Termination of father’s rights upheld by court

Man objected to loss of his rights, wanted child placed with family

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has agreed with a Blair County judge who terminated the parental rights of a Blair County father because there was no evidence the child ever had a real relationship with her dad.

The father, who has been in and out of prison for the past four years, admitted that he was unable at this time to provide a home for the youngster, but he objected to the termination of his parental rights and supported a suggestion the child be placed with relatives of the mother.

Blair County Judge Timothy M. Sullivan issued a ruling last July terminating the father’s rights and rejecting attempts to place the child with relatives of the mother.

Blair County Children Youth and Families took custody of the youngster and tried placement with the child’s maternal great-grandmother, but the move did not work out.

Subsequently, child welfare changed their goal to adoption.

The youngster was placed in a foster home where, an agency representative testified, she is doing well and has become part of the family.

The Superior Court ruling by a three-judge panel was the second opinion issued in January involving a review of decisions by Blair County judges on rights of parents who have become drug-addicted and have landed in prison.

Judge Wade Kagarise, 10 days ago, issued an opinion rejecting a proposal that a mother’s parental rights be terminated, pointing out that the mother, even while spending more than two years in prison, had maintained contact with her child.

In the opinion issued last Friday, the father, who had served time in both Blair and Cambria counties, had a spotty relationship with his preschool-age child.

“In foster parents’ care, (the) child is receiving the structure and attention she needs. Conversely, (the) father offered no testimony of any interaction with child. There is no record evidence that child even knew her father, let alone that she had a bond with him such that she would suffer any harm from permanently removing him from her life,” according to the opinion issued by Superior Court Senior Judge Eugene B. Strassburger.

He was joined in the opinion by judges Jacqueline O. Shogan and H. Geoffrey Moulton.

The case took a tragic turn last October.

The mother, who originally had custody of the child, died unexpectedly.

Sullivan had terminated the parental rights of both the mother and father.

The Superior Court had to decide if it should continue its review of the mother’s separate appeal in view of her death.

The court determined there were no Pennsylvania cases to provide direction, but, referring to a federal court case, the Pennsylvania judges concluded the mother’s death “renders the appeal moot,” which means any opinion on the mother’s rights at this point would have no “practical effect on the existing controversy.”

The mother, like the father, had a criminal history, including a positive drug test for amphetamines and marijuana in June 2013, when the child was only a year old.

Her drug abuse continued, and in May 2015 Sullivan granted custody to a relative of the mother and allowed only supervised contact between the child and her parents.

The Blair County judge held several days of hearings before ruling on the case, according to the Superior Court decision.

The final point made by the Superior Court referred to the father’s suggestion that placement of the child with the mother’s relatives was the appropriate solution.

Determination of a dependent child is not based on the wishes of a parent, the opinion stated. “More importantly, the courts of this Commonwealth have long held that a child’s life simply cannot be put on hold in the hope that a parent will summon the ability to handle the responsibilities of parenting.”