On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, Docket No. FG-07-18-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 12, 2011
Before Judges Grall and Alvarez.
In appeals that we have consolidated, the parents of A.V. contend that the trial court erred in terminating their respective parental rights. J.V. is A.V.'s father and J.B. is her mother. The law guardian and the Division of Youth and Family Services (Division) oppose the parents' appeals. We affirm, because the judgments are supported by evidence clearly and convincingly establishing that termination is in the best interest of A.V. as defined in N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1a. In re J.N.H., 172 N.J. 440, 471-72 (2002).
On June 1, 2008, J.V. and J.B. were arrested in Newark by a police officer who found heroin in their car. Their daughter A.V., who was then two-and-one-half-years-old, was with them.
J.B. admits that she attempted to swallow the heroin when the officer approached, and J.V. and J.B. later explained they had heroin because they were trying to get off methadone and thought it would help. Both had well-established histories of substance abuse, and J.V. acknowledged multiple incarcerations. Because the parents were taken into custody, the police contacted the Division, and the Division commenced this litigation by way of an order to show cause and complaint filed pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.30 and N.J.S.A. 30:4C-12. At the parents' request, A.V. was placed with J.V.'s sister, S.V., who lives in Hackensack. During the first hearing, J.B. stipulated that A.V. was endangered on the night of the arrest.
At the time of their arrest, J.V., J.B. and A.V. were living with J.B.'s parents and son born of a prior relationship. J.B. had given her parents custody of her son in 2004.
The Division contacted the maternal grandparents soon after A.V. was placed with S.V. The grandparents said they had spoken to S.V. and had no concerns about A.V. being in her care. The maternal grandmother stated she and her husband felt A.V. was fine with S.V., and that they could not care for A.V. because her husband's health was not good and they already had responsibility for J.B.'s son. When the potential for termination of the parents' parental rights and A.V.'s adoption became clear later in the proceedings, the maternal grandparents asked to be considered as potential caregivers. The Division did not consider placement in their home an option because A.V.'s parents were living there at the time. Accordingly, A.V. remained in S.V.'s care between June 1, 2008 and November 17, 2010, the date on which the trial court determined that the termination of parental rights was in A.V.'s best interest.
During the early stages of the litigation, the Division's efforts to provide services for the parents were complicated by the parents' transient lifestyle and failure to maintain contact with the Division as they moved from place to place. Although both parents were placed on probation in New Jersey as a consequence of their arrest for possession of heroin, they lived in motels in New Jersey for less than a month after J.V.'s release from jail in early August, and then returned to the maternal grandparents' home in Pennsylvania. They had canceled a meeting with the Division and promised to reschedule; however, they did not tell the Division they had moved or call to reschedule the appointment to arrange services. They had not told S.V. about their move either.
The Division eventually reached A.V.'s parents at the home of the maternal grandparents. On October 22, the trial court entered an order that contemplated transfer of this case to Pennsylvania's courts and protective services agency, but J.B. and J.V. left Pennsylvania and returned to New Jersey after it was entered. By late February 2009, about nine months after A.V. had been removed from their care, they again returned to Pennsylvania to live with J.B.'s parents. At that time, J.B. was expecting another baby. Once again, the parents failed to advise the Division of their plans before leaving for Pennsylvania. Although the Division had scheduled parental evaluations and notified the parents, they did not keep the appointments. The parents first attended a meeting to arrange services on April 16, 2009, more than ten months after A.V. was removed from their care. By that time, the trial court had approved the Division's plan for termination of parental rights and A.V.'s adoption by S.V.
The plan for services to which the parents agreed required them to attend substance abuse treatment, undergo psychological assessments, visit A.V. weekly in S.V.'s home and cooperate with other services offered by the Division. The parents signed the agreement on April 20, 2009, and with the assistance of the Division they were enrolled in substance abuse programs in Pennsylvania that month. By May, the Division also arranged for parenting classes and evaluations in Pennsylvania.
In June, J.B. gave birth to her third child; the baby tested positive for methadone and another drug that had been prescribed for J.B. The parents' drug-treatment program included methadone therapy. In September, after a report on the parents' behavior in a parenting class, the Division arranged ...