In re K.T.

Docket Number37 WAP 2022,38 WAP 2022,J-79A-2022,J-79B-2022
Decision Date21 June 2023
CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court



Nos. 37 WAP 2022, 38 WAP 2022

Nos. J-79A-2022, J-79B-2022

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

June 21, 2023

ARGUED: November 29, 2022

Appeal from the Order of the Superior Court entered June 2, 2022 at Nos. 1245 WDA 2021, 1279 WDA 2021 affirming the Order of the Court of Common Pleas Allegheny County entered October 13, 2021 at No. CP-02-AP-197-2019.




In this discretionary appeal, we are asked to determine whether the court that denied a county agency's petition for involuntary termination of a mother's parental rights gave "primary consideration to the developmental, physical and emotional needs and welfare of the child" as required by 23 Pa.C.S. §2511(b). More specifically, we explore whether the court evaluating the parent-child bond must determine whether the bond is


necessary and beneficial to the child, and severing the bond would cause the child to experience extreme emotional consequences, rather than a mere "adverse" impact. Upon review, we find error and thus (1) vacate the orders below, and (2) remand to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. Background

The Child K.T. was born on June 17, 2016. Allegheny County Office of Children, Youth and Families (CYF) first became involved with her when she tested positive for cocaine at birth; CYF had been involved with Mother since 2009 regarding an older child. During CYF's investigation, Mother admitted use of marijuana and alcohol and CYF deemed her housing unstable. CYF referred Mother for a drug and alcohol abuse assessment with Pennsylvania Organization for Women in Early Recovery (POWER), as well as housing assistance and in-home services with Family Resource. CYF also required Mother to begin regular urine drug screenings.

Prompted by continued housing instability, a report of intimate partner violence between Mother and Child's biological father,[1] and Mother's failure to follow through with service referrals, CYF sought a finding of dependency on January 26, 2017. Prior to the dependency hearing, CYF removed Child under an Emergency Custody Authorization (ECA) on March 7, 2017, due to a report Mother "allegedly became physical" with one of her older children who dropped Child.[2] N.T. Termination Hearing, 3/22/21 at 15. On March 27, 2017, the dependency court found Child dependent and ordered all contact between Mother and Child to be supervised. Child was placed with a foster parent and


adoptive resource, her godmother, in June 2017. The court also ordered Mother to complete a drug and alcohol assessment, related treatment, and urine drug screenings.

For more than two years, while Child remained in her foster home, and prior to CYF filing for termination, Mother was inconsistent with participation in CYF's recommended services.[3] During this time, she continued to struggle with her sobriety, mental health, and behavior, relapsing after treatment programs, testing positive on five occasions for substances, and gaining a criminal record of five summary citations, some involving her children, as well as aggressive behavior.[4]


Prior to CYF's filing for termination, Mother attended most visits with Child which were typically scheduled for three times a week. Visits were both supervised and unsupervised. In October 2018, the court permitted Mother to have unsupervised, overnight visits with Child, but by February 2019, Mother's visits were moved back to supervised due to concerns about her sobriety. In April 2019, the court gave permission to move back to unsupervised visits, but before these could begin, Mother tested positive for substances and the court granted CYF's request visits remain supervised. Mother also failed to return Child timely on two occasions, and once required CYF to seek a court order returning Child to its custody. See Order to Take Child into Custody, 6/19/19. Although Mother stabilized her housing by May 2019, CYF had ongoing concerns with Mother's continued substance abuse, recent criminal offenses, and failure to return Child in a timely fashion, and by August 2019, Child's permanency goal was changed to adoption. See N.T. 3/22/21 at 29-30.[5] By this time, Child was three years old and had not lived with Mother since June 2017.[6]

A. Termination Proceedings

In October 2019, CYF filed a petition to involuntarily terminate Mother's parental rights, and the court conducted a hearing over two days. CYF presented seven witnesses:


Amanda McCloy, a CYF caseworker; William Pipkins, family transportation supervisor with Second Chance, the organization that scheduled, supervised, and provided transportation for a portion of Mother's visits with Child; Myelodie Turner, Mother's caseworker with Second Chance; Brett Basic, police detective dispatched for the incident resulting in Mother's August 2019 disorderly conduct offense; Ronald Bobick, police officer dispatched to assist in the enforcement of an ECA for Mother's older child L.W.; Ryan Miller, police sergeant dispatched for the incident resulting in Mother's October 2020 guilty pleas on criminal mischief and harassment citations; and Neil Rosenblum, Ph.D., court-appointed clinical psychologist who performed three individual and interactional evaluations of Mother, Child, and Foster Mother. Mother presented three witnesses: Daniel Garrighan, facility director of Jade Wellness Center where Mother received drug and alcohol outpatient services starting in August 2020; Jawana Warren, site director at the Clairton Family Center where Mother completed parenting classes in October 2020; and Lisa Penn, program manager with POWER.

Dr. Rosenblum testified regarding his three evaluations, conducted in May 2018, January 2020, and November and December 2020. See N.T. Termination Hearing, 5/13/21 at 73. His testimony covered his assessment of Mother's mental health and substance abuse, Child's relationship and interactions with Mother and Foster Mother, and his ultimate opinion that adoption best serves Child's needs and welfare.

Dr. Rosenblum diagnosed Mother with mixed personality disorder with borderline and antisocial features. See id. at 82. He testified Mother "has consistently shown signs of a mood disorder," "does present with . . . a pattern of difficulty focusing[,] . . . tends to be emotionally reactive to stress . . . [and] has difficulty controlling her anger at times."


Id. at 75, 83. He explained Mother was forthcoming about substance abuse, but struggles "to understand the role of drugs in her life." Id. at 79. Dr. Rosenblum testified Mother made some progress but ultimately issued a guarded prognosis for her improvement because personality disorders are difficult to treat and require "years of counseling, combined with maturity and, in [Mother]'s case, probably psychotropic medication[.]" Id. at 82-83.

Regarding the bond between Mother and Child, he testified that Child is "always glad to see [Mother]," "loves her[,]" and enjoys spending time with her, but Child's relationship with her is "more ancillary" and "playful" like a "big sister" or "aunt." Id. at 84, 90, 93. He said Mother is "nurturing" and "affectionate[,]" but "tends to be comfortable with creating an emotional dependency." Id. at 85, 87. She is not "as focused on helping [Child] to expand her developmental competencies and to build her self-esteem." Id. at 87. Specifically, he noted, in the last two evaluations, Mother "spent more time focus[ed]" on "[Child]'s appearance," suggesting "she's not getting adequate physical care" with Foster Mother, than "engaging [Child] in positive activities." Id. at 85-86. He further testified "I think it makes [Child] uncomfortable." Id. at 86. He went on to explain "[i]t is pretty well-known that [Mother] and [F]oster [M]other do not get along" and "[F]oster [M]other indicates that [Mother] has harassed her[.]" Id. at 85.

Dr. Rosenblum further testified that Child "receives excellent, outstanding care from her [F]oster [M]other" and "[h]er primary attachment is definitely to her [F]oster [M]other." Id. at 88, 90. He testified "[F]oster [M]other does a particularly good job of building [Child's] confidence and encouraging her[.]" Id. at 87. He explained "[Child] has developed attachments, healthy attachments, to her [F]oster [M]other[ and] her foster


siblings[.]" Id. at 89. He explained her foster home "is the foundation of her emotional well-being." Id. at 121.

The court also questioned Dr. Rosenblum. When the court asked whether "[M]other could mature to a point where she would be in a position to assume a safe and secure family environment," Dr. Rosenblum replied:

Not for this child, no. Again, I believe the die has been cast. Attachment is most critically formed in the - between one to two years of life. This child has lived now almost five years in the same home. I think she has a secure foundation, a secure relationship with her primary caregiver. I would say the verdict would be out as to whether birth mother might ever be in a position to parent a child successfully. But for this child I believe there would be significant trauma . . . for her to be removed from this home. So I don't see a very favorable prognosis even if mother was functioning significantly better than she is now, which, again, there's no guarantee. But I think for this child the train has left the station quite some time ago.

Id. at 126-27. Finally, in response to the court's question if "[C]hild should be allowed to maintain some degree of contact with [M]other[,]" Dr. Rosenblum further testified:

Yeah. I always - almost always feel that way. I don't believe that [Mother]'s malicious towards [Child]. I think her love is genuine. . . . [I]f we were

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