Parents lose rights to child

Girl has spent nearly entire life in foster care

The Pennsylvania Superior Court in separate opinions Tuesday terminated the parental rights of a Blair County couple whose child was placed in the custody of a foster family a month after her birth.

The child is almost 2 years old, and the state appeals court on Tuesday ruled that Blair County Judge Timothy M. Sullivan did not abuse his discretion by terminating the parental rights of the couple, despite testimony that both parents were “very loving and nurturing” during brief visitations they have been granted.

The father, represented by Altoona attorney Brandon T. Ryan, presented an unusual argument by the father.

The judge found that the child had a strong bond with her pre-adoptive foster parents and that no real bond existed between the child and her father.

The father, however, “insists that a necessary and beneficial bond forms the moment a parent first sees his or her child,” stated the Superior Court opinion written in the father’s case by Judge Victor P. Stabile.

The opinion also noted that a caseworker for Blair County Children, Youth and Families testified during the termination proceedings in January that the father was “nurturing” toward his daughter and that the daughter doesn’t hesitate to go to him.

A caseworker for Family Intervention Crisis Services in Blair County added that child “appears to love father and they definitely have a connection.”

But as Judge Sullivan pointed out, in his opinion, the child has spent nearly her entire life in foster care, and aside from a brief period in which the father and mother lived together, the only contact with the parents has been through supervised visits.

The Superior Court opinion concluded, “Our case law is clear that it takes more than mere biology to form a bond worthy of preservation.”

That bond must include stability, safety and security for the child over an extended period of time, it said.

“Under the circumstances, it was reasonable for (Sullivan) to conclude that father and child do not share a necessary and beneficial bond,” according to the appeals court opinion.

The Superior Court ruled the same in the opinion dealing with the mother’s parental rights.

Judge Sullivan found that while the mother’s visits with the child go well, the bond between the two is “not strong.”

The Superior Court stated that the child’s foster parents have been her primary source of stability, safety and security throughout her life.

“Thus, the record supports (Sullivan’s) finding the child shares a significant bond with her foster parents, and that terminating mother’s parental rights will best serve the child’s needs and welfare by allowing her to achieve permanence through adoption into (the foster) family,” the Superior Court stated.

According to the opinions handed down by the Superior Court, Blair County child welfare took custody of the baby a month after her birth because the father struck the mother while she was holding her.

Both parents were given reunification goals that included psychological evaluations, mental health treatment and participation in domestic violence programs — the father to attend Men Helping Men, and the mother completing the Women Aware non-offender domestic violence program.

While both parents made progress, they failed drug screens — the mother for marijuana use, the father for opiate and marijuana use.

A psychologist warned also the father was a “high risk” for future violence, and a decision was made to seek termination of parental rights after yet another violent incident between the two last December.

The Superior Court opinion, in a footnote addressing the father’s case, stated that criminal charges from the December incident were withdrawn “after mother began dating the police officer who filed them.”

Under recent Supreme Court and Superior Court decisions, the child is to be represented by an attorney.

Judge Sullivan ruled that in view of the child’s

age, the court-appointed Guardian Ad Litem, who is to represent the child’s “best interests,” could also serve as the child’s attorney, addressing her “legal interests.”

The child in the two cases was represented by Blair County attorney Aimee Louise Willett.

Willett did not submit a brief on behalf of the child but “did send this court a letter joining arguments contained in CYF’s brief.”

That brief was prepared by CYF attorney William Ray Brenner.