On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Morris County, No. FG-14-53-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Wefing, Yannotti, and LeWinn.
Following a bench trial, the trial court entered a judgment terminating the parental rights of M.G. and R.H. to their children D.H. and B.H. M.G. and R.H., the mother and father respectively of these two children, have each appealed from that judgment, and we have consolidated those appeals. After reviewing the record in light of the contentions advanced on appeal, we affirm.
M.G. and R.H. have never been married but did have a relationship together for approximately fifteen years. From that relationship, they had three children. The oldest, born in 1993, was removed from their care following a domestic violence incident between M.G. and R.H. That child resides in Florida with M.G.'s mother. They also have a son, D.H., now seven years of age, and a daughter, B.H., now five and one-half years of age. M.G. has one other child born in 1986 of a different father. M.G. executed a voluntary surrender with respect to that child in 1987. This litigation involves D.H. and B.H.
The New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services ("DYFS") had received several reports in 2003 and 2004 of D.H. and B.H. being maltreated. A DYFS representative visited the family to investigate each report and found the allegations unsubstantiated.*fn1 During much of this time, the family did not have a permanent residence but was being helped by programs serving the homeless. R.H. was asked to leave one such facility because of his drinking.
On September 10, 2005, however, a DYFS representative visited the family in response to another report and found deplorable conditions. The only food in the home was a jar of peanut butter, and there was no hot water. The home was filthy, and the children were dirty, to the extent that they had not been properly cleaned after using the toilet. In addition, they had head lice and flea bites. Both parents admitted they had been drinking all day and were under the influence of alcohol. The children were immediately removed. They were first placed with R.H.'s mother but she was unable to care for the children due to her age. They were then placed with a foster family, with whom they have resided ever since.
At the bench trial, DYFS presented the testimony of two of the caseworkers who had worked with M.G. and R.H. and Frank J. Dyer, Ph.D. Dr. Dyer performed a psychological examination of both M.G. and R.H. and bonding evaluations of the children with both their biological parents and their foster parents.
Dr. Dyer testified that, in his opinion, M.G. was not capable of parenting either of these two children. He cited the history with respect to her two older children, a history of abusive and neglectful behavior, as well as a history of substance abuse and alcoholism. Dr. Dyer said that she was an individual with a high level of anxiety who was vulnerable to depression. He observed her interactions with D.H. and B.H. and found her to be "cold and distant" with the children. He said that there "was not much of a rapport" between her and either of the children and that she did not "occupy a position of centrality in the inner emotional life" of the children. He found, by way of contrast, that the children were attached to their foster parents and that separating the children from the foster parents "would inflict a devastating loss on [the children] that would result in trauma that would have the effect of inflicting severe and enduring psychological harm on them." Dr. Dyer testified that he considered it "an extremely risky proposition" to return the children to M.G.'s care.
He reached a similar conclusion with respect to R.H. Dr. Dyer described R.H. as "manipulative, irresponsible, contemptuous of rules and laws, tends not to focus on the needs of others but to place a very high priority on his own needs . . . ." He noted that R.H. had a long history of drug abuse and alcoholism. He did note, however, that R.H. was affectionate and appropriate with the children during the bonding evaluation. That, however, did not affect his opinion that the children would not suffer a loss if the parental bond were severed but would suffer if they were separated from their foster family.
M.G. presented two witnesses on her behalf--Joan Schramm, a social worker with Interfaith Council for Homeless Families of Morris County, and Doreen Sperber-Weiss, Ph.D. Ms. Schramm was assisting M.G. in her efforts to overcome her problems. Interfaith Council ran a program for the homeless in which they would stay one week at a time at various churches or synagogues in the area. It provided assistance in developing job skills, locating housing and needed treatment services. M.G. had entered Interfaith's shelter program in February 2006. By the time of the trial in August ...