On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, Docket No. FG-07-97-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 23, 2009
Before Judges Stern, Sabatino and Collester.
Defendant father R.F. appeals from the September 16, 2008 judgment entered by Judge John J. Callahan which terminated his parental rights to his minor son, E.F. We affirm.
On October 17, 2007, the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS or the Division) filed a complaint against R.F. as natural father and G.B. as birth mother to terminate their parental rights to their two minor sons, I.F., born on December 23, 1994, and E.F., born on May 28, 1997. G.B. never responded to the complaint and did not appear at the trial. Her whereabouts are unknown. No appeal is taken from the judgment terminating her parental rights.
R.F. responded to the complaint against him, and Judge Callahan conducted a trial on September 2 and September 3, 2008. The Division's involvement with the family began on December 29, 1994, when a referral was received from St. Elizabeth's Hospital that G.B., then age 35, had given birth to I.F. The referral was the result of information that the mother was using drugs and received no prenatal care. I.F. was born premature and tested positive for cocaine and methadone. He was admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit, received treatment for drug withdrawal and was diagnosed with fetal drug dependency and a heart murmur. The DYFS investigation substantiated abuse by the mother to her young son, but the child was released to G.B.
On May 28, 1997, another referral was made by St. Elizabeth's Hospital to DYFS stating that G.B. gave birth to a 5 pound, 15 ounce baby boy named E.F. A toxicology report revealed that E.F. was born addicted to barbiturates, and he was placed in a neonatal intensive care unit, remaining there for 26 weeks. After investigation of the referral, DYFS found that G.B. neglected E.F. Once again the child was released to live with G.B.
Further referrals were made to DYFS indicating that the children living with R.F. and G.B. were neglected and that the parents were using drugs. A DYFS worker visited the home on April 2, 2001. She observed that the children were barely clothed although the inside temperature was frigid due to a broken boiler. The caseworker noted a steady stream of people entering and exiting the home. Upon inquiry, G.B. admitted using drugs and stated that she wanted help for her addiction. G.B. and R.F. were then scheduled for substance abuse evaluations, but they did not appear.
On May 24, 2001, Judge Marie P. Simonelli entered an order for removal of E.F. and I.F. from their home due to imminent danger to their health and placing the two children in the immediate custody, care and supervision of DYFS. E.F. and I.F. were placed in the same foster home, the first of a series of placements in foster and group homes. Both boys exhibited temper tantrums and aggressive behavior that resulted in the disruption of their placements. Accordingly, they were placed in a series of group homes and foster homes where they received therapy to address their issues of anger. At the time of trial, I.F. was placed in a residential group home appropriate for his age. E.F. lived with foster parents until he was forced to leave due to physical problems of the foster father. On November 27, 2007, he was admitted to a treatment home where he remained at time of trial. Because a learning evaluation of E.F. disclosed that he was extremely intelligent with a high IQ, he was enrolled in a private academy focusing on academics.
The record discloses that neither G.B. nor R.F. regularly visited E.F. or I.F. from the summer of 2001 to the summer of 2004. In June of 2004, DYFS was unable to locate R.F. at an address provided by G.B. However, in August of 2004, R.F. called I.F.'s group home and asked to speak with him, but he was not permitted to do so because the staff director was not sure that R.F. was the father of I.F.
DYFS was unable to contact R.F. until November 7, 2005 when they located him at a Brooklyn address. A visit was arranged with R.F. and his father in December 2005. Thereafter, he began visiting I.F. and E.F. on a biweekly basis, but his visitation was short-lived, and once again DYFS was unable to locate him. As of June 16, 2006, it was reported that R.F. was "still missing". After the trial in this matter commenced, R.F. attended few court dates which Judge Callahan said indicated a low interest level by R.F. in the case. While R.F. has maintained contact with I.F., Judge Callahan found that "the record is barren" as to "the father's interest or considerations regarding his son [E.F.]".
It is noted that DYFS made efforts for placement of I.F. and E.F. with relatives of G.B. and R.F. but that these efforts were unsuccessful. In the summer of 2003, both G.B. and R.F. executed surrenders of their parental rights to I.F. and E.F. for the purpose of adoption by R.F.'s mother who lived in Canada. The case was then transferred to the DYFS Adoption Unit. The caseworker assigned secured passports for the two boys but was unable to place them with the paternal grandmother because she was unwilling to participate in the DYFS foster care process. Judge Callahan specifically found that the paternal grandmother became indifferent to the placement of the children with her due to her failure to confirm that her home was appropriate for the ...