On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Ocean County, Docket No. FG-15-51-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted: August 20, 2008
Before Judges C.L. Miniman and Lihotz.
Defendant C.M. appeals from a Family Part judgment terminating parental rights to her minor child, D.E.M., and awarding guardianship to the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) for the purpose of consenting to adoption. The guardianship judgment also terminated the parental rights of M.S., the child's father, who did not file an appeal. Because Judge June Strelecki correctly determined that the best interests of D.E.M. required termination of C.M.'s parental rights, we affirm.
D.E.M. was born on October 3, 2002. C.M. was twenty-two years old and had a three-year history of cocaine and marijuana abuse at the time D.E.M. was born. At the time D.E.M. was born, C.M. was D.E.M.'s sole caretaker for the first three years of D.E.M.'s life, during which period C.M. continued to abuse marijuana. On January 5, 2005, C.M. resided at Linkages, a transitional housing program for women and children run by Easter Seals of New Jersey. In April 2005, C.M. tested positive for cocaine and Linkages required C.M. to submit to routine urine screenings. The Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) was notified and it interviewed D.E.M. As Linkages had no concern about the care being given to D.E.M., DYFS took no action.
One month later, Linkages made another referral to DYFS because there were numerous bruises on D.E.M.'s body. After investigation, DYFS concluded that the bruises were a result of D.E.M.'s active behavior and took no further action. However, DYFS was again contacted about D.E.M. on February 23, 2006, this time by C.M.'s sister-in-law.
Despite the assistance offered by the Linkages program, C.M. became homeless. C.M. left three-year-old D.E.M. with C.M.'s mother around the end of 2005 but provided no contact information. After several weeks, the grandmother could no longer care for D.E.M. because she lived in a retirement community. She left D.E.M. with C.M.'s brother and his wife. D.E.M.'s aunt and uncle called DYFS because C.M. was threatening the grandmother that she would come and take D.E.M., although the family did not know where C.M. was living except possibly with a paramour in Jamesburg. They reported that C.M. had a history of drug abuse.
DYFS determined that D.E.M. had been abandoned and on March 1, 2006, obtained an order granting DYFS legal custody and permitting D.E.M. to continue to reside with her maternal aunt and uncle. On March 13, 2006, C.M. contacted DYFS and denied that she had abandoned D.E.M. She alleged that her brother and his wife smoked marijuana and neglected D.E.M. Ultimately, DYFS determined that the aunt and uncle were not appropriate caregivers and it placed D.E.M. in foster care in June 2006.
DYFS began to provide a variety of services to C.M., including parenting skills classes, substance abuse treatment, and referrals to Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, but C.M. did not take advantage of any of those services. She was given bus passes to participate in the services, but did not use them. She failed to appear for psychological evaluations on two occasions in 2006. The only service in which C.M. participated was visitation.
C.M.'s housing continued to be in a state of flux. Although she had a Section 8 voucher through the county, she did not take advantage of it. Rather, from March 2006 to October 2007, C.M. lived with various friends and never lived in a home appropriate for a child. Her employment history, too, was inconsistent. Although C.M. was recommended for level one out-patient substance abuse treatment, she did not accept it.
While C.M. was ignoring services directed toward reunification, D.E.M. was developing a bond with her foster parents, who wish to adopt her. She attends Early Childhood Learning Center and received speech therapy. The foster parents ensure that she keeps these appointments.
Dr. William D. Coffey, a DYFS psychologist, performed bonding evaluations of D.E.M. with C.M. and then with her foster parents.*fn1 He did not recommend reunification of D.E.M. with C.M. for a variety of reasons detailed in the record, including a lack of any general interest in gaining custody of her child. Because D.E.M. had been placed in several foster homes before placement with the foster parents who wished to adopt her, Dr. Coffey considered it critical to sustain her attachment with those foster parents in order to permit D.E.M. to develop personally and socially in order to ...