In re P.G.F.

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Contrary to Pennsylvania law, P.G.F. was denied any opportunity to voice his preferred outcome regarding the petition to terminate his father’s parental rights when his attorney declined to ascertain P.G.F.’s preferred outcome and inform P.G.F. of the circumstances surrounding the termination of parental rights (TPR) petition.

Juvenile Law Center and Community Legal Services, Inc., joined by more than a dozen advocacy organizations, filed an amicus brief in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Our brief argued that the legal interest at stake for a child in a termination of parental rights proceeding are of great legal significance and that the termination decision has a tremendous impact on a child’s familial relationships and future.  The legal interests at stake in termination proceedings are distinct from the child’s custodial preferences. We further argued that counsel for a child’s legal interest in a TPR hearing must advise the child in an age-appropriate manner, and must ascertain and advocate for that child’s preferred outcome in the termination petition.  In ascertaining the child’s preferred outcome, counsel should explain the circumstances surrounding the termination petition and its consequences.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that counsel acted appropriately in opting not to provide P.G.F. with relevant information regarding his biological father and in not explicitly explaining the consequences of the TPR proceedings.  In a dissenting opinion, Justice Wecht stated that counsel “did not give [P.G.F] the facts necessary to make an informed assessment of his situation . . . . To permit an attorney to withhold vital information from a child in a contested TPR defeats and destroys that child’s voice and role in the process.”