February 27, 2008
NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF R.J.S., A MINOR.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Camden County, No. FG-04-64-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 9, 2008
Before Judges Wefing, R. B. Coleman, and Lyons.
E.Y.S. appeals from a trial court judgment terminating her parental rights to her son, R.J.S. After reviewing the record in light of the contentions advanced on appeal, we affirm.
On March 23, 2002, E.Y.S. gave birth to R.J.S. She was sixteen years old at the time and residing with her mother. In April 2003 E.Y.S.'s mother said she had to move out of the house. Unable to find any place to stay, she and R.J.S. eventually went to the Camden Police Department who contacted the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services ("DYFS"). DYFS arranged for E.Y.S. and her son to stay at a facility run by Covenant House in Atlantic City, but she did not remain there. DYFS arranged for a number of placements and programs for E.Y.S., but none were successful because she was unable to comply with the rules and structure. DYFS originally placed R.J.S. with E.Y.S. but eventually used separate placements for the two. R.J.S. had been in five different foster homes by the time he was placed with his current foster mother.
E.Y.S. has had involvement with the criminal justice system as well. E.Y.S. and R.J.S. had to leave one of the facilities when she was discovered to have a box cutter in her possession. The police were summoned, and when they took her into custody, they learned she had an outstanding warrant for a charge of shoplifting.
E.Y.S. was released from custody after several days, and DYFS arranged for her to stay first at the YES facility and then for her to enroll in a program known as Home Base. While there, E.Y.S. had problems both with discipline and with attending school. She did not complete the parenting classes that were recommended. While E.Y.S. was involved with these programs, R.J.S. stayed at three different foster homes.
DYFS attempted to find family members who would be willing to assume care of R.J.S. While his maternal aunt and maternal grandmother initially indicated an interest, they did not follow through. DYFS also explored the possibility of placing R.J.S. with an individual described variously as E.Y.S.'s godfather and uncle. When the caseworker went to visit him, she found his apartment to have an overwhelming odor of marijuana. When questioned, he candidly admitted to smoking marijuana regularly.
In January 2005 DYFS arranged for E.Y.S. to move into an apartment in Collingswood. E.Y.S. and R.J.S. had weekend visitation and were reunited in February 2005. By June 2005 E.Y.S. had been able to obtain employment, and DYFS closed its file.
In December 2005, however, DYFS was again contacted when R.J.S. was found wandering through the apartment complex, without winter clothing, and asking for food. DYFS took custody of R.J.S.; when his case worker asked if his mother left him alone, he answered that she did so frequently. DYFS placed R.J.S. in the foster home where he has since resided. E.Y.S. was arrested following this incident; she said she had left R.J.S. in the care of a babysitter and blamed the babysitter for leaving him alone. She subsequently entered a plea of guilty to third-degree child endangerment.
In August 2006 DYFS filed its complaint seeking to terminate E.Y.S.'s parental rights. The trial was relatively brief. DYFS presented the testimony of two of the caseworkers and Ronald S. Gruen, Ed.D., a psychologist who had evaluated E.Y.S. on several occasions and performed a bonding evaluation both of E.Y.S. and R.J.S. and of R.J.S. and his foster mother. Dr. Gruen concluded that E.Y.S. was "immature, vulnerable, needy, and irresponsible." In his opinion, she lacked the ability to be a responsible parent, and he saw very little likelihood of improvement in this regard. He also reported that no significant psychological bond existed between E.Y.S. and R.J.S. and that the boy would not suffer significant emotional harm if E.Y.S.'s parental rights were terminated. He also concluded that R.J.S. was doing very well in the care of his foster mother and was psychologically bonded with her. It was his opinion that R.J.S. would suffer significant emotional harm if he were removed from her.
E.Y.S. did not testify. She presented the expert report of David F. Bogacki, Ph.D. He diagnosed her with generalized anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder. His report stated that she did "not have the capacity to provide physical care of (sic) nurturance for her son." Dr. Bogacki did find "evidence of emotional attachment" between the two and said that R.J.S. would "likely suffer from some degree of emotional harm" if the parental bond was severed. He did not, however, state that this harm would be great or enduring.
At the end of the proceedings, the trial court placed a comprehensive oral opinion on the record, setting forth its findings of fact and conclusions of law. It entered a judgment terminating the parental bonds between E.Y.S. and R.J.S. E.Y.S. has appealed from that judgment.
On appeal, E.Y.S. raises the following issues:
SUBSTANTIAL CREDIBLE EVIDENCE DID NOT EXIST TO SUPPORT THE COURT'S FINDINGS THAT THE "BEST INTERESTS" TEST WAS PROVEN BY CLEAR AND CONVINCING EVIDENCE.
(A). DYFS FAILED TO SATISFY THE REASONABLE EFFORTS STANDARD BECAUSE IT UNILATERALLY CEASED ALL EFFORTS TO PROVIDE SERVICES TO THE DEFENDANT WITHOUT JUDICIAL APPROVAL.
(B). DEFENDANT IS ENTITLED TO A REVERSAL BECAUSE THE EVIDENCE WHICH WAS PRESENTED DID NOT SUPPORT A FINDING THAT TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS WOULD NOT DO MORE HARM THAN GOOD.
Having reviewed this record carefully, we reject these arguments. E.Y.S. was herself deprived of a stable and nurturing environment. She was not prepared for the responsibility of caring for a child for she was a child herself. She lacked the skills she needed to assume that responsibility. DYFS made more than sufficient efforts to provide services to E.Y.S. to help her overcome these deficits and to enable her to care for her son. She, however, rejected the assistance that was provided to her.
During R.J.S.'s young life, he was, as we noted earlier, uprooted repeatedly until arriving at the home of his foster mother. R.J.S. has found the stability that was denied to him earlier. To remove him from that stable home, where he is doing very well, and return him to the uncertain, rootless life he had earlier, would do him a great injustice.
The judgment under review is affirmed, substantially for the reasons stated in the April 4, 2007, oral opinion of Judge Robert W. Page.
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