On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Passaic County, No. FG-16-28-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued September 22, 2009
Before Judges Wefing, Grall and LeWinn.
J.C. and S.B. are the mother and father, respectively, of K.C., now ten years old. They have each appealed from the trial court's judgment terminating their parental rights to their son, and we have consolidated their appeals. After reviewing the record in light of the contentions each advances on appeal, we affirm.
K.C. was born in February 1999. The New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services ("DYFS") received referrals with respect to K.C. in April 2000 and in April 2004, each alleging that he was often left alone. DYFS determined no action was required in response to either referral. In January 2006, it received another referral, alleging that K.C., then six years of age, was being exposed to domestic violence and drug use. DYFS conducted an investigation and found the allegations substantiated. The apartment in which K.C. was living with his mother and her boyfriend had no hot water or furniture. K.C. told the DYFS worker that he had seen his "father"*fn1 hit his mother and give her a bloody nose. He indicated familiarity with drug use, although he denied seeing his mother or "father" using drugs. K.C. was removed from his mother's care and placed with his maternal great aunt, T.C. Problems developed with that placement, however, and K.C. was removed and placed with his current caregiver, N.B., with whom he has resided since April, 2006. N.B. wishes to adopt K.C.
At the trial, DYFS presented three witnesses: two of its caseworkers, and Robert Kanen, Psy.D. Dr. Kanen performed psychological evaluations of J.C. and S.B. Dr. Kanen noted J.C.'s history of drug abuse and diagnosed her with interpersonal alienation, depression, and anxiety. In his report, he characterized her as "very erratic with frequent mood changes and a strong tendency toward poor judgment." He concluded that she had severe parenting deficits and was unable to parent K.C.
Dr. Kanen summarized his evaluation of S.B. in the following manner:
[H]e may be characterized by unpredictable and depressive moods, edgy irritability, and feelings of being cheated, misunderstood and unappreciated. Possibly critical and bitter, he may often feel like a victim, overburdened and mistreated.......
When faced with too many demands, he is prone to be moody, unstable and erratic.
There is a low tolerance for frustration.
This raises concerns about his capacity to maintain his composure and control over his angry feelings when faced with childcare challenges.
Dr. Kanen also conducted a bonding evaluation between K.C. and J.C. He noted that K.C. recognized J.C. as his mother and that a bond existed between the two. He described that bond, however, as an insecure one in light of J.C.'s history of drug abuse, depression, and unstable lifestyle. Dr. Kanen also recognized that K.C. would experience a loss if K.C. were permanently removed from J.C., but expressed the opinion that his positive relationship with N.B. and psychotherapeutic services would prevent him from suffering serious and enduring harm.
Dr. Kanen testified that K.C. had a positive relationship with N.B. He said that the boy was "much more alive and comfortable, and interacted very well" with her. He described N.B. as "very interactive, very educational, very nurturing." He noted K.C.'s need for stability and "closure." He testified that in his opinion it would be a "good thing" for K.C. if he were to be adopted by N.B.
J.C. testified, as did her expert, Marc Friedman, Ph.D. Dr. Friedman conducted a psychological evaluation of J.C., as well as bonding evaluations of K.C. with J.C. and with N.B. Dr. Friedman testified that a strong bond existed between K.C. and J.C. but that in his opinion, although J.C. had made significant progress in addressing her problems, she was not yet ready to serve as a parent to K.C. It was Dr. Friedman's opinion that an individual needed to remain drug-free for several years before being reunified with a child. In his report, Dr. Friedman had recommended kinship legal guardianship, but by the time of trial, that was not a viable alternative because N.B. had rejected it. He testified that in that context, terminating J.C.'s parental rights would cause more harm than good to K.C.
Dr. Friedman observed K.C. separately with J.C. and with N.B. He noted that the boy had a positive relationship with both women but admitted on cross-examination that when asked to draw a picture of his family, he drew his foster family.
S.B. also testified, as did his expert, Lidia D. Abrams, Ph.D. Dr. Abrams interviewed S.B. and performed several recognized tests. She testified that she found nothing that would interfere with S.B.'s ability to parent K.C. She did not observe the two together and did not express an opinion on the question whether K.C. should be placed with S.B.
Following the conclusion of this trial, the trial court issued a written opinion setting forth its determination that the parental rights of both J.C. and S.B. should be terminated. This appeal followed.
We turn first to the appeal of J.C. On appeal, she raises the ...