On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, Docket No. FG-07-194-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Fuentes and Simonelli.
S.J. (mother) and C.S. (father) are the biological parents of A.C.S., a little girl born in June 2006. They now appeal from the order of the Family Part terminating their parental rights to their daughter. We affirm. We are satisfied that the record developed before the trial court amply supports the termination of the parental rights of both biological parents.
I. Early Intervention by DYFS
The Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS or Division) first became involved with A.C.S. shortly after her birth. DYFS responded to a referral from a hospital social worker initiated because the child had tested positive for ethanol at the time of her birth. When questioned about her pregnancy, S.J. admitted to having had limited prenatal care and to smoking marijuana on at least one occasion while pregnant. Additionally, immediately after giving birth, S.J. tested positive for tobacco and alcohol. Based both on this information and on the Division's prior involvement with S.J.,*fn1 DYFS assumed temporary legal custody of A.C.S., thereby preventing S.J. from taking the child with her after S.J. was discharged from the hospital.*fn2
On June 14, 2006, the Division retained Dr. Andrew P. Brown of Neurobehavior Consultants, Inc. to determine whether C.S. was psychologically and emotionally capable of carrying out his obligations and responsibilities as A.C.S.'s father. Dr. Brown opined that C.S. had "a significant history of anti-social activity" and "anti-social tendencies as evidenced by [his] dishonesty during the clinical interview." He further noted that C.S. "engages in excessive use of denial" and has "poor insight." With respect to his parenting skills, C.S. appeared "rather rigid in his conceptualization of parenting" which, in Dr. Brown's opinion, would make him "likely authoritative" and could lead him to "experience a distant bond with his children as they mature."
Although C.S. did not present an immediate threat to his daughter, Dr. Brown opined that he needed parenting education, in-home parenting assistance, and continued monitoring by the Division in order to ensure that A.C.S. had a secure and safe home environment. Subject to these conditions, DYFS released A.C.S. to her father's custody on June 14, 2006.
C.S. failed to adhere to these conditions as he did not attend any of the parenting classes scheduled for him by the Family Life Education Center. During this time, a Division worker continued to visit both father and child, attempted to arrange parenting classes for C.S., and provided him with an in-home parent aide. Despite these efforts, at some point during the summer of 2006, DYFS could not locate C.S. or his infant daughter. Concurrently, on July 12, 2006, S.J. tested positive for marijuana during a court-ordered urine screening.
On October 12, 2006, C.S. contacted the Division to report that he had moved to a new residence in Newark. He also provided DYFS with a cell phone number that the caseworker could use to contact him. According to C.S., he had not contacted DYFS earlier because he thought the case was closed. DYFS arranged a visit with the family on October 18, 2006; at this visit, the caseworker noted that A.C.S. appeared "healthy and well taken care of."
The day after the caseworker visited with the family, DYFS became aware that C.S. had outstanding warrants for domestic violence assault, possession of a weapon, and possession of illicit drugs. The Division caseworker who responded to C.S.'s residence that same day found only an uninvolved woman present at the home. She reported that S.J. had recently left the residence with A.C.S. Despite further investigation, DYFS was unable to locate C.S., S.J., or the child.
On October 27, 2006, a caseworker at the Office of Children's Services reported that New York Law Enforcement and the New Jersey Police planned to arrest C.S. due to his outstanding warrants. Thus, A.C.S., the minor child in his custody, would need emergency placement services. C.S. was arrested the following day; DYFS assumed legal custody of A.C.S., and she was placed in foster care, where she still resides.
Division Services to S.J.
From January 2007 until September 2008, the Division scheduled visitation between S.J. and A.C.S. every other week. Although S.J. attended most of these supervised contacts with A.C.S., she occasionally missed appointments without prior notice or explanation. During those times that S.J. met with her daughter, the Division caseworker reported that the interactions between them were mostly positive. After S.J. tested negative for illicit substances, the Division approved mental health services and parenting-skills classes for her at Johnson & Associates Counseling and Consultation Group.
Diagnostic tests performed on A.C.S. on February 5, 2007, to determine her emotional and intellectual development, showed that she was functioning at an "age appropriate" level. With respect to her physical development, although not fully current on her immunization vaccines, A.C.S. was otherwise in good physical health.
On March 12 and 19, 2007, the Division sent non-compliance notices to S.J. regarding her failure to attend parenting skills classes and mental health therapy sessions at Johnson & Associates. On March 21, 2007, S.J. enrolled in Integrity House, an inpatient substance abuse facility in Newark. While in treatment at Integrity House, S.J. was admitted to Beth Israel Hospital in Newark for approximately three days after an altercation she had with another resident. Physicians at Beth Israel diagnosed S.J. as suffering from bipolar disorder. Since ...