On October 22, 2012, the Honorable Scott D. Keller of the Berks County Court of Common Pleas Orphans’ Court Division issued a Memorandum Opinion recommending the Superior Court deny the appeal of his earlier decision to forever terminate the parental rights of Mother, S.T.S. (“Mother”) over her child, A.A.D. (“Child”). See In re A.A.D., No. 82559- Orphans' Court Division (Pa. Ct. Com. Pl. Berks Co., October 22, 2012). Specifically, following Involuntary Termination Proceedings held on September 10, 2012, Judge Keller found that Berks County Children and Youth Services (“CYS”) presented clear and convincing evidence that Mother’s parental rights should be terminated pursuant to 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 2511.
Among other things, Section 2511 provides that parental rights can be terminated by a petition to the court demonstrating that the parent: has refused or failed to perform parental duties for a period of at least six months prior to the petition date; is repeatedly or continuously incapacitated or has abused, neglected or otherwise caused the child to be without essential care, control or subsistence necessary for his physical or mental well-being and the conditions causing the incapacity, abuse, neglect or refusal cannot or will not be remedied; and/or a court has removed the child from the parent or the parent has voluntarily placed the child in the control of an agency for a period of six months and the conditions leading to the child leaving the parent’s care for six months will not be remedied within a reasonable amount of time. See 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 2511(a)(1)(2) and(5).
In his opinion, Judge Keller pointed out that terminating parental rights is actually a two-part test. Specifically, the Judge cited to In re L.M., 923 A.2d 505 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2007), which required that a party seeking termination must first prove by clear and convincing evidence that the parent’s conduct meets the statutory grounds stated in Section 2511(a). If the court finds that the parent’s conduct satisfies Section 2511(a), then the court must then determine what is in the best interests of the child. See 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 2511(b).
The tragic facts of this case supported Judge Keller’s finding that CYS established both parts of the test were fulfilled. Mother had a long history of substance abuse and mental health issues. Additionally, Mother was reported prostituting herself on the street late at night with her child with her. When CYS sent an emergency caseworker to Mother’s home to investigate that night, Child was found lying on the bed with Mother’s “paramour” sitting on the same bed in his boxers and drug paraphernalia was found in the house. That night, Mother voluntarily committed Child to CYS’s custody, where Child has since remained.
By Court order, Mother was directed to undergo drug and alcohol treatment, submit to random urinalysis, undergo parenting training, cooperate with mental health evaluation and establish and maintain appropriate housing and income. Mother did not fully comply with the Court’s order as of the date of the Involuntary Termination proceedings. Although Mother was involved in a residential treatment program and was residing at Berks Counseling Center for two months at the time of the Termination hearing, Judge Keller found that Mother’s two months of sobriety was not enough to assure that Mother will ever be able to sufficiently care for Child. Judge Keller noted that during the last two years, Mother was involved in six failed stays at residential treatment programs. Simply put, Mother could not provide for the needs and welfare of her child.
With respect to the second part of the test, Judge Keller found that it was in the best interest of Child to forever terminate Mother’s parental rights pursuant to Section 2511(b). The Judge found that, although Child loved Mother, Child had been removed from Mother’s care for more than six months and wanted nothing more than to know that Mother was okay. Child expressed no desire to live with, or be parented by, Mother. As such, Judge Keller concluded that the second part of the test to terminate parental rights was met.
Although termination of parental rights is a permanent and drastic remedy, it is available to the court in such extreme cases where the child’s health and welfare are at risk while in a parent’s care. A sad case to report on, but nonetheless the harsh realty that some people are in no position to be parents. You need to take a test and obtain a license to drive, but neither is required to become a parent of a child. Hopefully, Mother gets some needed help and turns arounds her life.