On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Ocean County, No. FG-15-04-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 7, 2008
Before Judges Wefing, Yannotti and LeWinn.
E.C. is the mother of Amy, now seven years of age, and Victor, now two years of age.*fn1 J.C. is their father. E.C. and J.C. have each appealed from a trial court judgment terminating their respective parental rights with regard to their children. We have consolidated their appeals. After carefully reviewing the record in light of their contentions on appeal, we affirm.
E.C. has significant mental health issues. She was forty-two years old at the time of trial. By the time this matter was tried, she had been hospitalized for psychiatric reasons at least twelve times from the age of twenty-three, including immediately after the birth of each child. She has been diagnosed as having bipolar disorder with psychotic features.
J.C. suffers from a significant hearing and speech impairment, as well as certain personality traits which seriously affect his ability to parent these children. He was found to be irritable and alienated, rigid and suspicious. He had a very limited understanding of what is entailed in parenting, and during the course of his testimony at the guardianship trial he presented confusing and ill-defined plans for caring for the two children.
In addition, their marriage has been marred by incidents of domestic violence. Each has obtained restraining orders against the other at various times.
The family first came to the attention of the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) about one month after Amy's birth when E.C. was hospitalized with a nervous breakdown. DYFS closed its file after the parents appeared to comply with services. DYFS was again contacted when Amy was three years old. E.C. made an allegation that her brother had sexually molested Amy, and E.C. began to behave bizarrely, which eventually led to her hospitalization for approximately one month. Her diagnosis on discharge included bipolar disorder with a manic episode.*fn2
Shortly after her discharge, E.C. and J.C. had another episode of domestic violence. DYFS removed Amy from her parents' custody and placed her in foster care. Amy remained in foster care through the trial of this matter.
Unfortunately, Amy was placed with three different foster families. The first two families asked that she be removed because of problems with her behavior. She exhibited, for instance, aggressive tendencies toward younger children. When Amy was first placed in foster care, she was not toilet trained. In addition, she did not know how to use eating utensils; rather, she ate directly from a bowl. There were also problems with projectile and self-induced vomiting. Her behavioral problems began to alleviate when she was placed in a therapeutic foster home.
Observation and testing led to the conclusion that a link existed between Amy's self-induced vomiting and her visits with E.C. and J.C. DYFS also had concerns with the behavior of E.C. and J.C. during these visits. E.C., on one occasion, brought presents for Amy that were intended for an infant and were thus clearly inappropriate. On another occasion they left photographs of themselves that were intended to be seen by the foster parents that were also clearly inappropriate. One was a picture of J.C. raising his middle finger and the other was a picture of E.C. exposing her backside. The pictures were quickly confiscated.
Because of these concerns, DYFS terminated the visitation. When these visits ended, Amy's self-induced vomiting did as well.
DYFS did arrange for therapeutic visitation with J.C. to resume eventually.*fn3 These visits were overseen by Dr. Andrea Sollitto. She expressed concern about J.C.'s behavior during these visits. She noted that he would appear to be self-absorbed, go off on tangents and not respond directly to the childrens' needs. Based upon her observation during these visits, Dr. Sollitto expressed "reservations and concerns regarding his ability to adequately and safely parent the children for extended periods of time on his own . . . ."
There was also testimony that at one point, J.C. told the Deputy Attorney General representing DYFS that he knew that she and the DYFS case worker had been spying on his house and looking through his basement windows.
Victor has never been in his parents' care. E.C. had another psychotic episode immediately after his birth. Based upon her behavior in the hospital, the hospital put a hold on his discharge. DYFS took custody of Vincent and placed him immediately with a foster family where he remained through the time of trial. His foster family wishes to adopt Vincent.
DYFS inquired at one point whether that family would be willing to accept Amy as well, and they originally declined. Later, they changed their minds. At the time of trial, Amy had had successful visits with the family and wished to be with her younger brother. The DYFS plan was to place her permanently with that family shortly after the conclusion of the guardianship trial.
DYFS provided a variety of services to the family. E.C. and J.C. participated in some of the services and not in others. Their participation, however, did not result in improvement in their parenting abilities.
E.C. raises the following arguments on appeal:
THE DIVISION FAILED TO MEET ITS BURDEN OF PROOF IN ESTABLISHING EACH ELEMENT ENUMERATED IN N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1, AND THE TRIAL COURT'S ORDER TO TERMINATE E.C.'S PARENTAL ...