Mother’s parental rights termination will stand

Altoona woman incarcerated for drug offenses

An Altoona mother of three who is incarcerated for drug offenses has lost her bid to overturn a ruling by Blair County Judge Timothy M. Sullivan terminating her parental rights.

In 2017, the 34-year-old mother was sentenced to a lengthy prison term for repeated drug violations that included an accusation that she was among the leaders of a drug-trafficking organization importing large amounts of heroin into the Altoona area.

Twenty-two months ago, after the mother was transferred to the State Correctional Institution at Muncy, the judge, at the request of Blair County Children, Youth & Families, terminated her parental rights after hearing testimony from various professionals that the children, 12, 10 and 8, were suffering from post traumatic stress and other complications due to the mother’s drug activities and her abuse.

The mother, through Ebens­burg attorney Richard M. Corcoran, appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

The appeals court late last year vacated the judge’s termination order because it was not clear how the children felt about termination.

The Superior Court within the last two years has emphasized that children in an involuntary termination case have a right to legal representation so their opinions become part of the record that a judge must consider before coming to a decision.

Sullivan appointed Al­toona attorney Beverly J. Mears to represent the three boys, and Mears, after meeting with each youngster, reported that the children were content living with relatives and did not object to termination of the mother’s rights.

In February, Sullivan re-entered his order, and the mother’s appeal was returned to the Superior Court contending “the evidence was insufficient to show it was in the children’s best interests to terminate (the mother’s) parental rights. …”

The defense emphasized that the mother, although incarcerated for a 10- to 20-year period, made efforts to maintain a relationship with the children.

However, the Superior Court disputed the defense claims, pointing out the mother’s letters to her children contained “inappropriate” content, and it noted she made no other attempts to contact the children.

The case actually began in 2009 when the oldest child was 3 years old.

At that time, Blair County child welfare intervened because of complaints that the children were receiving inadequate care from the mother and father.

Both parents eventually were incarcerated, and the children were placed in the care of relatives.

In 2015, the children were returned to the mother but were taken away again in 2016 upon reports of the mother’s abuse.

In May 2017, she was sentenced to the lengthy prison term.

On Friday, a panel that included Judges James Gardner Colins, Judith Ference Olson and Paula Francisco Ott, stated that after several hearings before the Blair County judge, “The evidence supported termination as mother’s incapacity — namely, her long periods of incarceration and inability to properly and appropriately parent children — could not be remedied.”

The judges stated that two things were clear from the record:

n When the mother was not in prison, she continued to abuse and neglect the children.

n While in prison, she made “little or no attempt to provide any sort of parenting to child.”

The court concluded there was no bond between the mother and her children, stating that one of the children requested that attorney Mears stop referring to the mother as his mother.

The appeals court opinion concluded, “All three children expressed concern regarding mother’s ability to make decisions regarding their care and custody; all three children were clear and consistent in their requests that mother’s rights be terminated.”