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Judge ordered to reconsider baby’s placement

Sullivan supported request to put child in foster care rather than with his father

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has instructed a Blair County judge to reconsider his decision to keep a newborn child in a foster home rather than placing the baby with his father.

Judge Timothy M. Sullivan in May supported a decision by Blair County Children, Youth & Families to place a 3-month-old child in foster care.

According to the Superior Court, testimony showed the mother “has a history of substance abuse, domestic violence, untreated mental health issues and unstable housing.”

The testimony in the case also showed that mother was drinking while pregnant and was not receiving prenatal care.

In the past, she also lost her parental rights to four older children who were either placed in foster care or adopted.

These facts, the Superior Court concluded in an opinion issued last week, supported Judge Sullivan’s finding that that the child was “dependent,” and should be placed in a foster home.

The question before the Superior Court was whether the child, born out of wedlock, should remain in foster care or be placed with the father, whose background is quite different from that of the mother.

The father is a veteran who was honorably discharged after a six -year tour of duty.

He works in construction, has a stable home and lives with relatives who have agreed to help him with the care of the child.

The father also maintains contact with the child and has received good reports from a representative of a local agency that supervises twice-a-week visits by him. It was testified that he “does well during the visits and … only missed one out of 14 visits due to illness.”

He wants the child to live with him and stated during the court hearing that he has experience caring for babies.

He said he was unaware of the mother’s troubled background until Blair County Children, Youth and Families came to the hospital to take custody when the child was born.

The agency lists two possible goals for the child: to live the father or to be adopted.

While both parents maintain they are no longer in a romantic relationship, they remain friendly, and the Blair judge expressed concern the father will allow the mother, who “poses a direct safety risk to child,” unsupervised visits .

The father’s Blair County attorney, David Axinn, argued to the appeals court that the child welfare agency “failed to establish there was a clear necessity to place child in foster care and the trial court erred with it entered that disposition.”

A concern that the mother would have unsupervised contact with the baby could be addressed by having a local agency implement services in the father’s home, the father’s attorney argued before the Superior Court.

The Superior Court panel, including Judges Judith F. Olson and Alice B. Dubow and President Judge Emeritus Correale F. Stevens, has asked Sullivan to take another look at the case.

The appeals court judges explained the law by stating, “a child may not be separated from his or her parent unless the trial court finds that separation is clearly necessary.”

With that as the background, the court concluded, “We instruct the trial court to consider the totality of the evidence when making these findings, including evidence presented by (CYF) that the father had appropriate housing, had full-time employment, had experience caring for a child, had no criminal history, had no history with the agency and consistently attended visitation where he interacted appropriately with child.”

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