Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

In re Z.V.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

March 23, 2017


         Appeal from the Order Entered March 16, 2016 in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County Family Court at No(s): CP-51-DP-0001269-2015



          FITZGERALD, J.

         D.S. ("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").[1] 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 proceedings.

         The 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.

         On May 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.

         On July 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.

         On 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.

         DHS 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.

         Following 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.

         The 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 days.[2] Id.

         A 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 Center].
[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 ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.