On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division-Family Part, Sussex County, Docket No. FG-19-11-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted: December 12, 2007
Before Judges Cuff and Lihotz.
We review an order terminating the parental rights of J.L., the father of five year old, L.B. J.L. contends that he received insufficient notice of the proceedings and the agency failed to provide sufficient services to avoid foster home placement and the eventual effort to terminate his parental rights. We affirm.
L.B. was born on January 31, 2002. At the time of her birth, J.L. was incarcerated and had been incarcerated for several weeks before her birth. T.B., the mother of L.B., was residing in Birth Haven and receiving services from the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) before and after the birth of the child. T.B. took the child to see her father in the Bergen County jail once when she was a baby. L.B. and J.L. have not seen each other since that visit.
T.B. married R.R. in December 2003.*fn1 T.B. had been diagnosed as suffering bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder, and her relationship with R.R. was volatile. The marriage was marked by domestic violence incidents and substance abuse. L.B. was removed briefly from her mother's care in September 2003. Shortly thereafter, L.B. was removed from her mother's care for a month when her mother acted erratically at the DYFS office. On March 13, 2004, L.B. was removed from her mother's care and placed in the care of the maternal grandfather. At this time, J.L. had just been released from a New York correctional facility and was residing in a men's shelter. Except for a two-month period on parole, he had been continuously incarcerated from January 11, 2002 until March 11, 2004. While J.L. was on parole, a DYFS worker called and left a message with his parole officer. Neither J.L. nor his parole officer called DYFS.
On July 13, 2004, DYFS initiated a second search for J.L. On January 26, 2006, DYFS located J.L. in another New York correctional facility. DYFS learned that this second incarceration commenced on September 27, 2005. J.L. was eligible for parole in April 2007; his term expired in September 2007. Between March 2004 and September 2005, J.L. did not see or have any contact with his daughter.
In April 2004, L.B. was moved to a foster home because her maternal grandfather was no longer able to care for her. L.B. returned to her mother's care on February 7, 2005. On January 26, 2006, L.B. was removed from her mother's care a fourth time and placed in foster care. In March 2006, L.B. was placed in the foster home in which she had resided during her third removal. On May 29, 2006, L.B.'s mother died. The child remains in the foster home in which she has resided since March 2006. Throughout most of the time L.B. was moved to and from her mother's care, J.L. was incarcerated. L.B. has experienced five caregivers other than her mother in her brief life.
DYFS filed a complaint for the care, custody and supervision of L.B. on January 27, 2006. Following T.B.'s death, DYFS filed this guardianship action on July 14, 2006. J.L. has participated throughout the course of this litigation.
Prior to the commencement of the guardianship action, J.L. offered his mother D.L. as a placement for his daughter. A psychological evaluation of the paternal grandmother was conducted to determine if she was an appropriate caretaker for L.B. The evaluator expressed concerns about her transient lifestyle, her possible instability, and her inconsistent employment history. The evaluator also expressed concerns about the paternal grandmother's ability to emotionally and financially support her granddaughter. When she did not cooperate in a home study, she was ruled out as a placement option for L.B.
At trial, L.B. was described as an emotionally fragile child. She had been in therapy since the death of her mother. Her therapist testified that the child's behavior started to regress a month or two after her mother's death. This regression was marked by tantrums and accidents at pre-school.
The therapist noted that L.B. has some speech delays that cause her difficulty in expressing her feelings. Her therapist testified that L.B.'s numerous placements prevented her from experiencing stability and consistency in her life. As a result, the child suffers separation anxiety in which she displays tantrums and crying when separated from her foster mother. The child has ...