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New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. J.B

March 13, 2012


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, Docket No. FG-07-48-11.

Per curiam.



Submitted February 14, 2012

Before Judges A. A. Rodriguez, Sabatino and Fasciale.

J.B., the birth father of A.H.,*fn1 a girl born in October 2006, appeals from the judgment of guardianship that terminated his parental rights to his daughter. E.L.H., the birth mother, consented to an identified surrender to the foster parents of A.H., and does not appeal the guardianship judgment against her. We affirm.

A.H. was born prematurely. Because hospital personnel were concerned about the birth mother's mental health and ability to care for A.H., the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) was notified. The hospital staff also noted that J.B. acted aggressively while at the hospital. After a psychological evaluation indicated that the birth mother was unable to care for her premature newborn, DYFS determined that A.H. could not be released to her birth parents until they participated in various services.

DYFS explored placement with J.B.'s mother, but she was not interested. However, weeks later, J.B.'s mother contacted DYFS to indicate that she and J.B. were willing to care for A.H. DYFS executed a Dodd removal*fn2 of A.H. from the hospital and placed the girl with a foster family. J.B. requested a paternity test.

DYFS began providing services for the birth parents. In December 6, 2006, Leslie Trott, Ed.D., a psychologist, performed a psychological evaluation on both parents. Her report was admitted in evidence. Dr. Trott found the birth mother to have "some slowness in social and emotional skills." She also opined that J.B. displayed "no evidence of emotional distress nor psychiatric dysfunction," but "harbor[ed] some misinformation regarding child rearing and should attend and graduate from parenting classes."

Pursuant to a court order, DYFS placed A.H. with her birth parents on March 19, 2007, and arranged for parenting skills classes for J.B. and in-home parenting classes. DYFS also implemented in-home nursing services to assist in the return of A.H. to the birth parents' care.

This placement of A.H. with her birth parents was brief. One month later, on April 19, 2007, DYFS received a referral from Newark Beth Israel Hospital. The birth mother had taken A.H. to the emergency room because the baby had a cough and fever. While at the hospital, the birth mother disclosed that there was domestic violence in her home and she did not want to return there. She reported that J.B had thrown a cup at her and pulled her by her throat. She wanted to go to a shelter, but the shelter would not take her and the baby. She asked that A.H. be placed through DYFS.

DYFS executed another Dodd removal, and placed A.H. with her original foster parents. A.H. has resided with them since the second removal. Thus, except for one month, in March/April 2007, A.H. has lived with her foster parents.

Nonetheless, at that time, DYFS planned for reunification of A.H. with her birth parents. In June 2007, J.B. was evaluated by Albert R. Griffith, Ed.D., a psychologist, and his report was admitted at trial. By this time, J.B. and the birth mother had separated. Dr. Griffith opined that J.B. did "not appear to present an abuse potential for the child," was "a reasonable candidate for custody" and did "not appear to suffer from any diagnosable psychological conditions."

As of September 24, 2007, DYFS still intended to continue their efforts to reunify J.B. and A.H. DYFS referred J.B. for additional counseling and parenting skills classes. DYFS also arranged supervised visitations with A.H. However, J.B. did not benefit from these programs.

On October 29, 2010, DYFS filed a complaint for guardianship. On January 10, 2011, the birth mother executed an identified surrender of A.H. to her foster parents. Trial began on March 7, 2011. Judge John J. Callahan presided at the trial.

At trial, DYFS presented two witnesses: Denise M. Williams Johnson, Ph.D., a psychologist, and DYFS caseworker Diana Trail. Dr. Johnson performed a psychological evaluation on J.B., as well as a bonding evaluation between J.B and A.H. J.B. denied that there was any physical violence in the home at the time A.H. was removed. J.B. noted that the ...

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