On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Camden County, Docket No. FG-04-000056-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Carchman and Parrillo.
Defendant, T.B., appeals from a final determination of the Family Part terminating his parental rights to T.T.B. Defendant contends that the court erred in finding that each element of the four-prong test established in N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1 was met by clear and convincing evidence. We disagree, and affirm.
Defendant, T.B., is the biological father of T.T.B.*fn1, who was born on October 9, 2006, to L.M., then 16 years old.*fn2 At the time of T.T.B.'s birth, L.M. herself was in the custody of the Division of Youth and Family Services (Division or DYFS). Both L.M. and her infant son lived with her cousin N.S. until the Division removed them and placed them in a foster home due to L.M.'s "severe" behavioral problems. Soon thereafter, L.M. was arrested for violating probation and placed in a juvenile detention center. On January 8, 2007, the Division was granted custody of T.T.B. pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21, N.J.S.A. 30:4C-12, and Rule 5:12.
T.T.B. remained in foster care until the Division placed him with another family member. After he was injured in that home, the Division again briefly placed T.T.B. in foster care and then back with the maternal cousin, N.S., in February 2008. T.T.B. has resided with N.S. since that time. N.S. wishes to adopt him.
At no point did T.B. ever offer himself as the primary parent. Born on May 19, 1987, T.B. has a history of juvenile delinquency, involvement with DYFS, and adult convictions. At twelve years old, T.B. was arrested on weapons, robbery, and assault charges after he threatened someone with a box cutter. Thereafter, he was charged with harassment after being placed in a Deverearux Teaching Home and threatening his host family with, what they believed, was a gun. He ran away from his next placement at the Crossroads facility in violation of his probation. During his adolescence, T.B.'s behavior resulted in numerous disrupted placements in both resource homes and other skilled facilities, like the Vineland Residential and Youth Employment System (YES) programs.*fn3
As a young adult, on June 22, 2007, T.B. was sentenced, after pleading guilty to both offenses from two separate indictments, to two-years probation and a suspended 364-day term for making terroristic threats and to a concurrent sentence of five-years probation for distribution and/or possession of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to distribute within 1,000 feet of a school zone. In June 2009, he was arrested and incarcerated for receiving stolen property. T.B. was again incarcerated just one month prior to the instant matter on charges relating to aggravated assault for violating the terms of a final restraining order (FRO) involving L.M.
In fact, T.B. has a history of domestic violence. The first FRO against him was issued in August 2008, involving the mother of his other child, for which T.B. had been previously arrested for violating. T.B. is also the subject of another FRO, issued in September 2009 and involving T.T.B.'s mother, L.M., for which, as noted, he was accused of violating and incarcerated for at the time of the instant trial.
Throughout his involvement with DYFS, T.B. was provided "significant therapy, psychological and psychiatric evaluations, medication monitoring [and] behavioral modification" to deal with his demonstrated "anger and aggression, and explosive" behavior and other mental health conditions, diagnosed as: "attention deficit disorder - mixed type, oppositional defiant disorder, bipolar affective disorder, depressive disorder - not otherwise specified, conduct disorder - solitary aggressive type, borderline intellectual functioning, and dsythymic disorder."
In the three years since T.T.B.'s birth, the Division has offered an array of services to T.B. to bolster his abilities as a parent. Among these services was a referral to parenting classes offered through Velez Professional Services beginning in October 2007. T.B. was discharged from these classes in November 2007 after missing nine of the sixteen meetings. Although T.B. tested negative for drugs at his substance abuse evaluations, he failed to attend the Division's family team meeting regarding T.T.B.'s permanency planning. He did not return the Division's case worker's telephone calls or present any plan as to how he would care for his son.
Most significant, over the course of T.T.B.'s time in foster care, T.B.'s involvement with his son gradually decreased. Initially, the trial court offered him a "liberal and open" visitation schedule in N.S.'s home, but this ended when a domestic violence altercation occurred between T.B. and L.M. during a visit. Thereafter, all visits were to occur at the Division's office, but T.B. rarely attended. As the Division case worker, Nikiya Beatty, testified at trial, "his visits became more sporadic and more sporadic until they were like months apart." T.B. never provided child support for T.T.B.
T.B. underwent a psychological assessment by Dr. Ronald Gruen, who also performed bonding evaluations of T.T.B. with T.B. and N.S. The psychological evaluation included a clinical interview as well as a battery of psychological testing, including the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory-III (MCMIII), the Rotter Sentence Completion, and projected drawings. The results of the MCM-III testing indicated that T.B. has "significant psycho pathology; depression; anxiety; paranoia; underlying personality disorder . . . and borderline and dependant traits." Other testing determined that T.B. is "very immature, very emotionally labile or excitable, quick to anger, fixates on the negative, fails to mobilize himself to do something constructive, quick to act out, lacks frustration tolerance, history of unsatisfactory interpersonal relationships, easily upset by other[s] and quick to externalize blame, rather than to own it." These results led Dr. Gruen to opine that a parental relationship between T.B. and T.T.B. would be "unstable" and would be further burdened by T.T.B.'s young age and dependence on his caregivers.
It was Dr. Gruen's overall impression that T.B. had experienced "a dysfunctional childhood" and was "raised without a firm foundation of parenting." According to Dr. Gruen, this history caused T.B. to develop "a lot of abandonment issues" and a "poor self identity," causing him to act out during his youth. T.B.'s psychological weaknesses, as noted by Dr. Gruen, will likely require significant time and effort to correct, and furthermore, therapy would only be successful if T.B. was motivated to change. However, according to Dr. Gruen, T.B. does not have the motivation to engage in the intensive therapeutic process it would take for him to safely and effectively parent his son. T.T.B., on the other hand, is at a crucial stage of development in which his personality is being formed and, therefore, cannot wait for T.B. to undergo the therapy necessary to correct his conditions. In other words, it would only serve to disrupt T.T.B.'s permanency to make him wait any longer for his father to care for him. According to Dr. Gruen:
Because his personality is being formed.
The basis of his identity is between zero and five. That's what we believe. And, you know, he's being well taken care of now, he feels very secure where he is, and I think it will be very disruptive to him to move him from that setting, especially if his father has no home, no job, no opportunity to ...