On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, Docket No. FG-07-209-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Parrillo, Espinosa and Skillman.
Defendant A.J.R.*fn1 appeals from an order of the Family Part terminating his parental rights to his son A.R. We affirm.
Defendant and his then girlfriend F.P. are the biological parents of three children, Mary, born May 19, 1992; John, born January 31, 1994; and A.R., born April 14, 1997. In addition, F.P. is the mother of A.F.R., born on August 1, 2000. Only A.R. is the subject of the termination proceeding from which this appeal arises.
As concerns A.R., a special needs child, the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS or Division) first became involved when it received a referral from the Newark Police Department that A.R. had fallen out of a three-story window and was taken to the hospital. The matter was investigated and DYFS substantiated neglect, although the record does not indicate against whom. Thereafter, DYFS developed a case plan for the family, including the assistance of a home health aide and a psychological evaluation of F.P. and defendant. DYFS closed the matter on December 18, 2001.
DYFS received another referral in May 2005 after it was reported that A.R. arrived at school with a mark that appeared to be a cigarette burn on his arm. A.R. gave varying accounts of the burn, including that F.P. burned him because he was misbehaving in school. Although DYFS could not confirm a perpetrator, physical abuse was substantiated. Because DYFS was concerned about F.P.'s and defendant's ability to parent, it was determined that it would be "appropriate to proceed with services to assist the . . . family[,]" which included psychological evaluations, family therapy, a parent aide, furniture for the children, and a drug assessment for defendant.
A few months later, in November 2005, DYFS received another referral, this time from the home health aide, who reported that defendant was using drugs and beating the children. During their interviews with the DYFS worker, the children, including A.R., expressed fear of defendant. F.P., who is cognitively delayed, also told the DYFS worker she believed defendant "hits the kids too much" and that he might be using drugs. Although the allegations of abuse were unsubstantiated, DYFS moved to appoint a law guardian with temporary custody of A.R. and his siblings. On the return date, the court awarded legal custody to DYFS, but allowed the children to continue residing with F.P. and defendant. A case plan was developed pursuant to which the services of the home health aide would continue and defendant would undergo a drug assessment. The goal of the services was family stabilization and F.P. and defendant "agreed to cooperate with these services."
Defendant underwent a substance abuse assessment on December 5, 2005. An instant drug screen test revealed a positive read for cocaine. The assessment recommended intensive outpatient treatment at the C.U.R.A. facility in Newark, which defendant successfully completed on June 28, 2006.
Defendant underwent a psychological evaluation on February 21, 2006 by Dr. Mark Singer. The results suggested that defendant "minimizes personal faults and holds unrealistically positive perceptions of his level of psychological functioning." Further, defendant "appear[ed] to have significant difficulty acknowledging and responding to the needs of others." Defendant presented as "irritable, engag[ed] in pessimistic thinking, and ha[d] an inflated sense of self-worth." He also appeared to present with "[f]eelings of depression mixed with anxiety."
As per Dr. Singer's recommendation, A.R. underwent a psychological evaluation performed by Dr. Yasir Ahmad, who concluded A.R. suffered from ADHD and was developmentally delayed. Dr. Ahmad recommended medication for A.R.'s hyperactivity and that he undergo a neuro-cognitive test to ascertain his delay, which was performed on June 6, 2007. The evaluation revealed that A.R. is developmentally disabled and recommended he "be placed in a[n] environment designed specifically for children with profound neurodevelopmental defects." It was also determined that A.R. presents with both dyslexia and apraxia, requiring services of a speech language pathologist, audiologist, pediatric occupational therapist, and pediatric neurologist.
Pursuant to another of Dr. Singer's recommendations, DYFS referred the family to Final Stop Family Services for therapy. The therapist reported that the family was compliant with therapy, but that their progress in communicating with one another appeared to be deteriorating, particularly the children's ability to communicate with one another and with others. By November 16, 2006, defendant had completed twelve hours of parenting classes with the Family Service Bureau of Newark (Bureau), who also reported that defendant's "attendance and high level of participation in the group has shown his high motivation level and genuine interest in learning and incorporating positive parenting skills into his family life."
However, on May 30, 2007, DYFS received another referral concerning A.R. The child's teacher was concerned because "[A.R.] had come to school at least two days with feces in his pants[,]" and his odor required that he be sent to the nurse. A DYFS worker spoke to defendant and F.P. about this incident and advised them that they "have to do a better job with their children's hygiene."
On October 5, 2007, DYFS notified defendant by letter that an appointment had been set up for him to obtain Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for A.R. The letter advised defendant of the documentation he would need to bring to the appointment, inquired whether defendant had Medicaid for A.R., and asked that DYFS be notified as soon as possible of the Medicaid status. The appointment was only attended by a DYFS caseworker and F.P., who together prepared the SSI application, which was eventually accepted upon obtaining defendant's signature.
In response to requests for information from DYFS, A.R.'s teacher, Sharon Hizer, indicated that he was not performing at grade level but instead at kindergarten level. She also revealed that A.R.'s "clothes are dirty at times" and that while "[t]he students are required to wear uniforms[,]" A.R. "stated that he cannot because [the uniforms] are too tight." Moreover, Hizer indicated she had no contact with defendant and F.P. because she did not have a working telephone number. Additionally, she was concerned that A.R. might be "hearing voices."
A.R. and his siblings were removed from defendant and F.P.'s home by DYFS on January 31, 2008 due to "educational neglect, insufficient housing and poor hygiene." On February 1, 2008, the Family Part judge ordered that removal was necessary to avoid ongoing risk to the life, safety or health of the child(ren) . . because the parents have educationally neglected all four of their children; the mother is not capable of independently parenting these children and it is the father's responsibility to attend to their educational, medical and psychological needs. The father has not gone to school or [child study team] meetings for any of the children, and all children are doing very poorly in school, the parents have not complied with court orders requiring them to obtain SSI benefits, schedule medical appointments for [A.R.], schedule mentoring intakes for the children, the children are sent to school dirty and malodorous and they do not have appropriate housing . . . .
The court further determined that reasonable efforts to prevent placement prior to removal were made, namely: the Division instructed the parents how to obtain SSI benefits, notified the parents of the way to obtain referrals for medical treatment, attended CST and school meetings on behalf of the children, provided transportation assistance, provided [Division of Developmental Disabilities] referrals, formerly provide a Parent Aide, and instructed the parents how to apply for mentors . .
A.R. and A.F.R. were placed with their paternal aunt, defendant's sister, and have resided there for the duration of this matter. A fact-finding hearing was conducted on May 1, 2008, after which the judge found clear and convincing evidence that defendant and F.P. abused or neglected their children.
DYFS continued to provide services to A.R. and his siblings after their removal from defendant's and F.P.'s care. DYFS assisted the aunt in attending A.R.'s child study team meetings and with scheduling medical appointments and evaluations for A.R. DYFS also referred A.R. to the East Orange General Hospital Child and Adolescence Psychiatric Services. According to the DYFS ...