On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Bergen County, FG-02-77-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 1, 2008
Before Judges Reisner, Sapp-Peterson and Alvarez.
Defendant B.C. appeals from a December 17, 2007 order of the Family part terminating her parental rights to her son J.M. We affirm.
The following evidence was presented at the guardianship trial on November 26, 2007. According to DYFS case worker Priscilla Valentine, the child J.M. was born in 2000. DYFS removed J.M and his sister from their mother B.C. in 2005, after she tested positive for cocaine, THC, alcohol and benzodiaphine. She admitted to using cocaine, marijuana and alcohol. She also told DYFS she had a history of psychiatric problems and hospitalizations. DYFS referred B.C. to drug treatment, which she completed in July 2006, although she tested positive for cocaine in January 2006. DYFS also arranged for psychiatric evaluations, parenting classes and treatment for anxiety and depression.
However, in November 2006, B.C. again tested positive for cocaine. DYFS referred her for more substance abuse evaluation in February 2007. When B.C. again tested positive for cocaine later in February 2007, DYFS referred her to more intensive treatment in a Mentally Ill Clinical Abuser (MICA) program, which she completed.*fn1 DYFS also provided B.C. with regular visitation with her son.
According to Valentine, J.M had been in foster care since September 2005, going first to a regular foster family, then to one paternal aunt and finally to his current placement with another paternal aunt, M.M., since May 2007. DYFS also considered maternal relatives, but none were available. Valentine testified that J.M. was doing "wonderfully" living with M.M., who wanted to adopt the child.
The State also presented testimony from an expert psychologist, Dr. Rachel Nelson, who testified to her evaluations of B.C. over a period of three years. She also testified to her evaluations of the child's bonding with M.M and with B.C.
Dr. Nelson testified that at each evaluation, she interviewed B.C. and administered standardized psychological tests. According to Dr. Nelson, she concluded that B.C. had made no substantial progress despite two years of therapy:
I concluded that there was basically no change, that despite additional counseling, additional attendance in MICA [therapy] and substance abuse programs and individual counseling, there was some slight change. I don't want to say there wasn't any, but there was not significant and substantial change to suggest that [B.C.] had improved her capacity to handle her own life and to parent her child.
Specifically, I relied on the fact that she relapsed a number of times. In fact, the most recent evaluation she said to me, "You said I needed to stay sober for six months before I could get my child back and I tried, but I couldn't." And that was a very compelling statement.
Secondly, the objective measures that I used, if you look at the actual numbers, there just wasn't very much change in terms of her coping skills, in terms of her parenting skills, in terms of her personality functioning, she still had all of the same weaknesses and deficits that she had two years prior to that last evaluation. Describing her relapses to Dr. Nelson, B.C. told her that she "found a bag of cocaine in a parking lot" in January 2006 and used it. Then, "several months later," B.C. tried to borrow money from a friend who "was a drug dealer." While she was at his house she "helped herself" to some of the drugs he had in his house. Dr. Nelson concluded ...