On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Camden County, Docket No. FG-04-67-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted November 10, 2010
Before Judges Fuentes and Ashrafi.
Defendant B.C. is the biological mother of L.L.C.-P., a boy who is now three years old. She appeals from the final judgment of guardianship entered by the Family Part terminating her parental rights to her son. We affirm.
We gather the following facts from the record developed before the trial court.
Defendant has a chronic substance abuse problem. Her first child, L.P., tested positive for illicit narcotics at the time of his birth in May 2003. The Family Part terminated defendant's parental rights to L.P. by default as a result of her failure to respond to a guardianship complaint filed against her by the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS or Division). L.P. was eventually adopted when his biological father N.P. voluntarily agreed to surrender his parental rights. Defendant's and N.P.'s second child, L.C., is a little girl who is now four years old and was born addicted to methadone. Defendant's and N.P.'s parental rights to L.C. were terminated in March 2008 after four days of trial.
L.L.C.-P. was born on September 20, 2007, fifteen weeks premature. At the time of his birth he weighed just over one pound, tested positive for cocaine, and was immediately placed in the neonatal intensive care unit. Defendant also tested positive for cocaine at the time of delivery.
Defendant tested positive for cocaine approximately three months before the birth of L.L.C.-P. She was admitted to the hospital seven days before L.L.C.-P. was born due to her "water breaking" but left the hospital against medical advice the day before L.L.C.-P. was born. She tested positive for cocaine during this six-day period of hospitalization.
Based on the circumstances surrounding L.L.C.-P.'s birth, the staff at the hospital referred the matter to DYFS. A Division caseworker visited the hospital the day after L.L.C.-P.'s birth and confirmed from the attending nurse that the child was being treated for jaundice and exhibited the symptoms of cocaine withdrawal. L.L.C.-P. was delivered by Caesarian section and was at risk of having three of his toes amputated because of poor circulation to his feet. Although the Division did not take legal action at that time to obtain custody of the child, a Division caseworker requested the hospital staff not to discharge L.L.C.-P. without first notifying DYFS.
The Division caseworker met with defendant at the hospital to discuss the situation with her son. Defendant was not receptive to the Division's involvement and denied having used cocaine during her pregnancy or near the time of L.L.C.-P.'s birth. Defendant refused to disclose her home address or identify who was L.L.C.-P.'s biological father. The caseworker advised defendant that if she did not voluntarily enroll in a substance abuse rehabilitation program, the Division would take custody of L.L.C.-P. The child remained hospitalized for five months with severe asthma. He was on a ventilator for approximately one month, received multiple blood transfusions to treat his anemia, and suffered from an array of other medical problems.
On October 9, 2007, defendant called a Division caseworker to discuss the situation with her son. Defendant agreed to meet with the caseworker to discuss what services DYFS was willing to provide her in order to retain custody of her son. On October 18, 2007, defendant and the Division caseworker met at defendant's apartment. Defendant told the caseworker that she had completed parenting classes at Family Services and was being assessed for further ...