On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Hudson County, Docket No. FG-09-114-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted: March 23, 2011
Before Judges Axelrad, R. B. Coleman, and Lihotz.
S.T. appeals from a May 7, 2010 judgment of the Family Part terminating her parental rights to her then five-and-one-half-year-old son, E.M., and awarding guardianship to the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) for the purpose of effectuating the child's adoption.*fn1 On appeal, S.T. argues DYFS did not prove by clear and convincing evidence the statutory prongs required to establish that her son's best interests required severance of her parental ties. In particular, mother argues that the evidence in the record pertains, in large part, to her two older children - her daughter C.S. and son, R.M., Jr. - who were placed by DYFS outside her home and were not named in the guardianship complaint. We note that the Law Guardian supports termination of S.T.'s parental rights to E.M.
After considering the record and briefs in light of the applicable law, we are satisfied the trial judge's findings and conclusions are firmly supported by substantial, credible evidence in the record as a whole. See, e.g., N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. A.R.G., 361 N.J. Super. 46, 78 (App. Div. 2003), aff'd in part, modified in part and remanded, 179 N.J. 264 (2004), certif. denied, 186 N.J. 603 (2006). We affirm.
We need not describe in detail the many facts the trial court considered. We instead provide a brief summary of the cogent facts we considered in concluding the judge's findings were well-supported by the record.
The following testimony and evidence were presented during the three-day trial in April 2010. DYFS presented the factual testimony of William Larrinaga, an adoption caseworker, and the expert testimony of Frank J. Dyer, Ph.D., who performed a psychological evaluation of S.T. and bonding evaluations of E.M. with both S.T. and his paternal grandmother, D.M. S.T. testified on her own behalf and presented the expert testimony of Albert R. Griffith, Ed.D., who performed a psychological evaluation of her and bonding evaluations of E.M. with both S.T. and D.M. S.T. has two other children who are not the subject of this action - C.S., born on April 30, 1994 and R.M., Jr., born on December 13, 1995. In September 2008, C.S. was placed in a residential treatment facility and R.M., Jr. was placed with his father. E.M. was born on September 12, 2004.
DYFS' involvement with S.T. and her family pre-dated E.M.'s birth. Both before and after, S.T. did not have stable housing. She also reported to DYFS an inability to handle the behavior of her daughter, C.S.
On February 13, 2008, S.T. contacted DYFS to request assistance as she was being evicted at the end of the month because her children damaged the home. S.T. did not follow up with the caseworker and DYFS did not have contact with the family until another referral was received on April 29, 2008. According to this referral, C.S. was hospitalized for homicidal and suicidal ideations. Similar to past hospitalizations and recommendations, S.T. did not follow through in requiring C.S. to take her medications as she "did not feel as if medication was necessary" now or in the past because C.S. "promised she would change and behave." S.T. also detailed the numerous places she and the children had lived following the eviction from her apartment in February 2008: Section 8 housing in Bayonne until her benefits were taken away, and then in the homes of a friend, her sister, and C.S.'s uncle's ex-girlfriend. S.T. also admitted to being unemployed.
S.T. tested positive for marijuana in June 2008. Around that time, S.T. advised DYFS that she had been approved for a subsidized two-bedroom apartment; however, she wanted a three- bedroom apartment because she did not want to share a bedroom with C.S. In July, S.T. again became homeless and the caseworker assisted her in securing a motel room through mid-August.
On June 13, 2008, DYFS sought and obtained an order granting it care and supervision of the three children. A psychiatric evaluation of S.T. was performed on July 10, 2008, revealing she had limited intellectual functioning, coping skills, insight, and judgment. The evaluation also noted S.T. had abused alcohol and marijuana in the past. On July 15, 2008, Dr. Alison Winston performed a psychological evaluation of S.T. with her children. She observed that S.T. had difficulty controlling E.M. The psychologist was concerned that although S.T. "acknowledged that her transience could have negative emotional impact on her children's emotional and behavioral functioning," she did not appear concerned about this issue. Moreover, S.T. was vague in discussing her drug use and financial difficulties. Dr. Wilson concluded that S.T. did not have an understanding of normal child development, was demanding and controlling, and lacked nurturing skills. She recommended psychotherapy, parenting and mentoring programs, and random urine screens.
On July 31, 2008, S.T. contacted DYFS and requested her children be placed with her mother and sister, indicating she was "losing it." When the caseworker arrived at the motel where the family was staying, S.T. requested that only C.S. be removed from her care. When the caseworker advised that all of the children would be removed, S.T. told her older children to run away, which they immediately did. E.M. was removed and DYFS reported C.S. and R.M., Jr. ...