On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Passaic County, FG-16-46-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 21, 2009
Before Judges Winkelstein and Fuentes.
This is a consolidated appeal from a trial court order terminating the parental rights of defendants S.J., the mother, and C.H., the father, to their daughter, J.H. We affirm substantially for the reasons expressed by Judge Sabbath.
S.J. is twenty years old, and C.H. is twenty-five. J.H. is three. From July 2005 through March 2006, defendants and J.H. lived with A.B. and W.B., J.H.'s godparents. In March 2006, S.J. and J.H. moved into the home of E.J., S.J.'s mother.
In June 2006, E.J. reported to Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) that S.J. would leave J.H. with friends and not return; the friends would bring J.H. back to E.J.'s home. E.J. also reported that she believed that S.J. was using drugs or alcohol. When the caseworker arrived at E.J.'s home, J.H. was present, but S.J. was not. J.H. wore clean clothes, her hair was neatly combed, and she appeared to be "a happy little girl."
S.J. arrived as the caseworker was leaving. She told the caseworker that she was there to pick up her daughter and their belongings because she did not get along with her mother and no longer wished to live with her. She would be staying with her sister, her sister's fiancé, and two friends in an apartment. S.J.'s speech was slurred and her eyes were bloodshot.
In the apartment in which S.J. planned to live with J.H., the caseworker observed empty and half-full alcohol containers but very little food and no milk. S.J. planned for J.H. to sleep with her on a pull-out couch or with S.J.'s sister and her fiancé in their bed. When the caseworker told S.J. that the apartment was not appropriate housing for J.H., S.J. agreed that J.H. would stay with E.J. that night, that S.J. would go to the local DYFS office the following day to try to find housing for her and J.H., and that she would submit to a substance abuse evaluation and abide by the resulting recommendations.
The following day, S.J. stated that she began smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol when she was sixteen years old. She admitted that she last smoked marijuana a week before and drank alcohol the night before. The DYFS supervisor informed her that J.H. could not live with her at her current residence and asked if there was anyone with whom S.J. would like J.H. to stay while she sought adequate housing. DYFS could not place J.H. with E.J. because E.J. had physically abused S.J. in 2003. DYFS offered to place S.J. and J.H. in a shelter, but S.J. refused the offer.
S.J. suggested A.B. and W.B. as foster parents. A.B. and W.B. agreed, and after completing its investigation of them, on June 20, 2006, DYFS removed J.H. from her mother's custody and placed J.H. with A.B. and W.B. On that date, S.J. agreed to submit to a substance abuse evaluation and comply with its recommendations; visit J.H.; and attend parenting skills classes, a psychological evaluation, domestic violence counseling, individual therapy and GED classes. DYFS referred S.J. for a substance abuse evaluation scheduled for July 12, 2006, which she failed to attend.
The court granted custody of J.H. to DYFS for continued placement with A.B. and W.B. S.J. and C.H. were provided with weekly supervised visits with J.H. at either the local DYFS office or Family Interventions Services (FIS).
Meanwhile, C.H. was arrested for violating a domestic violence restraining order that S.J had obtained. After his release from jail, DYFS informed him and S.J. that they must complete substance abuse evaluations and comply with the resulting recommendations; complete domestic violence counseling and psychological evaluations; attend parenting classes; acquire stable housing; and obtain their GEDs. S.J. was also to complete anger management classes. DYFS would provide them with bus cards so they could attend the services. They each agreed to refrain from drug use.
Following completion of a substance abuse assessment, DYFS referred S.J. to the Passaic County Women's Center for domestic violence counseling, but she did not attend any of the five scheduled intake appointments between August 9, 2006 and May 30, 2007. The court subsequently ordered defendants to submit to random urine screens, but did not require them to complete services until after a fact-finding hearing. S.J. nevertheless consented to a psychological evaluation and a substance abuse evaluation, but C.H. did not consent to any services.
DYFS referred S.J. to Dr. Margaret Doherty De Long, Psy.D., for a psychological evaluation. S.J. did not attend an August 2006 or a rescheduled September 2006 evaluation. On August 28, 2006, S.J. completed an intake assessment for substance abuse treatment at Eva's Village. She did not, however, report for the start of treatment, and she did not appear for a subsequent intake appointment at Barnert Hospital for parenting skills classes. In September, October and November, 2006, S.J. missed several scheduled visits with J.H.
Following a fact-finding hearing on October 30, 2006, where the court found that S.J. neglected J.H. by failing to provide her with adequate shelter and by refusing DYFS's offer for placement in a shelter, S.J. submitted to a psychological evaluation with Dr. Donna LoBiondo, Ph.D. S.J. arrived late with "a faint smell of alcohol" on her breath. Dr. LoBiondo noted, however, that S.J. did not appear to be intoxicated.
S.J. "presented as a resistant evaluation subject with angry affect, who denied any wrong doing regarding her child." She acknowledged that the judge told her to comply with DYFS's conditions, and expressed that she would do "whatever it takes to get [her] baby back." Dr. LoBiondo stated that S.J.'s "chronic anger management difficulties as both observed and reported suggest long-standing mood and impulse control deficits" but noted "no evidence of psychosis or thought disorder."
Dr. LoBiondo did not recommend reunification at that time. She was concerned about S.J.'s "problematic drinking habits [which were] in need of treatment;" her deficient parenting attitudes and behaviors reflective of "emotional immaturity and neediness;" and her then current engagement to a man*fn1 who was incarcerated and had a record of drug-related offenses, ...