reports were
made in September, and the matter was "being
investigated." Id. at 18. Moreover, DHS's
counsel averred, "I believe [the reports] have been
substantiated." Id. The court determined that
visitation with Mother constituted a grave threat to Child
and ordered visitation be permanently suspended unless it
occurred in a therapeutic setting. Id. at 19.
the December 16, 2015 hearing, the trial court entered a
permanency review order memorializing its suspension of
visitation. Permanency Review Order, 12/16/15, at 1. However,
the court did not change the permanent placement plan of
reunification. See id. at 1. Additionally, the court
directed that CUA refer Mother for a parenting capacity
evaluation and that Mother continue with therapy. See
id. at 2. The court scheduled a permanency review
hearing for March 2016.
trial court also entered a separate aggravated circumstances
order finding the existence of aggravated circumstances and
directing the cessation of efforts "to preserve the
family and reunify [Child and Mother]." Aggravated
Circumstances Order, 12/16/15, at 1. In that order, the court
directed that a hearing be held within thirty
hearing was not held within thirty days of the trial
court's aggravated circumstances order, and the matter
proceeded to a permanency review hearing held on March 16,
2016, before a new presiding judge. At that hearing, DHS
initially recited the procedural history of the matter. DHS
called the CUA case manager to testify. During the
witness's testimony, the court interceded and the
following exchange occurred:
THE COURT: So let me just say this. Given that on December
16, 2015[, the prior judge] made the finding, no efforts are
to be made to preserve the family, reunify [Child] with
[Mother] we don't have to go through objectives on
[Mother] and where she is and everything like that because
that's the court order. So there was no appeal taken of
that December 16th order and therefore that stands. So I
don't need any objectives put on the record as to
[Mother] because the Court has already made a finding that
there are to be no efforts to reunify.
[Mother's counsel]: Your Honor, just one clarification
note. Your Honor is in agreement that [M]other can still make
her own efforts, isn't that correct?
THE COURT: I don't know what that looks like because
right now she doesn't have visits because they've
been suspended at the recommendation of the therapist. And
[the CUA case manager] just testified that that is still the
recommendation of the therapist, no contact, no visits.
[Mother's counsel]: But, Your Honor, there's much
more thorough recommendations in the report, that I think you
were just handed, from [the Children's Crisis Treatment
THE COURT: Okay.
[Mother's counsel]: You know, in terms of reasonable
efforts even if the department has no affirmative obligation
the parent's rights are not terminated yet and she has
the right to make her own efforts.
THE COURT: Well considering that the order was made that
there are no efforts to be made as to reunification,
reunification is no longer the permanency goal. The
permanency goal for [Child] now goes to either adoption or
[permanent legal custody ("PLC")].
[Mother's counsel]: Your Honor, that goal was not changed
and we didn't have a goal change hearing for that.
THE COURT: Well I'm changing the goal because essentially
it was already done at the last court date. If [Mother]
doesn't have to work on objectives and the Court has
already said very clearly on December 16th that no efforts
are to be made to preserve the family and reunify [Child]
with [Mother], then essentially there is no reunification
goal. The goal is adoption or PLC, whichever is appropriate
in this case. And it really would ...