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In re C.K.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

June 5, 2017

In the Interest of: C.K., A Minor Appeal of: Allegheny County Office of Children, Youth and Families In the Interest of: N.L., A Minor Appeal of: Allegheny County Office of Children, Youth and Families

         Appeal from the Order August 30, 2016 in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County Family Court at No(s): CP-02-DP-0001320-2014, CP-02-DP-0001321-2014



          STRASSBURGER, J.

         Allegheny County Office of Children, Youth and Families (CYF) appeals from the order entered August 30, 2016, in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, wherein the trial court determined CYF did not make reasonable efforts to finalize the permanency plan for minor children, N.L., born in January 2009, and C.K., born in August 2011, (collectively, Children). We affirm.

         K.C. (Mother) is the mother of both Children. J.K.-T (Father) is the father of C.K.[1] On September 29, 2014, the trial court adjudicated Children dependent and "highlighted Mother's experience of domestic violence and [] Children's exposure to domestic violence as primary issues to be addressed." Trial Court Opinion, 11/23/2016, at 2. Children were removed from Mother for a third time on October 29, 2014, and have remained in the same foster care placement ever since. Id. At the time of the order at issue, the permanency goal was "return to parent or guardian" with a concurrent goal of adoption. Id.; Order, 8/30/2016, at 1.

         Approximately one year after Children's third removal, Dr. Rosenblum, a psychologist, conducted a series of updated evaluations concerning the family.[2] See Psychological Evaluation, 10/27/2015 & 10/29/2015, at 1. In Dr. Rosenblum's opinion, after undergoing counseling and experiencing a stable family life with their foster parents, Children had "made progress in dealing with extensive anxieties and emotional insecurities stemming from their past exposure to domestic violence and substance abuse difficulties on the part of their parents." Id. at 11. Nevertheless, N.L. "continue[d] to evidence concerning emotional insecurities, anxiety and a lack of confidence which stems from the trauma and instability that she experienced when living with [Mother and Father]." Id.

         After opining that Mother had developed "very little insight" into the changes she needed to make, Dr. Rosenblum recommended that, inter alia, CYF refer Mother "for family therapy sessions with [Children] at a program like Three Rivers Adoption Coun[ci]l (TRAC), " stating he was "not convinced that [Mother] fully underst[ood] the impact [on Children of] being exposed to domestic violence and other sources of trauma in their family life." Id. He concluded that Mother needed "to be given every opportunity to succeed with her desire to reunify with [Children]" but opined that alternative permanency goals may be necessary for Children if Mother did not begin to "demonstrate significant changes with her personal functioning and lifestyle." Id.

         After admitting Dr. Rosenblum's evaluation into the record at the next permanency hearing on November 17, 2015, the trial court ordered "CYF to explore inclusion of Mother in Children's therapy, and facilitate Mother's participation if indicated by therapist." Order, 12/20/2015, at 3. The trial court elaborated further.

As emphasized in previous orders, resolution of the [domestic violence] issues in this matter is critical to [] Children's safety and well-being and to successful reunification. Dr. Rosenblum's reports address the effects of exposure to domestic violence on [N.L.] in particular.
[N.L.] is participating in treatment at [Center for Traumatic Stress], and treatment there for [C.K.] is being pursued. [Children's foster father] testified that the therapist would like [Mother and Father] to participate in this therapy in some way. This should be pursued. At the moment, the Court questions Mother's understanding of the impact of [domestic violence] on [] Children….
The Court is equally concerned about Father's understanding of the [domestic violence] issues and his commitment to ensuring that they are resolved.

Id. at 5.

         By the next permanency hearing on February 9, 2016, N.L. had completed therapy at the Center for Traumatic Stress. Order, 3/11/2016, at 4. Mother had not participated in N.L.'s therapy, but the record does not indicate whether CYF consulted with the therapist to determine if Mother's participation was advisable. N.T., 2/9/2016, at 19, 53. Therapy was pursued for C.K., but it was unclear whether Center for Traumatic Stress would accept her due to her age. Id. at 22-23; Order, 3/11/2016, at 4. By the time of the hearing, C.K. was working with an in-home behavioral therapist in the foster home to address an increase in concerning behaviors, and N.L. was scheduled to begin mobile therapy the following month.[3] Order, 3/11/2016, at 4.

         Regarding family therapy, the trial court stated "[d]espite Dr. Rosenblum's recommendation and the Court's directive that CYF explore options for Mother and [] Children to participate in family therapy, the worker did not make a referral for that until about 3 weeks prior to today's hearing." Order, 3/11/2016, at 4. The order also stated that "[t]he [trial court] believes that family therapy for Mother with [] Children is important and would be beneficial regardless of the form of permanency that is ultimately to be achieved. It may be beneficial for Father to have the opportunity to participate in family therapy as well." Id. at 4. Consequently, the trial court ordered "CYF to implement family therapy for Mother with Children." Id. at 2.

         On March 22, 2016, Mother filed a motion to enforce the court order for a referral to family therapy, requesting that the trial court (1) hold CYF in contempt for failing to arrange the therapy; (2) find that CYF failed to make reasonable efforts dating back to the date of Dr. Rosenblum's evaluation; and (3) toll the timeframes under the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA)[4] from the date of the evaluation until the therapy began. Motion, 3/22/2016. The trial court denied all requested relief except for ordering that "[t]he issue of the adequacy of the agency's efforts to implement family therapy is preserved for the next regularly scheduled permanency review." Order, 3/31/2016, at 1.

         The following month, Mother filed another motion to enforce the court order, alleging that the therapy CYF had arranged through A Second Chance was inadequate because the therapist was not aware she was to provide trauma therapy. Motion, 4/29/2016. On May 3, 2016, the trial court granted the motion and ordered the following.

CYF is to ensure that appropriate trauma based therapy is in place for the family to address the impact domestic violence has had on [C]hildren and to carry out the recommendations regarding family therapy made in Dr. Rosenblum's evaluation in the fall of 2015 and the [c]ourt's subsequent orders. CYF to involve Dr. Rosenblum and any other appropriate consultant to CYF in ensuring that the treating professional has an accurate understanding of the intended focus of the therapy.

Order, 5/3/2016, at 1.

         On May 25, 2016, the trial court began the next permanency hearing but did not finish. Order, 5/31/2015, at 1. During the hearing, the caseworker testified that a few days after the February 9, 2016 hearing, she learned that the family-based therapy provider CYF had arranged to work with the family prior to the February hearing would not accept the case. N.T., 5/25/2016, at 26, 49. According to the caseworker, CYF then had a hard time finding a provider, but in March 2016, A Second Chance agreed to provide therapy. Id. at 26, 50. Due to scheduling conflicts, only one session had occurred. Id. The caseworker admitted that she originally told A Second Chance that the purpose of the therapy was to address "things that are going on in the court" so Children were not "confused." Id. at 51. After receiving the trial court's May 3, 2016 order, the caseworker sent Dr. Rosenblum's October 2015 evaluation and dependency court orders to A Second Chance, clarifying that the purpose of the therapy was to address the effect of domestic violence on the family. Id. at 26, 35-36, 51. At that point, A Second Chance informed CYF that it could provide therapy but it would not be trauma-based. Id. at 51.

         CYF also consulted with Dr. Rosenblum after the trial court ordered the agency to do so on May 3, 2016. Id. at 26, 36, 51. Dr. Rosenblum informed CYF he recommended TRAC to provide trauma-based services, the same agency he suggested in his October 2015 evaluation. Id. at 26, 36. CYF then referred the family to TRAC sometime in early May 2016. Id. at 26. TRAC accepted the family for services, but its next opening was not until June 2016. Id. at ...

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