On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Sussex County, FG-19-12-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted November 7, 2007
Before Judges Grall and Chambers.
In separate appeals, which we have consolidated, L.L., the mother, and T.A., the father, appeal from the decisions terminating their parental rights to their three children, T.J.A., born in November 1998, T.M.A., born in January 2000, and B.A., born in December 2000. L.L. also had two older children, H.L., born in January 1994, and J.L., born in December 1995, and she appeals from the decision terminating her parental rights to these children as well. A.G., the father of the two older children, H.L. and J.L., was dismissed from this case, and no issues regarding his parental rights are before us.*fn1 The law guardian for the children and the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) have filed briefs in support of the trial court's decision.
DYFS became involved with this family on June 24, 2004, at the request of Monroe County Children and Youth Services of Pennsylvania (MCCYS). MCCYS was attempting to assist the family due to the mother's drug use, the family's lack of stable housing, and the diabetic condition of H.L. Further, H.L. and J.L. had been removed from school before the end of the school term. When L.L. reported to MCCYS that she and her family had moved to a motel in New Jersey, MCCYS gave DYFS the address.
DYFS's initial investigation revealed no neglect of the children. L.L. had a supply of insulin for H.L. sufficient for one month. However, in a urine test thereafter administered at the request of DYFS, L.L. tested positive for cocaine.
On August 2, 2004, the police contacted DYFS. After having a fight with T.A., L.L. had left the motel with the three youngest children (the oldest two were at camp), and went to a local bar where she got into an altercation with two patrons. She then left and was arrested driving her van while intoxicated. Her three youngest children, then ages three, four and five, were in the vehicle, without the protection of car seats. The police were unable to return the children to T.A. because he also was intoxicated.
DYFS obtained custody of the children on August 3, 2004, due to the events that preceding night. The children were described as dirty with heavy body odor. They were placed with foster parents. One child, B.A., was diagnosed as failing to thrive and is now diagnosed as medically fragile. The foster parents discovered that another one of the older children lacked basic habits essential for hygiene. Statements from some of the children indicated domestic violence between the parents. Although both parents initially denied any domestic violence, L.L. later acknowledged domestic violence.
In 1998, L.L. had been arrested in Arizona for driving while under the influence of alcohol. In May 2004, she was involved in a head on collision in Pennsylvania when driving while intoxicated and was charged with aggravated assault and driving while under the influence of alcohol.
In early 2005, L.L. successfully completed a twenty-eight day inpatient program for substance dependency. At the behest of DYFS, she also attended anger management and domestic violence programs, and couples and individual counseling, and participated in the requested psychological and bonding evaluations.
Dr. Frank Dyer, the psychologist who evaluated L.L. and appeared on behalf of DYFS, described L.L. as a person with alcohol and substance abuse problems who was in denial. While finding L.L. articulate, bright and personable, he also noted that she has an anxiety disorder and a personality disorder with vulnerability to severe depression. He concluded that she "should not be considered as a viable candidate for custody of any of the children." L.L.'s own psychological expert, Dr. Mark Singer, stated in his March 14, 2006, report that the "psychological data does not support reunification at this time" and that L.L. is unable to "provide her children with a safe, stable, and consistent home environment at this time." He listed nine steps, including counseling and therapy, for L.L. to take in order to assist her in becoming "a more viable placement option for her children."
T.A., the father of the three youngest children, works in an auto body shop in Pennsylvania. He has a limited history of substance abuse. While Dr. Dyer found T.A. to be intelligent, articulate and personable, the Doctor also indicated that T.A. had a personality disorder "notable for an anti-social component." Most significantly, T.A. has been passive in these proceedings. He missed the two mediation sessions and a court hearing that offered an opportunity to put together a plan of reunification. Of the eleven hearing dates scheduled in this matter, he attended only one in person and participated telephonically in five. Of the fifty-seven visits scheduled with the children from the time of their removal until the trial, T.A. attended only fourteen. He did not appear for his bonding evaluation with Dr. Singer, although he did attend the bonding evaluation conducted by Dr. Dyer. While some of these absences can be explained by his demanding job, Dr. Dyer ...