On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Mercer County, FG-11-52-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 26, 2011
Before Judges Fuentes, Ashrafi and Nugent.
Defendant D.M. is the father of two children: a daughter, A.M., now three years old, and a son, D.P.M., now two. He appeals from a Family Part judgment terminating his parental rights to both children. The children's biological mother, S.W., entered into an identified surrender of the children so that S.C., the paternal grandmother of S.W.'s oldest son, could adopt them. We affirm, substantially for the reasons stated by Judge Audrey P. Blackburn in her comprehensive oral opinion placed on the record on March 10, 2010.
The State of New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (the Division) first became involved with D.M. and S.W. on August 7, 2007, after receiving a referral that five-month old A.M. had bite marks on her left cheek and choke marks on her neck. Division investigator Betty Lanayis responded and D.M. admitted causing the injuries while playing with his daughter. He was subsequently charged with and pleaded guilty to fourth degree child endangerment. On August 9, 2007, the Division removed A.M. from D.M.'s residence and placed her with S.C., with whom she has remained since her removal. Meanwhile, the Division arranged for D.M. to receive a psychological evaluation and parenting classes. The Division assigned Family Service Specialist Caroline Rich to the family with a goal of reunification. Rich referred D.M. to Children's Home Society for an intensive services program consisting of parenting classes, visitation, and counseling; and to Catholic Charities for anger management and domestic violence training. D.M. was partially compliant with his visitation and counseling sessions, and completed the anger management and domestic violence programs.
Rich also assessed relatives for placement of A.M., including D.M.'s sister, but the sister's boyfriend would not provide information required for placement. Finally, Rich provided D.M. and S.W. with bus passes and gave them a list of affordable housing.
While Rich was working with the family, D.P.M. was born in March 2008. The Division arranged for Family Preservation Services to assist D.M. and S.W. with parenting skills, guidance, and transportation, but the month after D.P.M.'s birth he was admitted to the hospital with a "green stick" fracture of the femur, which the doctors believed was not accidental. As a result, the Division removed D.P.M. from D.M.'s residence and placed him with A.M. and S.C. D.M. generally denied causing the injury to D.P.M., but admitted during an interview with a psychologist that "probably accidentally something had happened to [D.P.M.]" while he was manipulating the baby's legs.
Following a series of proceedings in the Family Part, the Division filed a complaint for guardianship of A.M. in November 2008. In April 2009, the Division filed an amended complaint for guardianship of D.P.M. as well. Psychological and bonding evaluations of all parties were completed. Judge Blackburn conducted the guardianship trial over six days in January, February, and March 2010.
The Division introduced more than thirty exhibits at trial, including the Division's investigative files, and the psychological and bonding evaluations of the parents, the children, and S.C. The Division called as witnesses a psychologist, and four employees who testified about the removal of the children from defendant's residence, the services provided to the parents and children, and their observations of the children's relationship with S.C. The Law Guardian presented the testimony of a psychologist, as did defendant, who also called a counselor from Catholic Charities' Family Growth Program and testified on his own behalf.
All three psychologists agreed D.M. was incapable of being the sole caretaker for either child, believing that he had significant interpersonal problems. Dr. Amy Becker-Mattes, whose testimony was presented by the Law Guardian, reached the following conclusions about D.M. in her written report of November 30, 2009:
Adjustment Disorder with a mixed Disturbance of Emotions and Conduct. Other diagnoses including Physical Abuse of a Child, Physical Abuse of an Adult, Partner Relational Problem and a Personality Disorder Not Otherwise Specified were made as well. This examiner suggested that the ...