On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Ocean County, FG-15-36-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Graves and Sabatino.
Following a trial, the Family Part terminated the parental rights of defendant, D.I., as to his biological son, Q.I. Defendant was released from prison in 2006 after completing a lengthy sentence for two counts of endangering the welfare of a child, Q.I.'s twin sister. The sister died at the age of two in 1996 as the result of defendant beating her to death with a belt. Defendant appeals the Family Part's termination order, which we now affirm.
The following proofs adduced at trial are relevant to our consideration of the issues presented on appeal. The child in question, Q.I., was born prematurely on March 25, 1994, along with his now-deceased twin sister, K.I. Q.I.'s biological mother is C.C. For several years, defendant and C.C. were involved in a relationship with one another, although they did not marry. Defendant claims to be the father of one other child with another woman, although he does not know the child's current age or whereabouts.
Before Q.I. and his twin sister were born, C.C. had given birth to four other children, none of them fathered by defendant. One of those children died of meningitis in 1989. Between 1987 and 1993, the Division of Youth and Family Services ("DYFS") had been monitoring C.C. and her children due to various substantiated incidents of medical neglect, inadequate supervision, and lack of food and clothing.
In April 1996, DYFS received a referral that C.C. and her children, including Q.I. and his twin sister, were sleeping on a dirty mattress on the floor. DYFS substantiated this neglect, and deemed C.C.'s living quarters unsafe. Consequently, the Family Part removed Q.I. and K.I. from C.C.'s care, and granted defendant sole custody of the twins in October 1996. Defendant was then living in Cape May County with a girlfriend.
At about 5:00 a.m. on November 29, 1996, defendant's girlfriend found K.I., who was then two years old, lying on the bathroom floor. K.I. was not breathing. The girlfriend brought K.I. to a hospital, where she was found to be in full cardiac arrest. K.I. died soon thereafter. It was determined that K.I.'s fatal injuries were the result of defendant beating her repeatedly with a belt.
Following K.I.'s death, defendant was indicted and charged with one count of aggravated manslaughter, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-4(a), and two counts of endangering the welfare of a child, N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4(a). Defendant subsequently pled guilty to the two counts of child endangerment, and the manslaughter count was dismissed. The Criminal Part sentenced defendant to ten years in prison.
After K.I.'s death, Q.I. was returned to his mother's custody. She was ordered "to cooperate and attend such courses and receive such counseling and other services as [DYFS] requires." Despite the order, C.C. had difficulty in scheduling services and attending medical appointments for Q.I. Q.I. also had problems with school attendance.
In June 1998, C.C. tested positive for drugs and agreed to enter a substance abuse facility. As a result, C.C. lost custody of Q.I. and another child for a period of time, but the children were returned to her in late 1998 or early 1999. DYFS remained involved with C.C.'s family until March 2000, when it then closed the case.
As a result of narcotics charges in 2003, C.C. lost her Section 8 housing voucher and was unable to find stable living quarters. Her children, including Q.I., were not then enrolled in school. C.C. was then sentenced to mandatory jail time as a result of the drug charges. Due to that jail term, as well as C.C.'s failure to find stable housing and to enroll the children in school, DYFS removed Q.I. and her other minor child from her care. Because he had ...