On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Cape May County, Docket No. FN-05-42-03D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted August 14, 2007
Before Judges Sabatino and Baxter.
F.H. is the maternal grandfather of D.H. (David),*fn1 who was nearly eight years old at the time this litigation concluded. David had been living with his grandfather ever since he was six months old. F.H. appeals from a June 21, 2006 order terminating the protective services litigation filed by the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS); permitting David to remain in the legal and physical custody of DYFS; and approving DYFS's plan to proceed with termination of the parental rights of David's mother, H.H.
On appeal, F.H. argues that the trial court erred by approving a permanency plan for David*fn2 that eliminated him as a suitable caregiver, thereby permitting DYFS to proceed with its plan to seek guardianship of David and ultimately place him for adoption, which would in all likelihood result in the severing of F.H.'s ties with his grandson. F.H. further argues that the court incorrectly concluded that DYFS had made "reasonable efforts" to prevent the need for removing David from his home, as required by N.J.S.A. 30:4C-11.1(b). We have thoroughly reviewed the record, disagree with the arguments raised by F.H., and affirm.
Early in 1999, David began living with his grandfather F.H. and his grandmother P.H. David's mother, who had a serious substance abuse problem, was not actively involved in raising him and was living in Alabama at the time. DYFS began providing services to F.H. and P.H. in 2002 after DYFS received a referral alleging that the grandmother had psychiatric problems and that the grandfather was taking methadone due to an opiate addiction caused by neck and back injuries. During a routine follow-up visit, the DYFS worker concluded that neither F.H. nor P.H. was able to control David's aggressive tendencies, and she referred the family to Family Preservation Services for in-home services and to the Center for Family Services (CFS) for substance abuse counseling.
On November 21, 2002, DYFS received a report from CFS that both F.H. and P.H. were failing to cooperate with drug treatment services. This, combined with a drug counselor's report that she was concerned about the grandmother's abuse of prescription medication, caused DYFS to file a complaint seeking care and supervision of David on December 11, 2002. On January 2, 2003, during a hearing held on the return date of the order to show cause, Judge Kyran Connor ordered that DYFS continue to provide care and supervision of David, and he approved DYFS's plan to continue the grandparents' custody of David, on condition that they cooperated with substance abuse evaluation and treatment and provided random urine screens. The judge also ordered domestic violence assessments because of P.H.'s prior allegation of domestic violence against her by F.H. The order also restrained P.H. from having any unsupervised contact with David,*fn3
and she was ordered to comply with all psychiatric and mental health services that had been recommended after a recent psychiatric hospitalization. At the conclusion of that hearing, the court directed both grandparents to submit to urine drug screens, but they refused to cooperate.
Between the January 2, 2003 hearing on the order to show cause and the June 21, 2006 order from which F.H. appeals, Judge Connor conducted twenty-one hearings, which included three fact-finding proceedings, three removal hearings, ten compliance reviews, three show cause hearings and two permanency hearings.
We will not burden the record with a description of each of those proceedings,*fn4 but will instead summarize the salient portions of the record.
At a fact-finding hearing on May 14, 2003, F.H. stipulated that he "has had a substance abuse problem, i.e. pain medications and marijuana . . . [that] exposed [David] to a risk of harm." The court entered a judgment of abuse and ...