IN THE INTEREST OF: T.J.J.M., A MINOR APPEAL OF: C.M., FATHER IN THE INTEREST OF: T.M., A MINOR APPEAL OF: C.M., FATHER
from the Order Entered August 4, 2017 In the Court of Common
Pleas of Philadelphia County Family Court at No(s):
BEFORE: OTT, J., McLAUGHLIN, J., and RANSOM [*] , J.
("Father") appeals from the August 4, 2017 decree
involuntarily terminating his parental rights and the order
changing the placement goal to adoption with respect to his
female child, T.J.J.M. a/k/a T.M. ("Child"), born
in July of 2016. Upon careful review, we vacate and remand
in accordance with the following decision.
was born prematurely at 35 weeks gestation, and she had
cocaine, opiates, and benzodiazepines in her system. Trial
Court Opinion, 11/27/17, at 3; N.T., 8/4/17, at 38-39. She
remained hospitalized for approximately three months. N.T.,
8/4/17, at 42. Around the time of Child's birth, the
apartment where Father and Mother resided sustained property
damage due to a flood. Id. at 68-69. Upon
Child's discharge from the hospital in October of 2016,
Father did not have housing. Id. at 68. The court
placed Child in the care of the Department of Human Services
("DHS"). The court adjudicated Child dependent on
October 28, 2016, and assigned her the placement goal of
reunification. DHS did not request a finding that aggravated
circumstances existed as to Father. As such, there is no
order attributing aggravated circumstances to him.
was required to satisfy Single Case Plan ("SCP")
goals to attend supervised visitation at the office of the
Community Umbrella Agency ("CUA"), and to
participate in a parenting and housing program. N.T., 8/4/17,
at 42. The CUA scheduled weekly visitation for Father with
Child. Id. at 43. Father attended three supervised
visits after Child's discharge from the hospital in
October 2016, which "went pretty well."
Id. at 43, 69-70. In October 2016, subsequent to his
supervised visits, Father was incarcerated for a probation
violation. Id. at 43, 101. Father remained
incarcerated for two months. Id. Upon his release,
Father was required to reside in a self-help program for 90
days. Id. at 88-89.
caseworker's first contact from Father after his release
from prison was on February 23, 2017, when he was in the
self-help program. Id. at 43. By that time, Father
had obtained employment, for which he explained he was on a
probationary period for an unspecified amount of
time.  Id. at 92. Father attended two
supervised visits at an unspecified time in 2017, but he did
not consistently attend visits thereafter because of his work
scheduleand his responsibilities and/or
restrictions in the self-help program. Id. at 44,
48. Specifically, Father testified that the CUA office was a
distance by public transportation of approximately one hour
and 45 minutes from his place of employment. Id. at
92. Nevertheless, the CUA caseworker testified that Father
stayed in contact with her on "at least [a]
monthly" basis. Id. at 45-46.
accommodate his work schedule, the CUA scheduled one Saturday
visit for Father with Child, and, on June 30, 2017, Father
confirmed that he would attend the visit. Id. at 73,
76. However, the visit did not occur because the foster
parent was unavailable to bring Child. Id. at 73,
76. There is no evidence that the CUA attempted to
accommodate Father's schedule for supervised visits
during April, May, or June of 2017. Id. at 77-81.
During Father's phone call to the CUA caseworker on June
30, 2017, wherein he confirmed the Saturday visit, Father
informed the caseworker that, effective July 17, 2017, his
work schedule would change, and that he would be available
for supervised visits during the agency's daytime hours.
Id. at 46, 78-79.
respect to his parenting and housing goals, the CUA referred
Father to the Achieving Reunification Center
("ARC") on December 14, 2016. Id. at 48.
Father reported to ARC for his orientation meeting on
December 20, 2016, but ARC closed his case on February 23,
2017, due to his non-participation. Id. at 48; DHS
April 19, 2017, DHS filed a petition for the involuntary
termination of Father's and Mother's parental rights
pursuant to 23 Pa.C.S. § 2511(a)(1), (2), (5), (8), and
(b). On the same date, DHS filed a petition for a goal change
August 4, 2017, a hearing occurred on the petitions, during
which DHS requested termination of Father's parental
rights pursuant to Section 2511(a)(1), (2), and (b). DHS
presented the testimony of the CUA caseworker, Amanda Mosley.
Father testified on his own behalf. Mother did not appear for
the hearing, but she was represented by counsel. Child was
represented by a Child Advocate and a Guardian Ad
conclusion of the testimonial evidence, counsel for the
parties made closing arguments. See N.T., 8/4/17, at
112-121. The GAL stated, in part, "I don't think
[Father's] got [sic] a settled intent to abandon the
child and I think that he's made some strides towards
(inaudible) the dependent issues which brought the case to
[c]ourt. So I'm not sure [DHS has] met its burden. And
I'd hate to lose the possibility of [him as a]
reunification resource. . . ." Id. at 115.
Thereafter, the trial court granted the involuntary
termination petition on the record in open court pursuant to
23 Pa.C.S. § 2511(a)(1) and (2). Id. at 126.
The court did not address Section 2511(b) on the record in
terminating Father's parental rights. Further, the court
did not dispose of the goal change petition on the record in
decree dated and entered on August 4, 2017, the court granted
the involuntary termination petition pursuant to 23 Pa.C.S.
§ 2511(a)(1), (2), (5), (8), and (b). By separate
permanency review order dated August 4, 2017, the court
changed Child's goal to adoption. Father timely filed a
notice of appeal along with a concise statement of errors
complained of on appeal pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a)(2)(i)
and (b), which this Court consolidated sua sponte.
The trial court filed its Rule 1925(a) opinion on November
On appeal, Father presents the following issues for our
1. Did the [t]rial [c]ourt commit reversible error, when it
involuntarily terminated Father's parental rights where
such determination was not supported by clear and convincing
evidence under the [A]doption [A]ct, 23 Pa.C.S.A. §
2511(a)(1), (2), (5), and (8)?
2. Did the [t]rial [c]ourt commit reversible error, when it
involuntarily terminated Father's parental rights without
giving primary consideration to the effect that the
termination would have on the . . . developmental, physical
and emotional needs of the child as required by the
[A]doption [A]ct, 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 2511(b)?
3. Did the [t]rial [c]ourt commit reversible error, when it
terminated Father's parental rights and changed the
child's goal to adoption as substantial, sufficient, and
credible evidence was presented at the time of trial which
would have substantiated denying the [p]etition for [g]oal
4. Did the [t]rial [c]ourt commit reversible error when it
involuntarily terminated Father's parental rights and
changed the child's goal to adoption where Father was not
provided adequate services for a sufficient period of time?
Father's brief at 4.
begin with Father's third and fourth issues regarding the
goal change order, which we review for an abuse of
discretion. In re R.J.T., 9 A.3d 1179, 1190 (Pa.
2010). The Juvenile Act provides that it "shall be
interpreted and construed as to effectuate" its
purposes. 42 Pa.C.S. § 6301(b). The Juvenile Act's
first purpose is "[t]o preserve the unity of the family
whenever possible or to provide another alternative permanent
family when the unity of the family cannot be
maintained." 42 Pa.C.S. § 6301(b)(1).
Juvenile Act provides that the court shall conduct periodic
permanency hearings "for the purpose of determining or
reviewing the permanency plan of the child, the date by which
the goal of permanency for the child might be achieved and
whether placement continues to be best suited to the safety,
protection and physical, mental and moral welfare of the
child." 42 Pa.C.S. § 6351(e)(1). Specifically,
Section 6351(f) provides as follows, in relevant part.
(f) Matters to be determined at permanency hearing.-
At each permanency hearing, a court shall determine all of
(1) The continuing necessity for and appropriateness of the
(2)The appropriateness, feasibility and extent of
compliance with the permanency plan developed for the
(3) The extent of progress made toward alleviating the
circumstances which necessitated the original placement.
(4) The appropriateness and feasibility of the current
placement goal for the child.
(5) The likely date by which the placement goal for the
child might be achieved.
(5.1) Whether reasonable efforts were made to finalize the
permanency plan in effect.
(6) Whether the child is safe.
. . .
(9) If the child has been in placement for at least 15 of
the last 22 months or the court has determined that
aggravated circumstances exist and that reasonable efforts
to . . . preserve and reunify the family need not be made
or continue to be made, whether the county agency has filed
or sought to join a petition to terminate parental rights
and to identify, recruit, process and approve a qualified
family to adopt the child. . . .
42 Pa.C.S. § 6351(f)(1)-(6), (9) (emphasis added).
"These statutory mandates clearly place the trial
court's focus on the best interests of the child."
In re S.B., 943 A.2d 973, 978 (Pa. Super. 2008)
(citation omitted). "Safety, permanency, and
well-being of the child must take precedence over all other
considerations." Id. (citation omitted)
(emphasis in original). Moreover, the burden is on the
child welfare agency "to prove the change in goal
would be in the child's best interest." In re
D.P., 972 A.2d 1221, 1227 (Pa. Super. 2009).
Father asserts that he was "working full time, "
which "was the best way to obtain the stable housing
needed for him to be reunited" with Child.
Father's brief at 19-20 (citation to record omitted).
Father argues that changing Child's placement goal to
adoption was against the weight of evidence, as follows.
Despite being in regular contact with the CUA social
worker, DHS and CUA failed to offer Father any visits at a
time that was compatible with his work schedule. Similarly,
Father is willing to attend parenting and housing classes,
but was not offered these services at a time compatible
with his work schedule. If DHS and CUA worked with Father
to establish a consistent visitation schedule and other
reunification services that did not conflict with his work
schedule he would be able to complete his goals, reunite
with [Child] and preserve the family.
Id. at 20 (citations to record omitted). For the
following reasons, we are constrained to agree.
juvenile court's certified record indicates that the
first permanency review hearing occurred on March 9, 2017,
which found minimal compliance by Father with the
permanency plan. Contrary to Section 6351(f)(5), the order
did not include the likely date by which the goal might be
achieved. On April 19, 2017, DHS filed the petition for a
goal change, which was approximately six months after Child
was placed. The next permanency review hearing occurred on
June 8, 2017, which maintained the placement goal of
reunification, but made no findings with respect to either
parent's compliance. Like the first permanency review
order, the June 8, 2017 order did not include the likely
date by which the goal might be achieved. Thereafter, on
August 4, 2017, the goal change/termination hearing
occurred, at which time Child was in placement for ten
months, less than the statutory 15 - 22 months provided for
in Section 6351(f)(9). The August 4, 2017 goal change order
found that there was no compliance by Mother with the
permanency plan, but omits any finding with respect to
the subject proceedings, Ms. Mosley, the CUA caseworker,
testified that Child was placed because Father did not have
housing at the time of Child's discharge from the
hospital. N.T., 8/4/17, at 68. She testified that Father
was appropriate at the visits she supervised, and that the
visits "went pretty well." Id. at 69-70.
Ms. Mosley testified that Father has been cooperative with
her. Id. at 83.
undisputed that Father worked full-time and had maintained
communication with Ms. Mosley regarding scheduling
supervised visits. There is no evidence that Ms. Mosley
attempted to accommodate Father's work schedule more
than once, by scheduling a Saturday visit sometime after
June 30, 2017, which never occurred because of the
unavailability of Child's foster parents. Father
testified that his new work schedule gives him off on
Fridays. However, he testified that Ms. Mosley told him
that the foster parents are only available on Mondays -
Wednesdays, which are impossible for him due to his work
schedule. Id. at 94-95. Father testified that it
would be easier for him to visit with Child if she were
placed in kinship care with her maternal aunt, who resides
in South Philadelphia.  Id. at 95, 97.
respect to his parenting and housing goals, the CUA
referred Father to ARC on December 14, 2016, four months
before filing the petition for the goal change. Father
testified that he was in contact with ARC regarding his
work schedule, and that he and the agency tried to work
around it but had been unsuccessful. Id. at 95.
Father testified that he is willing to participate in the
required classes. Id.
Mosley testified that Child currently receives early
intervention services, which includes occupational therapy,
and she is under the care of a medical specialist for
gastrointestinal issues. Id. at 40. DHS did not
present any evidence concerning Child's daily
medical needs. As such, DHS did not focus on whether Father
is capable of meeting Child's medical
sum, the court issued the goal change order when Child had
been in placement for approximately ten months, and no
likely date had ever been set for the achievement of
Child's placement goal. Father participated in three
supervised visits immediately after Child's placement
and before his incarceration and two visits on an
unspecified date after his release from prison. Upon his
release, Father secured full-time employment, and he was
working to obtain housing and be reunited with Child.
Father maintained communication with the CUA caseworker
after he secured employment in an attempt to resolve the
conflict between his work schedule and the requisite
supervised visitation. Likewise, Father communicated with
ARC in an attempt to resolve the conflict between his work
schedule and the requisite parenting and housing classes.
Finally, the record reveals that Child is not
placed with a pre-adoptive resource, and that the foster
parents are limited in their availability to bring Child to
supervised visits. Based on the foregoing, we conclude that
the evidence does not support changing Child's
placement goal to adoption. Therefore, the trial court
abused its discretion in issuing the order, and we are
constrained to vacate.
follows that we agree with Father's first and second
issues on appeal, that the court abused its discretion in
terminating his parental rights. We review these issues
according to the following standard.
The standard of review in termination of parental rights
cases requires appellate courts to accept the findings of
fact and credibility determinations of the trial court if
they are supported by the record. If the factual findings are
supported, appellate courts review to determine if the trial
court made an error of law or abused its discretion. A
decision may be reversed for an abuse of discretion only upon
demonstration of manifest unreasonableness, partiality,
prejudice, bias, or ill-will. The trial court's decision,
however, should not be reversed merely because the record
would support a different result. We have previously
emphasized our deference to trial courts that often have
first-hand observations of the parties spanning multiple
In re T.S.M., 71 A.3d 251, 267 (Pa. 2013) (citations
and quotation marks omitted).
Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745, 747-748 (1982),
the United States Supreme Court held, "Before a State
may sever completely and irrevocably the rights of parents in
their natural child, due process requires that the State
support its allegations by at least clear and convincing
evidence." In addition, the Court explained:
The fundamental liberty interest of natural parents in the
care, custody, and management of their child does not
evaporate simply because they have not been model parents or
have lost temporary custody of their child to the State. Even
when blood relationships are strained, parents retain a vital
interest in preventing the irretrievable destruction of their
family life. If anything, persons faced with forced
dissolution of their parental rights have a more critical
need for procedural protections than do those resisting state
intervention into ...