On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Sussex County, Docket No. FG-19-15-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 14, 2010
Before Judges Fisher, Simonelli and Fasciale.
In this appeal, defendant C.V. (defendant) appeals the termination of her parental rights to two children, J.N.C., who was born on December 10, 1998, and J.A.C., who was born on April 22, 2005. She argues the evidence was of insufficient weight and termination was inequitable under the circumstances. We disagree with those arguments and affirm.*fn1
The Division of Youth and Family Services (the Division) first became involved with this family in 1999 when it received a referral that defendant had abused J.N.C. Although the allegations were not substantiated, the family was found in need of services. As a result, the Division was intermittently involved with this family during the years that followed. In February 2007, after investigating a claim of domestic violence, police made a referral to the Division that the family had no heat and the home was unkempt. Based upon its investigation, the Division referred the parents for substance abuse assessments. J.C., the children's father, acknowledged his use of crack cocaine; he was subsequently incarcerated for violating a domestic violence restraining order.
In May 2007, the Division received a referral that defendant was using heroin. She denied the charge. The next month, the Division received another similar referral and a urine sample taken from defendant tested positive for opiates. Defendant was referred for treatment but did not attend. She again tested positive for opiates in September after which she acknowledged heroin use. As a result, the children were removed from the home. They remained out of the home when, on February 15, 2008, defendant gave birth; both defendant and the newborn tested positive for crack cocaine.
In the proceedings that followed, defendant was ordered to attend substance abuse treatment and to undergo a psychological evaluation. Only supervised visitation of the children was permitted. In April 2008, defendant entered Sunrise House's inpatient program. The psychological evaluation revealed that defendant was an "immature, dependent, emotionally needy, cognitively limited, depressed neglectful parent." She admitted to the psychologist to "a history of heroin, prescription drugs and cocaine abuse while caring for her children," yet "minimized the effect of her drug use on her children and [her] parenting ability." The psychologist concluded that defendant's prognosis for recovery was "poor." This prognosis proved accurate when defendant was discharged from Sunrise House in May 2008 following two positive urine screens for heroin. Defendant again tested positive for opiates on June 13 and 27, 2008, prompting the trial court to approve the Division's plan of termination of parental rights.
This guardianship action was commenced in September 2008. In early proceedings, defendant was ordered to attend partial hospitalization substance abuse treatment and to submit to random urine screens. She tested positive for cocaine on July 31, 2009, and positive for morphine on August 31, 2009.
The five-day trial took place on nonconsecutive dates between August 2009 and October 2009. In rendering his decision, the trial judge employed the four-prong test contained in N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a), which requires that the Division prove by clear and convincing evidence:
(1) The child's safety, health or development has been or will continue to be endangered by the parental relationship;
(2) The parent is unwilling or unable to eliminate the harm facing the child or is unable or unwilling to provide a safe and stable home for the child and the delay of permanent placement will add to the harm . . .;
(3) The [D]ivision has made reasonable efforts to provide services to help the parent correct the circumstances which led to the child's placement outside the home and the court has considered ...