On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, Docket No. FG-07-161-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Sapp-Peterson and Alvarez.
Defendants D.B. and Y.T. appeal from the trial court's order dated April 17, 2008, terminating their parental rights pursuant to N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a). Guardianship of their daughter, D.N.B., was awarded to the Division of Youth and Family Services (the Division). We affirm.
Defendants assert that the State failed to satisfy the statutory four-prong test for termination of parental rights, found in N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a)(1), (2), (3), and (4), by clear and convincing evidence. In addition, D.B. contends that the trial court should have considered kinship legal guardianship, N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.3, with the child's resource family, D.N.B.'s paternal uncle and aunt, as an alternative to termination of parental rights. Our affirmance is essentially based on the trial judge's sixty-two-page written opinion, which was comprehensive, detailed, and well-reasoned.
FAMILY HISTORY AS DEVELOPED AT TRIAL
Y.T. has two other children, both of whom have been in the Division's care. In fact, Y.T.'s rights to her second child, D.T., were terminated on April 4, 2005, months prior to the birth of the child at issue in this case, D.N.B., on January 26, 2006. The termination of Y.T.'s rights to D.T. was affirmed on appeal. N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs., Nos. A-4542-04 and A-5437-04 (App. Div. February 15, 2006) (slip op. at 6). As we said there, Y.T. suffers from bipolar disorder, depression, and substance abuse, and has a history of abusive relationships with men. Id. at 3. D.B. is not the father of Y.T.'s first two children.
The birth of D.N.B. was brought to the attention of the Division when Y.T. reported to her oldest child's guidance counselor that she had given birth the prior week and was suffering from post-partum depression. D.N.B., who was born prematurely, remained hospitalized after birth for several weeks. When the Division approached Y.T. based on this information, she denied any ongoing substance abuse or mental health problems, although she acknowledged that she took medication. The Division requested that Y.T. sign a case plan, which called for her to attend counseling, take prescribed medication, and obtain a crib for D.N.B. before she was discharged from the hospital. The Division also referred D.B. and Y.T. for substance abuse evaluations. While D.N.B. was in the neonatal intensive care unit, Y.T. did not visit, and D.B. visited only occasionally.
In April 2006, Y.T. was hospitalized for one week as a result of her mental health issues. That month, both parents failed to attend the substance abuse evaluations called for in the Division's case plan.
On the return date of the initial order to show cause, May 9, 2006, both D.B. and Y.T. were screened for drug use. D.B. tested negative, and Y.T. tested positive for cocaine. When asked if the screening would be negative, D.B. stated, "I hope so. I've been to a lot of parties lately."
D.N.B. was discharged from the hospital and placed in a foster home on June 16, 2006. Two months later, she was moved to her current placement with her paternal aunt and uncle.
In June 2006, D.B. and Y.T. were again referred for substance abuse evaluations. On that occasion, they both tested positive for cocaine. Although Y.T. continued in drug treatment, in August 2006, she tested positive for alcohol and provided a potentially adulterated urine sample.
Y.T. underwent a forensic psychological evaluation in September 2006. Although initially scheduled for an August appointment, Y.T. rescheduled for September and left the session early due to transportation issues. The evaluation report included Y.T.'s chronic history of mental health and substance abuse difficulties, which was punctuated by psychiatric hospitalizations. It was recommended that she continue her medication regimen and individual and group therapy. That month, when screened again for drug use, Y.T. adulterated her sample.
Meanwhile, D.B. was experiencing his own difficulties in drug treatment. He refused to submit to a drug screen on September 12, 2006. An October 20, 2006 progress report indicated that out of ten urine screens, five were positive for alcohol, and that D.B.'s attendance at treatment sessions was sporadic.
In September 2006, D.B. and Y.T. began therapeutic supervised visitation through the Family Enrichment Program (FEP). The Division received reports in October 2006 that Y.T. minimally attended her outpatient substance abuse counseling and submitted at least two adulterated drug screens. Y.T.'s treatment program administratively terminated her due to ...