On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Passaic County, Docket No. FG-16-20-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 14, 2008
Before Judges Sabatino and Simonelli.
The Division of Youth and Family Services (Division) brought this action, seeking the termination of the parental rights of defendants M.N., the biological father, and L.S., the biological mother, to their children, N.D.N. (Nancy)*fn1 , born March 19, 2001, and N.N.N. (Noreen), born January 26, 2004. On May 2, 2006, L.S. executed a voluntary identified surrender of her parental rights so that the children could be adopted by their maternal aunt and uncle, R.F. and M.F. (the foster parents). Following a non-jury trial, Judge Sokalski rendered a written decision and entered judgment in favor of the Division.
On appeal, M.N. contends that the judge failed to consider all of the evidence and improperly determined that DYFS satisfied the requirements of N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1a(1), (2) and (3).*fn2 We reject this contention and affirm.
The following facts are summarized from the record. Nancy and Noreen are medically fragile children who require specialized care and services and medical treatment for the rest of their lives. Nancy has developmental disabilities and is Hepatitis C positive. Noreen is legally blind, autistic, developmentally delayed and has perventicular leukomalacia, microcephaly and hypotonia. The children's medical conditions stem from L.S.'s drug use during pregnancy and their premature births.
The Division's involvement with L.S. began in 1984, when it received a referral indicating L.S.'s older children were not fed properly, were left unsupervised and L.S. was using drugs. The allegations were not substantiated.
The Division again became involved with L.S. in March 2001, when Nancy was born prematurely and L.S. tested positive for heroin and barbituates. Nancy was diagnosed as Hepatitis C positive. The Division remained involved with the family to ensure the child's safety due to M.N.'s failure to detect L.S.'s drug use.
The Division received another referral on November 15, 2001, indicating L.S. was abusing heroin and took Nancy with her to purchase drugs. The Division was unable to complete an investigation because L.S. moved with Nancy to Massachusetts.
The Division received another referral on November 16, 2002, indicating Nancy had scratches and scrapes on her face. Although abuse was not substantiated, the Division opened a case for supervision to monitor L.S.'s drug evaluation results. M.N. signed a case plan agreeing to provide a safe, drug-free environment for Nancy and to not leave the child unsupervised with L.S. M.N. was awarded temporary custody of Nancy on June 12, 2003.
The Division's involvement here stems from a referral on January 27, 2004, from St. Joseph's Regional Medical Center in Paterson indicating Noreen was born prematurely. The child and L.S. tested positive for heroin, and L.S. admitted using heroin three days prior to the birth. L.S. also had very little prenatal care.
At the time of this referral, M.N. still had custody of Nancy and he and the child lived with his sister. Following an investigation, the Division placed Noreen with M.N. He agreed to supervise visits between L.S. and the children and to not leave them alone with her. As a result of M.N.'s compliance and his agreement to continue supervising all contact between L.S. and the children, the case was closed on May 4, 2004. At the time, M.N. was living with another sister, who helped care for the children.
Shortly after her birth, Noreen began showing signs of developmental delays. Medical testing revealed she had multiple handicaps and required specialized care and services.*fn3 At approximately five months of age, Noreen began living with the foster parents.
On May 3, 2005, the Division received a referral indicating M.J.N. (Mary), was born prematurely to L.S., and both the child and L.S. tested positive for heroin. Mary also tested positive for Hepatitis C and is medically fragile. The Division obtained legal custody of Mary and placed her in the O'Neill Center, a specialized facility for medically fragile children going through withdrawal. Mary remained in that facility for approximately four months. She was eventually placed with the foster parents. M.N. refused to sign a case plan for this child.*fn4
On June 15, 2005, the Division received a referral indicating M.N. pinched Nancy's leg because she disrespected him, he used physical discipline toward the children and he physically and verbally abused L.S. At the time, M.N., L.S. and Nancy lived in the basement of the foster parents' home. Noreen was still living with the foster parents, who were solely caring for the child. Although M.N. admitted slapping and choking L.S. during an altercation, the Division did not substantiate physical abuse of Nancy. Nevertheless, M.N. signed a case plan agreeing to use non-violent discipline with the children and to use appropriate language when verbally reprimanding them.
On June 21, 2005, the court ordered M.N. to submit to psychological and substance abuse evaluations. The court also ordered L.S. to complete a ...