On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Hudson County, Docket No. FG-09-174-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 23, 2008
Before Judges Wefing, Parker and Yannotti.
Defendant I.S. is the biological mother, and defendant C.M. the biological father of R.A., Jr.*fn1 They each appeal from a judgment of guardianship entered on October 19, 2007 terminating their parental rights.
The child, R.A., Jr., was born on April 3, 2006 in Florida.
I.S., who had been a resident of New Jersey and involved with the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) since 1995, fled to Florida before the child's birth to avoid DYFS intervention.
I.S. has three older children, J.S., L.A. and N.A., who are not C.M.'s biological children. In November 2002, DYFS was granted custody, care and supervision of the three older children. On June 4, 2003, legal custody of N.A. was granted to that child's father. On January 19, 2005, legal custody of L.A. was granted to her father. On February 22, 2006, kinship legal guardianship of J.S. was granted to his step-grandparents.
In October 2005, I.S.'s certified alcohol drug counselor (CADC) informed DYFS that she had lost her Section 8 apartment, was pregnant and drinking. This information was confirmed by other family members.
In November 2005, I.S. underwent a psychological evaluation by Alicia Caputo, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist. The report indicated that I.S. exhibited a reading deficiency, requiring the person who administered the personality surveys to read them aloud to her. I.S.'s intellectual functioning was estimated to be in the borderline range. Her non-compliance with drug testing and treatment and her minimization of personal problems, along with anger and resentment toward DYFS and others, indicated some personality issues. Dr. Caputo concluded that because of her borderline intellectual functioning and her history of alcohol and cocaine abuse, the children would be at risk if they were returned to her.
After reports from family members that I.S. was homeless and unemployed, the DYFS caseworker contacted her in January 2006. She confirmed that I.S. had lost her Section 8 apartment and stopped working when she learned she was pregnant. She was due in March 2006 but had not received any prenatal care since September 2005. I.S. reported that she was living with her mother in West New York. DYFS arranged a home inspection but I.S. indicated she planned to find her own apartment after the baby was born. I.S. told the caseworker that R.A. was the father of the child.
When the caseworker met with R.A., he stated that I.S. told him she was still drinking during the pregnancy and had not received any prenatal care. R.A. requested a paternity test to confirm whether he was the father. He indicated that even if he were the father, he could not care for the child and could not keep imposing upon his parents, who already had custody of J.S.
In February 2006, I.S. had a toothache and was prescribed Percocet. When the caseworker asked I.S. for the bottle of pills, there were fewer pills in the bottle than there should have been, given the prescribed dosage. I.S. claimed that she had given the Percocet pills to friends.
In April 2006, the caseworker could not locate I.S., and her mother denied any knowledge of I.S.'s whereabouts. DYFS also contacted R.A., who initially denied knowledge of I.S.'s whereabouts, but later told the caseworker that he had sent I.S. to Florida because DYFS would remove the child if it was born in New Jersey. He told the caseworker that I.S. had been living with his sister in Florida for about a month and that the baby had been born that week.
The caseworker then contacted the Broward County child protective services agency and informed it of I.S.'s status in New Jersey. The Broward County agency removed the infant from I.S.'s care and DYFS retrieved the infant the following morning and returned him to New Jersey.
On April 7, 2006, DYFS was granted legal and physical custody of the child and I.S. was ordered to undergo a substance abuse evaluation and treatment and submit to a new psychological evaluation. The infant was placed with R.A.'s parents on April 14, 2006.
I.S. began parenting skills training in April 2006. She successfully completed parenting/anger management sessions in May 2006. In April, I.S. also went to an intake interview at the outpatient treatment center for addiction services at the Jersey City Medical Center.
In May 2006, the paternity tests indicated that R.A. was not the father of the child. When I.S. was informed, she denied that anyone else could be the child's father. DYFS then removed the child from R.A.'s parents' home and placed him with a neighbor, M.O., in July 2006.
In September 2006, I.S. successfully completed the addiction services outpatient program. She was then transferred to an outpatient drug program. In October 2006, I.S. advised the court that C.M. was the father of the child. I.S. then contacted C.M.'s wife, and C.M. agreed to a paternity test. He took the test in December 2006 and it confirmed his paternity.
In February 2007, I.S. missed a number of appointments for a psychological evaluation. She was ultimately ordered by the court to complete the evaluation by March 31, 2007, and to submit to random urine tests. She failed to appear for urine tests on May 2, May 4 and May 11, 2007.
During June 2007, I.S. reported that she was unemployed and dependent upon others for financial support. She also indicated that she had used cocaine within the past thirty days and had experienced an alcoholic relapse in May.
In August and September 2007, psychological and bonding evaluations for I.S., C.M. and the child's foster parents were scheduled with Ernesto L. Perdomo, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist. Dr. Perdomo noted that I.S. is a "very immature and impulsive individual" with "narcissistic tendencies," poor insight and behavior problems. He indicated that she has a limited ability to form relationships and organize her life and work. He concluded that even with treatment and services in place, her ability to care for her children ...