On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division-Family Part, Passaic County, Docket No. FG-16-35-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted: March 11, 2009
Before Judges Cuff, Baxter and King.
In this consolidated appeal, we review two orders terminating the parental rights of C.T. and P.T. to their three children: C.B.T., C.T.T. and D.T. C.T., the father of the children, argues that the Division of Youth and Family Services (Division) failed to establish any of the four statutory elements by clear and convincing evidence. P.T., the mother, argues her parental rights should not have been terminated because the Division failed to consider alternatives to termination, such as kinship legal guardianship; did not make reasonable efforts to reunite the children with her; and termination of parental rights will do more harm than good for the children. We affirm.
C.T. and P.T. are the parents of three children. Their daughter, C.B.T., and son, C.T.T., were born on December 19, 2000. Their second daughter, D.T., was born on May 22, 2003. C.T. and P.T. do not live together; in fact, C.T. has been in prison for a substantial period of time during the lives of his children.
The twins, C.B.T. and C.T.T., were born premature and suffer severe developmental and emotional problems. C.B.T. is legally blind. D.T. is healthy.
The Division received its first referral on October 29, 2003, that P.T. was providing inadequate care to C.B.T. following an eye operation. The Division investigated and found the children clean and well kept. Both parents were in the home at the time of the visit and the Division caseworker believed that P.T. and C.T. seemed loving and concerned parents. No services were offered to the family.
On July 24, 2004, the Division received a second referral alleging that P.T. had left the children unattended with their ill maternal grandfather, that the children were improperly fed, and that P.T. sold drugs. The Special Protective Response Unit (SPRU) investigated. Both the maternal grandfather and P.T.'s boyfriend denied that the children were left alone with the grandfather. P.T. also denied selling drugs and showed the investigators that the children had been fed. The SPRU workers did not substantiate neglect.
On July 26, 2004, the Division received a third referral alleging that the children were improperly fed, were neglected and flea-bitten, and that P.T. beat them. The referent claimed to have smelled marijuana and crack cocaine in the home. P.T. was cooperative but frustrated, as this was the second Division investigation in two days. P.T. believed the referent was her friend, C.T.T.'s godmother, who wanted to keep C.T.T. P.T. denied using drugs and offered to submit to urine screening. The urine screen was negative for drug use. P.T. also denied hitting the children or that they were underfed. The investigation revealed sufficient food in the home and no flea bites on the children. As a result, neglect and abuse were unsubstantiated. During the investigation, however, P.T. acknowledged a criminal history: in 1995, P.T. had been incarcerated for eighteen months and on parole for six months for selling drugs. The worker recommended the case be closed.
Two months later, on September 22, 2004, the Division received another referral which alleged that P.T. was selling drugs from her home and was allowing her sister to engage in prostitution in the house. P.T. denied the allegations. Several persons in the house, who claimed to be P.T.'s cousins, stated the children were not abused or neglected. One volunteered that the referent might be C.T.T.'s godmother, who was attached to C.T.T. Unlike the earlier visits, caseworkers found the house messy and P.T. was counseled to keep the house clean. The caseworkers, however, did not substantiate abuse or neglect.
Two days later, Division caseworkers returned to the house. C.B.T. was found wearing old, dirty pajamas and without a coat or shoes. Her face was dirty from food and dried phlegm. The house was messy. Two male friends of P.T. were found in the house. At this time, the caseworkers recommended supervision and homemaker services.
On November 24, 2004, P.T. tested positive for cocaine and the allegations of neglect were substantiated. On November 30, 2004, upon receipt of the positive drug test, a Division caseworker visited P.T. in her home and arranged for Emergency Child Abuse Program (ECAP) services. P.T. admitted drug use, but claimed that she used drugs because her former paramour, with whom she ended her relationship a few weeks prior, used drugs. P.T. was referred to a substance abuse evaluation. By December 9, 2004, however, P.T. had failed to appear at three scheduled evaluation appointments. The Division rescheduled the intake appointment and notified P.T. when the appointment was made and again two days prior to the appointment.
On December 17, 2004, the Division received a fifth referral regarding P.T., this time from the Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC) who tested P.T. at her intake appointment on December 15, 2004. The CADC reported that P.T. had tested positive for cocaine. P.T. denied using cocaine, but admitted to selling it to provide for her family. The CADC acknowledged the possibility that P.T.'s handling of cocaine could result in a positive test without P.T. having used the drug.
On December 30, 2004, a Division caseworker met with P.T. at her home. The caseworker noted the general untidiness of P.T.'s home, the declining amount of food available, but also noted the close supervision and assistance by ECAP. The allegation of neglect was substantiated because P.T. admitted to distributing illegal substances from her home.
The Division attempted to enter P.T. into substance abuse treatment, but was unsuccessful because P.T. only admitted to selling drugs. P.T. also declined parenting skills training. P.T. was, however, willing to accept Division assistance in the form of material items, such as prescription eye glasses for C.B.T., beds for the children, and a refrigerator.
On February 7, 2005, the Division informed P.T. that an earlier urine screen tested positive for cocaine. P.T. denied drug use, claiming alternately that she was too well dressed to use illegal drugs and that the urine tested must belong to someone else. P.T. later claimed that she was taking medication with codeine for a toothache. P.T. acknowledged that a substance abuse treatment program denied her admission because she denied drug use. On February 10, 2005, during a phone call with a Division caseworker, P.T. refused to consider substance abuse treatment, despite being told that treatment might be required to avoid further litigation. P.T. also complained of the Division's involvement in her life.
On February 18, 2005, a Division caseworker visited P.T.'s home and informed P.T. that she would have to undergo substance abuse treatment. P.T. again denied substance abuse, noting that her mother had died of substance abuse, so she would not use drugs, and that she was too cute to be a drug abuser. P.T. enlisted a friend to opine that merely touching drugs could result in a positive test.
On February 22, 2005, P.T. visited a Division office and reiterated that she did not abuse drugs. P.T. did admit to having packaged drugs a few days prior to the last urine screen. The Division informed P.T. that litigation would be pursued ...