On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Hudson County, FG-09-157-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued September 27, 2010
Before Judges Reisner, Sabatino and Alvarez.
Defendants P.C. (mother) and K.S. (father)*fn1 appeal from a November 6, 2009 order of the Family Part terminating their parental rights to their two children, A.S. III and K.S., Jr. We have consolidated these appeals for purposes of this opinion and we now affirm.
The essential facts were set forth at length in Judge Mark J. Nelson's thorough written opinion dated November 6, 2009, and need not be repeated here in the same detail. In brief, both parents have serious and persistent substance abuse problems. Their substances of choice include heroin, cocaine and large amounts of alcohol. In 2000, the older child, A.S. III, was born with cocaine and amphetamines in his system. The Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) obtained custody of the child and placed him with his paternal grandmother.*fn2 A.S. III was returned to his parents' custody, but DYFS intervened again in 2007 due to the parents' drug use and placed A.S. III with his paternal grandmother, W.S. In October 2008, the younger child, K.S., Jr., was born with alcohol and opiates in his system and suffered withdrawal symptoms. He was hospitalized for several weeks after birth and was thereafter placed in a foster home.
Despite efforts throughout 2008 and 2009 to provide the parents with drug treatment, they either did not attend or did not cooperate with the treatment offered to them. The trial judge found that DYFS made "extraordinary efforts" to help the parents, but they refused to cooperate and "continued to deny . . . that substance abuse was a problem" or that it "affected their ability to act as parents and to provide a safe and stable home for the children." The record amply supports those findings.
At the guardianship trial, the State presented testimony from a psychologist, Dr. Allison Winston, who had evaluated each parent three times. The first evaluation was in March 2008, shortly after they lost custody of A.S. III. At that time, Dr. Winston recommended that both parents undergo drug treatment as well as anger management and parenting education.
The second evaluation was on November 13, 2008, shortly after P.C. gave birth to K.S., Jr. During the evaluation, P.C. admitted to Dr. Winston that, despite going through substance abuse treatment, she used alcohol during her pregnancy, even though she knew she was pregnant, and that she tested positive for opiates when the baby was born. Hospital employees reported that the father appeared intoxicated when he was at the hospital for the baby's birth. K.S. denied being drunk, but admitted to Dr. Allison that he had been drinking that day.*fn3 At the time Dr. Allison evaluated the parents in November, K.S. still had not attended substance abuse treatment or anger management classes, and P.C. had relapsed into drug and alcohol use. Hence, Dr. Allison concluded that neither parent was ready to care for their children.
Dr. Allison evaluated the parents a third time in July and August 2009. At that time, both parents admitted to her that they were still using alcohol and drugs, although they sought to minimize the extent of their problems. K.S. admitted that he was "still drinking pretty regularly" and that "he was still taking Percocets" although he "didn't necessarily have a prescription for it." He also had no insight into the harm his addiction could pose to his children or his need to obtain treatment.
P.C. had "relapsed again recently" and admitted to Dr. Allison "that she had been still . . . drinking alcohol pretty . . . frequently." She had not attended the psychotherapy Dr. Allison had recommended. She also had no relapse prevention plan and did not regularly attend a support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. Dr. Allison concluded that neither K.S. nor P.C. was able to safely parent the children and they would not be able to act as parents in the foreseeable future due to their persistent substance abuse problems.
Dr. Allison conducted bonding evaluations between the children and their parents, and also between the children and their maternal aunt, S.T., who was a potential adoptive parent. Dr. Allison concluded that the older child had a strong attachment to both of his parents, and the younger child had a strong attachment to his ...