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New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. M.P.

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


October 5, 2007

NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
M.P., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.
NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
I.R., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.
IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF A.P., A MINOR.

On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Hudson County, Docket No. FG-09-224-06.

Per curiam.

RECORD IMPOUNDED

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted September 24, 2007

Before Judges C.S. Fisher and C.L. Miniman.

In this appeal, we review a judgment terminating the parental rights of defendants I.R. and M.P. to A.P., a female child born on February 4, 2005. In separate appeals, which we consolidated, I.R. and M.P. argue that the Division of Youth and Family Services (Division) failed to prove each prong of the test contained in N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a) by clear and convincing evidence. After careful examination of the record in light of the arguments posed, we conclude there was ample credible evidence to support the judge's findings and affirm.

During a two-day trial, Judge Bernadette N. DeCastro heard testimony from the Division's case manager and received in evidence numerous exhibits offered by the Division. I.R. was present during the trial but did not testify; M.P. did not attend.

In her written opinion, Judge DeCastro correctly recognized that to obtain a termination of parental rights, the Division was obligated to prove by clear and convincing evidence that:

(1) The child's safety, health or development has been or will continue to be endangered by the parental relationship;

(2) The parent is unwilling or unable to eliminate the harm facing the child or is unable or unwilling to provide a safe and stable home for the child and the delay of permanent placement will add to the harm . . .;

(3) The division has made reasonable efforts to provide services to help the parent correct the circumstances which led to the child's placement outside the home and the court has considered alternatives to termination of parental rights; and

(4) Termination of parental rights will not do more harm than good. [N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a).]

See also N.J. Div. of Youth & Fam. Serv. v. A.W., 103 N.J. 591, 604-11 (1986).

The record reveals that because of substance abuse -- I.R. acknowledged using heroin and alcohol before, during, and after her pregnancy with A.P. -- the child was born addicted to heroin and suffered severe withdrawal symptoms. Having been born prematurely, A.P. was underweight; she was classified as medically fragile. As a result, a "hospital hold" was placed on the child's release and, following her hospital stay, A.P. was placed in the Division-approved foster home where she currently resides.*fn1

On February 23, 2005, less than three weeks after the birth of A.P., I.R. acknowledged in a drug assessment interview that she had experienced episodic homelessness for sixteen years, had been unemployed for two years, received the majority of her financial support from public assistance, spent approximately $100 per month on drugs, and had snorted two to three bags of heroin two days earlier.

In the wake of A.P.'s birth, I.R. expressed a desire to obtain long-term inpatient drug treatment and, through the Division's efforts, was placed in a treatment facility on March 8, 2005. I.R., however, left the facility after only two days.

A week later, she was admitted to a hospital in New York for inpatient detoxification, but departed after three days, refusing further treatment.

The record also demonstrated that, like I.R., the child's father, M.P., had a lengthy history of substance abuse that continued unabated after the child's birth. For example, evidence revealed M.P.'s acknowledgement to a Division worker that, as a result of heroin and alcohol use, he was "high" during a supervised visit with A.P. The judge also found that M.P. was under the influence during other visits with the child; she found that, on one occasion, M.P. nodded off while holding the child.

On April 14, 2005, the trial judge ordered both defendants to attend substance abuse and psychological evaluations, and to engage in parenting skills training. The Division scheduled a number of appointments that both defendants failed to keep. By the time of trial, I.R. had not completed a substance abuse program, and M.P. had not even engaged in a substance abuse evaluation.

Judge DeCastro found that the facts we have only cursorily summarized, as well as others more fully discussed in her written decision, clearly and convincingly demonstrated that each of the four prongs of the statutory test had been met. Our task is not to second-guess those findings but rather to determine whether they are based on credible evidence in the record. If so, the applicable standard of review requires that we defer to the judge's findings unless we are convinced they are "so wholly unsupportable as to result in a denial of justice." In re Guardianship of J.N.H., 172 N.J. 440, 472 (2002); Cesare v. Cesare, 154 N.J. 394, 411-12 (1998). We are satisfied that Judge DeCastro's findings are entitled to our deference and, thus, affirm substantially for the reasons thoroughly set forth in her thoughtful and comprehensive written opinion.

Affirmed.


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