In order to have a stake in the outcome of a dependency matter, one must be a 'party.'
By Nichole A. Collins, Grandparent's Rights Attorney, Harrisburg, PA
I have become involved in several cases where my clients do not possess 'standing' and, therefore, the right to 'intervene' in a child depedency matter. To move for intervention in a dependency case, a person is to show an interest in the case that is substantial, direct, and immediate. Under the Juvenile Act, standing is a distinctly legal question that does not address the merits of the adjudication or the propriety of the permanency goal, and the grounds for standing are narrow.
Standing is a Legal Question to Be Determined by the Court
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. 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. In re J.S., 2009 PA Super 141, 980 A.2d 117 (2009).
The Courts have held that parties who do not have standing in an ongoing dependency proceeding should not be allowed to intervene in such proceeding. By 'standing', the courts mean the right to file pleadings, present evidence, cross-examine witnesses, etc. It means that they can become an active participant in the matter.
Some Examples of Who Lacks Standing from Caselaw
Parties who have been held to lack standing to participate in dependency proceedings include-
- The child's biological mother, when her parental rights have been previously terminated, and there is no court order awarding legal custody of the child to the mother at any point after termination of her parental rights. In re D.M., 2010 PA Super 86, 995 A.2d 371 (2010).
- The child's foster parents, when they do not have legal custody of child. In re D.M., 2010 PA Super 86, 995 A.2d 371 (2010).
The child's grandparent or grandparents, when they do not have legal custody of the child. In re D.M., 2010 PA Super 86, 995 A.2d 371 (2010).
An aunt that was not in loco parentis at the time of placement into the agency's custody. In the Interest of: G.D.v.D.D., 2013 Pa. Super. LEXIS 67 (2013).
Despite the Right to Legally Intervene There is Much that Can Be Done
Even though a grandparent (natural or step) may not have the right to legally intervene in the child's dependency matter, they may, nonetheless, offer support to the parent or guardian that is attempting to regain custody of the child. For instance, the grandparent may do the following:
- Assist in providing financial support to the natural parent or guardian so that they may achieve the goals set forth by the agency;
- Advise the Agency that you would like to become a kinship care provider for the child;
- Be a daycare provider for the child (if permissible);
- Make sure that the parent or natural guardian is taking the necessary steps to ensure that they meet the Agency's goals;
- Go to court with the parent to show the Agency and the court that you are serious about your role in supporting the parent/guardian.