FAMILY LAW

Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights • Condition Leading to Removal • Partner’s History of Child Sexual Abuse

In re O.M.H., PICS Case No. 14-0366 (C.P. Berks Jan. 24, 2014) Keller, J. (12 pages).

Mother’s parental rights were properly terminated where she continued to associate with child’s father after learning of his extensive history of sexually abusing children. Appeal should be denied.

The court of common pleas involuntarily terminated mother’s parental rights of child who was in custody of youth services from birth and for more than 12 months.

In determining whether to terminate parental rights, courts apply a two-part test. See In re L.M., 923 A.2d 505, 511 (Pa. Super. 2007). The first part focuses on the parent, i.e., whether there is clear and convincing evidence that parent’s conduct satisfies statutory grounds for termination under 23 Pa.C.S. §2511(a). If such evidence is presented, the focus shifts to the needs and welfare of child, a major focus of which is the effect on the child of permanently severing the parental bond.

Here, mother’s parental rights were properly terminated under §2511(a)(5)(with agency for at least six months, conditions which led to removal continue to exist and parent will not remedy within reasonable time), and (a)(8) (with agency for at least 12 months, conditions which led to removal continue to exist, and termination in best interest of child). As child has been in custody of youth services for more than 12 months, the issue is whether conditions which led to removal continue to exist. Youth services presented clear and convincing evidence that these conditions continue to exist and that there are no services available to help mother remedy these conditions within a reasonable period of time.

The main condition which led to child’s placement was mother’s failure to recognize the risk that her paramour posed to her minor children and mother’s inability to protect the child from future harm. Mother’s paramour and the biological father of the subject child, has a significant history of inappropriate sexual contact with children. Unaware of this history, mother allowed her minor children to have unsupervised contact with her paramour, including allowing him to bathe her older daughters. Most alarming, however, is that mother maintained contact with paramour after she learned of his criminal history and after he had been charged with rape and indecent assault of pre-school aged children. Mother also continuously minimized paramour’s history of inappropriate sexual contact with minors.

Mother continues to fail to recognize that she is endangering her children. Psychiatrist concluded mother was unable to place the needs of her children above her own, that mother rationalized the inequities of her paramour and that no therapy or medication would change these conditions. Another expert in the field of non-offending parent treatment believed that mother failed to internalize or benefit from any of the treatment she received. After treating mother for over a year (46 sessions), mother has minimal insight into the problems which initially brought her to treatment and would require close monitoring to protect herself and her children from harm. If a parent appears incapable of benefiting from the reasonable efforts supplied over a realistic period of time, termination may be granted. In re Interest of Lilley, 719 A.2d 327 (Pa. Super. 1998).

As to the second prong of the test, there is no doubt that termination of mother’s rights will serve the best interests of child. Mother is unable to safely provide for child’s needs. Moreover, it is not the bond between mother and child that must be analyzed, but the effect, if any, that permanently severing this bond would have on child. Child has been in youth service custody since birth, she is positively bonded to her foster family, and terminating mother’s parental rights and severing what little bond remains between them will have no permanent effect on child.

Furthermore, youth service exhibits were properly introduced into evidence as business records. Exhibits concerning paramour were admitted to show the severity of his history of inappropriate sexual contact with children and mother’s poor judgment in allowing paramour to have unsupervised contact with her children and in failing to remove him from her life. These documents were only relevant for that purpose, and were properly considered on this limited basis.