On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, FG-07-47-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Reisner and Sapp-Peterson.
Defendant Q.P. appeals from an order of the Family Part dated June 26, 2008, terminating his parental rights to his biological child K.K.C. We affirm.
We begin with a brief overview. K.K.C., was born to C.C. on June 20, 2004. She has eight children, five of whom are in the legal custody of the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) due to C.C.'s persistent substance abuse problems. Q.P. is the father of K.K.C., but not any of C.C.'s other children. In the guardianship trial from which this appeal arises, the Division sought to terminate parental rights as to K.K.C. and four of his siblings.
Although DYFS was involved with K.K.C. since his birth, C.C. initially identified another man as K.K.C.'s father, and later misinformed DYFS as to defendant's whereabouts. In 2007, the agency located defendant, who had been incarcerated since before K.K.C. was born and remained in prison, and served him with a guardianship complaint concerning K.K.C. Prior to that time, the agency had provided extensive services to C.C., despite which she was unable to overcome her drug problems and become a fit parent. Consequently, her parental rights to all five children were terminated after the guardianship trial. Much of that trial, and the associated evidentiary record, focused on C.C. and K.K.C.'s four siblings, who are not defendant's biological children. In the remainder of this opinion, we focus on the portion of the hearing that concerned defendant and K.K.C.
At the guardianship trial, the State presented testimony from a psychologist, Dr. Andrew Percy Brown, III. Dr. Brown explained that he could not perform a bonding analysis of defendant and the child, because defendant had been incarcerated since before K.K.C.'s birth and had never met the child. However, Dr. Brown performed a psychological examination of defendant.
Significantly, Dr. Brown noted that in his interview, defendant told Brown that he had participated in drug treatment and had stopped using drugs years before his incarceration. On the other hand, defendant told his own testifying expert, Dr. Gerard Figurelli, that he had used marijuana "just prior to his incarceration" and had never attended drug treatment. Dr. Brown opined that defendant might need drug treatment upon his release from prison.
Defendant also told Dr. Brown that he had been in trouble with the law since age eleven and had been arrested "about ten times" for drug possession, "strong-arm robbery, assault, breaking and entering, burglary and drug possession with intent to distribute." This was of concern because it demonstrated "nearly a twenty-year history of involvement with the legal system and problems staying out of confinement," plus a lack of availability to parent K.K.C. Brown opined that defendant "cannot provide an environment that is sustainable and predictable for the child." Further, it was significant for the child that defendant would not be eligible for parole until April 2010, or two years from the trial date:
[It] is significant, yes, because his child, by that point in time will be . . . about five years old. He has never met the child. The child is . . . probably already demonstrating bonding with the caretaker. . . . This child is in an environment that is sustainable and predictable.
Based on defendant's history of multiple serious and violent crimes, Brown also opined that defendant had an antisocial personality. He also had no sustained employment history and was unlikely to be able to provide for a child.
Brown administered a series of psychological tests to defendant, including the Child Abuse Potential Inventory (CAP), the Personality Assessment Screener, the Culture-Free Self-Esteem Inventory and the Raven Colored Progressive Matrices. Based on his CAP score, defendant "presents with a significant elevation on the abuse factors," meaning that "he does manifest a significant potential to indulge in physical child abuse." He also scored high on the rigidity scale meaning "that he manifests an authoritarian parenting style." Defendant also had a negative outlook on life and lacked "emotional ties," which "could interfere with the bonding process with the child."
According to Brown, defendant's difficulty in maintaining emotional stability and "feelings of worth in social relationships" made him more likely to "feel upset many times, upset without knowing why." He would be likely to be "moody" with the child and to be unable to deal with childhood behaviors that might be stressful. He would be unable to deal with the child in a predictable manner. Defendant also showed moderate difficulty with "managing his anger."
Based on all of the test results, Dr. Brown concluded that defendant "has a significant potential to engage in physical child abuse." He believed that even if defendant were released from jail immediately, he would be unable to successfully parent K.K.C. "He's not prepared to parent. He does not have job training. He has not completed substance abuse rehab. He continues to manifest significant psychological issues. Residentially, I don't think he's in a position to provide an environment for the child. . . ."
Dr. Brown also discussed the tremendous importance to a child of bonding and a sense of permanency, and the harm to a child from growing up without those factors. He opined that K.K.C. was bonded with his foster parents and opined that Mrs. R., the foster mother, had become his psychological parent. He further testified to his observation of Mrs. R.'s excellent parenting skills. He supported her proposed goal of adopting K.K.C., as well as her goal of adopting several of his siblings.
According to Dr. Brown, K.K.C. would suffer no harm if defendant's parental rights were terminated. On the other hand, he explained why remaining in foster care would cause harm to the child and why adoption would be beneficial. Dr. Brown opined that due to the child's need for permanency, it would not be in his best interest to remain in foster care until defendant was released from prison.
The State also presented testimony from a DYFS case worker, Shannon Paris. She testified that the child's mother had initially told DYFS that another man was K.K.C.'s father. When they learned that defendant might be the father, she began searching for him and discovered that he had been incarcerated since 2003. She arranged for him to be served with the guardianship complaint, and otherwise all other contact with him had been through the court.
According to Paris, K.K.C. and his siblings were physically removed from their mother's custody in 2006, due to her persistent drug abuse. K.K.C. had been in his current foster home since 2007. She confirmed that the foster mother wished to adopt K.K.C., as well as three of his siblings. Paris testified that K.K.C. had not visited with defendant in prison, and that the child could not be placed with his father while he was incarcerated. She testified that DYFS had offered defendant a psychological evaluation and DNA testing ...