On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Ocean County, FG-15-08-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 15, 2008
Before Judges Reisner and Alvarez.
In these consolidated appeals, A.T. and J.A.S. appeal from an order dated May 17, 2007 terminating their parental rights to their two children, N.S. and J.S. We affirm substantially for the reasons stated by Judge Strelecki in her comprehensive oral opinion issued on May 17, 2007.
The factual background is set forth in great detail in Judge Strelecki's opinion. We summarize the most pertinent facts here. Both parents have significant, continuing drug problems which have at times resulted in each of them being incarcerated. The parties' daughter N.S. was born on March 30, 2005. The daughter was removed from her parents on October 18, 2005 due to defendants' drug use and their failure to take N.S. for medical treatment for Hepatitis-C exposure. She has been living with her paternal aunt since October 2005.
The parties' son J.S. was born on December 2, 2006. A.T. used drugs while she was pregnant with J.S., who was born addicted to drugs and had to be placed on morphine after he began going through withdrawal after birth. J.S. was removed from his mother at birth and has lived with the paternal aunt since he was released from the hospital several weeks after he was born. The aunt and her husband want to adopt both children, but would nonetheless be willing to let defendants have contact with the children if defendants can maintain a drug-free lifestyle.
The record contains extensive evidence of DYFS's attempts to provide defendants with services to address their drug problems, address anger management and domestic violence issues, and develop parenting skills. The parents did not cooperate with these efforts, missed visitation appointments, and continued using illegal drugs. At the time of the termination hearing, defendants were still not able to act as parents for these children. In fact, J.A.S. and A.T. were both incarcerated, although they attended the trial. According to the State's expert Dr. Lee, neither parent was psychologically prepared to act as a parent. A.T.'s expert, Dr. Whitehead, agreed with that assessment of A.T.
Meanwhile, in the years since she was placed with her aunt and her husband, N.S. has bonded with these foster parents.*fn1 The State produced expert testimony from Dr. Lee that the children were too young to allow a definitive opinion that they would be harmed if removed from the foster parents, but they needed a permanent placement. According to Dr. Lee, N.S. has not developed a significant bond with defendants, and would not suffer psychological harm if defendants' parental rights were terminated.
In a twenty-six-page oral opinion, Judge Strelecki concluded that neither parent was capable of caring for the children, that they had neglected the children through persistent drug abuse and refusal to cooperate with the services offered by DFYS, that permanency was essential for the children's well-being, and that termination of parental rights was in the children's best interests.
On this appeal, defendant A.T. raises the ...