Wednesday, July 22, 2009

dependency - foster parents - intervention - standing

In the Interest of J.S. - Superior Court - July 21, 2009

Foster parents do not have standing to intervene in a dependency proceeding under 42 Pa.C.S. § 6336.1, even where the placement goal was changed from reunification with parents to adoption to subsidized permanent legal custodianship.

The grounds for standing in dependency proceedings are narrow. “Only a ‘party’ has the right to participate, to be heard on his or her own behalf, to introduce evidence, and/or to cross-examine witnesses.” Id. at 3 As CYF accurately observes, Foster Parents did not stand in loco parentis because their status as foster parents was subordinate to CYF, who maintained legal custody and was primarily responsible for the child’s care and custody. In re N.S., 845 A.2d 884, 887 (Pa.Super. 2004); In re Adoption of Crystal D.R., 480 A.2d 1146, 1151-52 (Pa.Super. 1984).
In L.C., II, this Court identified the only three classes of individuals that are conferred standing to participate, introduce evidence, be heard on their own behalf, and cross-examine witnesses during a dependency hearing: “(1) the parents of the juvenile whose dependency status is at issue; (2) the legal custodian of the juvenile whose dependency status is at issue, or (3) the person whose care and control of the juvenile is in question.” We further explained, “These categories logically stem from the fact . . . the court has the authority to remove a [dependent] child from the custody of his or her parents or legal custodian, [and] [d]ue process requires that the child’s legal caregiver . . . be able to participate and present argument in the dependency proceedings.” Id. at 381.

Here, Foster Parents do not fall within any of the foregoing definitions of a “party.” They are not J.S.’s parents. They are not the child’s legal custodian. It is beyond argument that CYF has maintained legal custody of J.S. since the adjudication of dependency on October 20, 2005. Finally, Foster Parents are not the people whose care and control is in question; herein, it is Mother and Father whose care is being challenged.

Accordingly, Foster Parents do not have standing in the underlying dependency proceeding. See In re L.C., II, supra; See also In re F.B., 927 A.2d 268, 273 (Pa.Super. 2007).