On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Union County, Docket No. FG-20-94-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted: February 25, 2010
Before Judges Axelrad, Fisher and Sapp-Peterson.
S.W., the mother, and S.B., the father, appeal from the Family Part order of May 5, 2009, terminating their parental rights to their then three and one-half-year-old daughter, S.D.B., and awarding guardianship of the child to the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) following a contested trial.*fn1
On appeal, both parents contend DYFS failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence the requisite statutory prongs to establish that the best interests of their daughter required severance of their parental ties. Father also argues: (1) the court committed reversible error in refusing to adjourn the trial to allow him the opportunity to confer with new counsel, and (2) he did not receive the benefit of effective assistance of counsel during the guardianship proceedings.
We note that the Law Guardian supports termination of both parents' rights to S.D.B. After considering the record and briefs in light of the applicable law, we are satisfied the trial judge's findings and conclusions are firmly supported by substantial, credible evidence in the record as a whole. See, e.g., N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. A.R.G., 361 N.J. Super. 46, 78 (App. Div. 2003), aff'd in part, modified in part, and remanded, 179 N.J. 264 (2004). We also reject father's other challenges as without merit.
We need not recite in detail the many facts considered by the trial court in its determination. Rather, we briefly summarize the cogent facts considered in concluding the judge's findings were well-supported by the evidence.
S.D.B. was born on December 31, 2005 to twenty-four-year-old S.W. Three days later DYFS received a referral from the hospital reporting that mother and child had tested positive for marijuana and S.W. had not obtained prenatal care. The eighteen-year-old father was incarcerated at the time.*fn2
On January 9, 2006, DYFS executed a Dodd removal and placed S.D.B. in foster care. On February 8, 2006, S.W. stipulated that she committed acts of abuse and neglect, specifically, smoking marijuana while pregnant. When S.W. submitted to a psychological evaluation to determine her parenting ability, mental status and treatment needs with Dr. Mark Singer, Ph.D., on June 20, 2006, she admitted marijuana use since the age of sixteen, and reported last using marijuana five months before.
Dr. Singer found that S.W. lacked the emotional resources needed to care for her child at that time and "her characterological features significantly limit her ability to respond effectively to the needs of others, including children." He found that S.W. was further inhibited by her unaddressed substance abuse issues. Dr. Singer recommended that S.W. complete the following services to assist her in becoming a more viable placement option for her daughter: (1) continue to participate in supervised visitation; (2) obtain appropriate employment; (3) maintain appropriate housing; (4) successfully complete drug treatment, including aftercare and drug testing; (5) participate in parenting skills training; (6) participate in individual counseling; and (7) be evaluated by a psychiatrist.
S.W., however, was erratic and semi-compliant with the myriad of substance abuse, individual counseling and parenting skills classes made available to her by DYFS through the Family and Children's Services (FACS), Trinitas Hospital's Women's Addiction Services (WAS), and NA/AA. For example, the WAS progress reports from July and August 2006 reflect that S.W. tested positive for marijuana on July l2, l7, and 27, 2006, and that she stopped attending the program on August l, after testing positive on that date. She then resumed treatment on August l3, but only attended one full week that month and was semi-compliant with services. WAS compliance reports between October 2006 and May 2007, when S.W. was discharged with semi-compliance, reflect that while she did not have any positive urine screens, S.W. remained semi-compliant with treatment, had problems with attendance on a regular basis, missed treatment every Friday even though she was only excused from treatment every other Friday for visits with S.D.B., and was not attending NA meetings as required. She did, however, attend and complete the early intervention program at Oasis Clinical Services from October l5 through November l5, 2007.
However, DYFS received a referral in June 2008 that S.W. tested positive for marijuana while seven-month-old A.B. was in her custody, and when S.W.'s urine came back positive, DYFS effectuated a Dodd removal of A.B. S.W. finally resumed treatment in November 2008, but according to WAS progress reports, S.W. tested positive for marijuana up until December 29, 2008, and through February 2009, ...