IN THE INTEREST OF D.F., A MINOR APPEAL OF: S.S., NATURAL MOTHER
from the Order October 6, 2016 In the Court of Common Pleas
of Indiana County Orphans' Court Division at No(s):
BEFORE: PANELLA, J., DUBOW, J., and FORD ELLIOTT, P.J.E.
("Mother") appeals from the Order entered by the
Indiana County Court of Common Pleas on October 6, 2016,
terminating her parental rights with respect to D.F. (d/o/b
August 2015) ("the Child"). After careful review, we
gleaned the following salient facts from the certified
record. The day after the Child's birth, hospital staff
contacted the Indiana County Children and Youth Services due
to Mother's history with CYS and her hostile and
uncooperative behavior with hospital personnel. When CYS
arrived at the hospital, Mother admitted to the caseworker
that she had used prescribed medications against doctor's
recommendations throughout her pregnancy. She then refused to
submit to a drug screening. A psychiatric evaluation
conducted in the hospital revealed that Mother was at high
risk for drug and alcohol addiction.
the hospital discovered THC in the Child's umbilical
cord, CYS obtained a Protective Custody Order. The court
granted custody of the Child to CYS on August 21, 2015, and
CYS placed the Child in a licensed foster care home upon
discharge from the hospital.
September 3, 2015, the court adjudicated the Child dependent,
with a goal of return to parent. See Trial Ct. Op.,
dated 11/7/16 at 1. The court developed a family service plan
and ordered Mother to complete a parenting assessment, drug
and alcohol assessments, and psychological and parental
capacity evaluations, and to follow all recommendations from
the service providers.
court held permanency review hearings on December 10, 2015,
April 14, 2016, and August 11, 2016. Mother attended the
first hearing, but did not attend the subsequent hearings.
While Mother did complete a parenting class, and some drug
and alcohol treatment, her overall compliance with the Family
Service Plan was inconsistent.
August 29, 2016, CYS filed a Petition for Involuntary
Termination of Parental Rights pursuant to 23 Pa.C.S. §
2511(a)(1), (2), (5), (8), and (b).
October 6, 2016, the day of the hearing on the termination
petition, Mother's counsel informed the Orphans'
court that Maternal Grandmother had called counsel's
office the day before to request a continuance due to
Mother's allergies. Counsel thereafter unsuccessfully
attempted to contact Mother on a phone number supplied by
Maternal Grandmother. Counsel further informed the court that
Mother had notice of the termination hearing, and that she
and Mother had discussed the upcoming hearing "several
times over the course of the last few weeks, " but that
Mother stopped communicating with counsel and the telephone
number counsel had for Mother was disconnected as of two days
prior to the hearing. N.T., 10/6/16, at 6. Counsel further
stated that she had again attempted to contact Mother from
chambers using a phone number supplied by the Maternal
Grandmother prior to the hearing, but Mother had not
informed the court that it had sent a car to Mother's
house that morning to take her to the termination hearing;
however, the driver had knocked on the door for 20 minutes,
but no one answered.
guardian ad litem argued for the denial of
counsel's continuance request in light of Mother's
past non-appearances at important appointments, visits with
the Child, and court hearings. See id. at 8.
trial court denied the motion for the continuance "based
upon the representations made with regard to notice to
[Mother.]" The hearing proceeded. Id.
presented testimony from, inter alia, an expert
witness, psychologist Carol Hughes, and CYS caseworker Becky
McAfoos. Ms. Hughes testified that she had conducted a
bonding assessment, and concluded that the Child, while
responding well to Mother's affection, has no significant
attachment to Mother. Ms. Hughes opined that severing the
bond with Mother would not harm the Child. She further
testified that the Child is securely attached to his
foster/pre-adoptive mother, who provides for his emotional,
physical, and medical needs.
Ms. McAfoos testified that Mother has not been consistent
with mental health services, drug and alcohol treatment, drug
testing, or visits with the Child. With respect to
Mother's mental health treatment, the court admitted
documents showing Mother's failure to utilize the
services made available to her as part of her family service
plan. Community Guidance Center had discharged her for
non-compliance, reporting that she had continued to use
substances while in treatment along with medication and
refused to follow recommendations. N.T., 10/6/16, at 29. A
second provider, Family Counseling Center of Armstrong
County, reported that Mother had failed to appear for all
five scheduled appointments. Family Psychological Associates,
a third provider, reported that Mother completed an
evaluation with a psychologist, who determined that Mother
has bi-polar disorder and cannabis use disorder in early
remission. However, Mother cancelled all but one session with
respect to Mother's drug and alcohol treatment, Ms.
McAfoos testified that after Mother's initial in-patient
treatment in October 2015 and for 90 days thereafter,
Mother's outpatient attendance at programs was
consistent. Thereafter, her attendance dropped off, and she
provided diluted urine samples or occasionally refused to
provide samples as required by the family service plan. One
sample tested positive for THC after the Child's
placement. See id. at 33-37.
McAfoos also testified that Mother attended 32 out of 76
scheduled visits with the Child. Mother had reported that
various physical ailments prevented her from attending
visits. Ms. McAfoos stated that although Mother "had
'moments of progress, ' … her periods of
consistency never lasted more than four weeks." Trial
Ct. Op., dated 11/7/16, at 4; N.T. at 42, 48.
Mother's bond with the Child, Ms. McAfoos testified that
the Child interacts with Mother as if Mother were one of
Child's day care workers. She stated that the Child is
emotionally bonded with the foster/pre-adoptive mother.
Finally, she testified that Mother "is not able to take
care of herself, let alone [the Child]." Id.
Child's guardian ad litem stated that it would
be in the Child's best interest to terminate Mother's
parental rights as the record is "very clear that she
has been given ample time and opportunity to try to become a
better parent ...