Judge Sullivan’s parental rights decision to stand

Superior Court says mother can not provide safe, stable, nurturing environment

A September decision by Blair County Judge Timothy M. Sullivan to terminate the parental rights of the mother of a 1-year-old boy has been upheld by the Pennsylvania Superior Court, which concluded the mother is “incapable of parenting a child.”

In a 14-page opinion written by Superior Court Judge Victor P. Stabile and issued Monday, it was stated that while the mother maintained a bond with the child, the strength of the bond was “questionable” and that “preserving the parental rights would serve only to deny the child the benefits of a permanent, safe and stable home.”

Blair County Children, Youth & Families, the county’s child welfare agency, removed the youngster from the mother’s custody when he was 4 months old with court approval.

The agency became aware that the mother was not following through on advice from in-home service providers concerning her parenting skills.

The mother, it was contended, had intellectual limitations and was failing to take prescribed medication to address her mental health issues.

When caseworkers went to her residence, they found the mother “holding the young child inappropriately” and saw the child’s head was “significantly flat and that the child was not responding to the mother.”

The home was “cluttered,” and there was an individual there with an active arrest warrant.

The child was placed in foster care, and throughout the past year, the mother was granted supervised visitation.

After a series of lengthy hearings, the court terminated the mother’s parental rights and an appeal was filed by Ebensburg attorney Richard M. Corcoran, questioning if the county agency had produced competent evidence to warrant termination.

Corcoran argued that the mother, who is referred to only by her initials in the Superior Court opinion, had a strong bond with the child.

The child cried when the mother would leave after her visitations, and an agency visitation supervisor testified that the mother and child had “a good bond.”

But other testimony indicated that the child becomes upset whenever any female in the room leaves and that the child also has a bond with the foster mother.

The agency also reasoned that the child has bonded with his foster parents, their biological children and is “comfortable” in the foster home.

Bonding, however, is not the only concern that the court considered when examining the termination request, the Monday opinion pointed out.

The trial court focused on the infant’s safety needs and intangibles such as love, comfort, security and stability the child might have with the foster parents, it was reported.

The mother, Sullivan found, had significant mental health issues, which she wasn’t addressing. She was living with her father, who also suffered from mental health problems, and she admitted that she was “sad and depressed every day.”

She had intellectual problems as well, and her relationship with the child’s father was described by a caseworker as “tumultuous and even violent.”

“When considered together, these issues confirm that mother cannot provide the safe, stable and nurturing environment the child needs,” according to the Superior Court opinion that was joined in by Judges Jack A. Panella and Mary Jane Bowes.

The opinion concluded that Judge Sullivan did not abuse his discretion in terminating the mother’s parental rights.