On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Ocean County, Docket No. FG-15-24-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted February 2, 2009
Before Judges Lisa, Reisner, and Alvarez.
Defendants E.C., Sr., and I.C., appeal from the trial court's termination of their parental rights pursuant to N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a). Guardianship of defendants' two children was awarded to New Jersey Division of the Youth and Family Services (the Division). After the proceedings were filed, the Division withdrew its request for guardianship as to a third child, S.M., as she turned eighteen while the proceedings were pending.
E.C., Sr., objects that the trial court abused its discretion by permitting a caseworker to testify from case notes in violation of the hearsay rule. Both E.C., Sr., and I.C. object generally that the Division's proofs did not meet the statutory four-prong test for termination of parental rights enunciated in N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a)(1), (2), (3) and (4), and specifically, that neither the second nor fourth prong was met. We reject these arguments and affirm.
Family History as Developed at Trial
The following facts were developed at trial. The Division first became involved with I.C. in 1994 concerning S.M., her biological child who was born October 23, 1989. I.C. was then incarcerated, and S.M. was residing with her maternal grandmother. Between July 1999 and December 2000, after I.C. was released from prison, and S.M. returned to live with her, the Division received three referrals of alleged physical abuse of S.M. by E.C., Sr., who is not S.M.'s biological father. None of the referrals were substantiated.
On October 19, 2002, a referral stating that E.C., Sr., had assaulted S.M. was made by police who had arrived at the family home to discover E.C., Sr., in an intoxicated state. When police called I.C., she told them that she was at a party, could not come home, and that the authorities should just arrest E.C., Sr. E.C., Sr., and I.C. later signed a Division case plan on October 21, 2002, agreeing that E.C., Sr., would remain out of the marital residence until a substance abuse evaluation was completed. The Division recommended that E.C., Sr., become involved with intensive outpatient substance abuse treatment as well as Alcoholics Anonymous.
On November 10, 2003, police were called to the family home on two occasions, based on I.C.'s report that E.C., Sr., had returned and assaulted S.M. The Division received another referral about the family when on February 16, 2004, E.C., Sr., injured S.M. during a confrontation, was arrested for assault, and was bailed out by I.C. As a result, on February 19, 2004, I.C. signed a second case plan with the Division agreeing that E.C., Sr., would no longer live in the marital home, that his visitation with his biological children, S.C. (Sara), born August 9, 1996, and E.C., Jr. (Eric),*fn1 born July 2, 2000, would be supervised, and that I.C. would participate in counseling.
On October 12, 2004, the Division discovered that I.C. permitted E.C., Sr., to move back into the house, claiming that she needed his income, and that without him, her rental assistance and welfare would be jeopardized. On November 19, 2004, the Division was awarded custody of S.M. based on E.C., Sr.'s ongoing physical abuse. From that date forward, services were extended to the family, and E.C., Sr., and I.C. sporadically participated in substance abuse treatment.
On March 1, 2005, I.C. obtained an order restraining E.C., Sr., from returning to the family home. A few months later, on June 6, 2005, a referral was made to the Division that the children were left outside of the home unsupervised and in their pajamas. E.C., Sr.'s supervised visitation with the children was suspended on July 16, 2005, due to his repeated absences.
I.C. underwent a psychological evaluation on September 20, 2005, by Dr. Robert J. Puglia, who concluded that she "did not appear committed to caring for [S.M.] at that time." Dr. Puglia also recommended additional evaluations for I.C. and treatment for the entire family, including Sara and Eric. Thereafter, on December 12, 2005, and January 2, 2006, the Division received reports of domestic violence between E.C., Sr., and I.C. The February 14, 2006 psychological evaluations of E.C., Sr., by Dr. Alan Lee concluded that he was not capable of being an independent caregiver. Additional evaluations, treatment and parenting classes were recommended.
On May 5, 2006, I.C. was arrested for the third time for driving while intoxicated (DWI). That month, Sara revealed to the Division that E.C., Sr., had watched her and Eric on several occasions while their mother was out, despite the existence of a domestic violence restraining order and I.C.'s commitment not to allow E.C., Sr., back into the home. Eric confirmed his sister's statements and added that at times, their mother became drunk and "physically manhandled" him. E.C., Sr., was charged with DWI on May 14, 2006. A few days ...