On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Union County, Docket No. FG-20-53-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 20, 2010
Before Judges Grall, C.L. Miniman and LeWinn.
R.P. appeals from an order of the New Jersey Superior Court, Chancery Division, Family Part, Union County, terminating his parental rights to T.A.D., born August 2006, and E.D., born September 2007. The children's mother, T.D., voluntarily surrendered her parental rights and did not participate in the guardianship proceedings or file an appeal.
R.P. seeks reversal of the order on the ground that the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) did not prove its case. Because the judgments are supported by evidence clearly and convincingly establishing that termination of his parental rights is in the best interests of his children, as defined in N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1a, we affirm. In re Guardianship of J.N.H., 172 N.J. 440, 471-72 (2002).
DYFS became involved with R.P.'s family before T.A.D. was discharged from Trinitas Hospital following his birth. R.P. and T.D. told Marion Grogan, a social worker at Trinitas Hospital, that they were both working but did not have a crib, car seat, baby clothes or any other equipment for their child. Consequently, Grogan notified DYFS, and DYFS sent a caseworker to investigate.
R.P. and T.D. offered the caseworker an explanation for their lack of preparation and described their plans to allocate responsibility for the infant's care. They explained that the baby had arrived several weeks early and they would obtain what the infant needed as soon as possible, and when T.D. returned to her job as a school crossing guard, R.P., who worked nights, would care for the child while she worked. Although R.P. admitted that he felt "a little overwhelmed" when he thought about assuming that responsibility, the caseworker found no reason for concern about abuse or neglect.
Seventeen days later, Grogan informed DYFS that T.A.D. had been admitted to Trinitas for failure to thrive. T.A.D. had lost a pound, which the parents and medical professional attributed to improper preparation of T.A.D.'s formula.
Recognizing that new parents commonly have that difficulty, DYFS again found no abuse or neglect and arranged for a homemaker to assist and instruct T.A.D.'s parents. After two weeks, things had not improved. The homemaker reported that the formula was still mixed improperly, bottles were not sterilized and the parents were using dirty washcloths on T.A.D.'s face and mouth. The baby's bottles and blankets were left on the floor and the apartment was "filthy." A DYFS caseworker visited the home, confirmed the conditions and, at R.P.'s request, extended the services of the homemaker for another two weeks. By the end of that period, the homemaker agency felt sufficiently "comfortable" to recommend discontinuation of its services. The parents changed from powdered formula to liquid formula, which the parents did not have to mix, and although the bathroom was still "filthy," the apartment was "generally clean."
T.A.D. did not thrive, however. On November 7, 2006, T.A.D.'s pediatrician contacted DYFS because he was not growing at a normal rate. His growth was "way below" and "starting to fall off" the curve.
DYFS responded by providing additional services in the home and having a caseworker monitor progress. The caseworker noted that R.P. was not washing himself "very well" and detected a distinct odor in the "filthy and cluttered" home. Although the family moved to a new apartment in May 2007, the problems with cleanliness continued. On June 1, 2007, there were dirty bottles on the floor and inside T.A.D.'s crib. There were also dirty diapers balled up on the floor. R.P. was seen drinking T.A.D.'s juice straight from the bottle. He also left used toilet paper in the sink and on the floor and toilet tank.
There were health problems beyond basic hygiene. T.A.D. was having digestive problems and on May 25, 2007, medication was prescribed. Despite frequent reminders from the in-home aides and the caseworker, R.P. neglected to fill the prescription. Even after DYFS ...