On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Camden County, Docket No. FG-04-128-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Parrillo, Skillman and Hoffman.
These are consolidated appeals from a final judgment terminating defendants' parental rights to their minor child, C.C., born April 7, 2009. M.D.C. is the natural mother of C.C. and R.E.C. her natural father.*fn1 Following a three-day trial, Judge Angelo DiCamillo issued a written decision on March 15, 2011, and entered a judgment of guardianship terminating defendants' parental rights the following day.
Following careful review of the trial record, we discern no basis to disturb the trial judge's decision. Judge DiCamillo's opinion addressed the standards governing termination of parental rights, N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a)(1) to (4), as well as pertinent case law. In reaching his conclusions, the trial judge appropriately applied the controlling legal principles to the lay and expert evidence of record. Defendants' claims to the contrary are without merit. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E).
We affirm for the reasons set forth in Judge DiCamillo's comprehensive written opinion. We add the following comments.
In addition to C.C., defendants had one other child together, B.C., who was born on October 2, 2006. Their parental rights to B.C. were terminated on June 6, 2008, following a trial, primarily due to defendants' failure to maintain stable housing.*fn2 The Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) also sought to terminate M.D.C.'s parental rights to her older daughter, J.D., who was born on June 5, 2005.*fn3 At the conclusion of the trial regarding B.C., M.D.C. consented to the termination of her parental rights to J.D. in favor of her maternal grandparents for the purpose of adoption.
M.D.C. gave birth to C.C., at 35.4 weeks gestation, on April 7, 2009. Shortly after birth, C.C. was diagnosed with "short gut syndrome," a potentially life-threatening intestinal disorder, secondary to gastroschisis.*fn4
On April 9, 2009, in light of defendants' prior DYFS history, the hospital contacted DYFS about C.C.'s condition. On April 14, 2009, C.C. was transferred to Cooper Hospital in Camden to undergo emergency surgery. On April 15, 2009, the hospital noted that M.D.C. was unavailable to authorize certain emergency treatment for C.C. Two days later, DYFS sought and was granted temporary custody, care, and supervision of C.C.
During the first five months of her life, C.C. underwent fifteen surgical procedures to treat her condition, and numerous tests and scans. By September, it was determined that C.C.'s condition necessitated a transfer to a hospital capable of completing a bowel, intestine, and liver transplant. The closest hospital capable of completing these procedures was Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh (CHOP), approximately a six-hour drive from defendants' home. With the consent of DYFS and defendants, C.C. was transferred to CHOP on September 25, 2009.
At trial, defendants both testified that upon C.C.'s transfer to Pittsburgh, they visited her on a weekly basis until December 2009. Defendants failed to provide any evidence to support this contention, with the exception of one photograph allegedly taken at CHOP in October 2009. The judge found both defendants not to be credible witnesses, describing their testimony as "inconsistent [and] unconvincing." There is no dispute that defendants failed to visit C.C. after December 2009. They attributed this failure to a combination of financial, health, and employment issues.
Joseph Moore, a DYFS caseworker assigned to the family for the first year of C.C.'s life, testified that defendants never told him they could not afford to visit C.C. in Pittsburgh. In addition, there was no evidence of defendants ever alerting the court to this issue at any pretrial proceeding.
C.C. received treatment at CHOP until December 29, 2009, when she was transferred to The Children's Institute in Monaca, outside of Pittsburgh. The Children's Institute provides rehabilitation services to children who are sufficiently healthy to permit discharge from CHOP, but are not healthy enough to function in a home environment.
Although CHOP concluded that C.C.'s condition required placement on the intestinal transplant list, such placement could not occur until DYFS identified a family willing and able to meet C.C.'s extensive medical needs. In a letter to DYFS, CHOP outlined the following requirements:
Pre-Transplant: [C.C.] needs to be placed with a family that is within 45 minutes of Children's Hospital. They must be fully trained through Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh to meet [C.C.]'s extensive medical needs, participate in a psychological evaluation, and be available to transport her to the hospital when organs are located. In addition, the family must be observed numerous times by hospital staff providing direct care of [C.C.]'s special medical needs.
Post-Transplant: [C.C.] needs to be placed with a family that is fully trained to meet her extensive medical needs, needs that are much more extensive after the transplant.
They must be committed to meeting the needs of this child for at least two years. The family does not need to be within 45 minutes of the hospital but ready and willing to bring her to the hospital for all postoperative visits, scopes, medication checks, etc., etc. They will also need to bring her immediately to Children's Hospital should an emergency occur.
Given the above requirements, extensive training was obviously required before defendants or any family could provide an appropriate home for C.C. To that end, DYFS worked with CHOP to schedule defendants to undergo training in Pittsburgh during the week of April 19, 2010. In an April 9, 2010 letter to defendants, DYFS outlined defendants' week of training:
You are expected to be at the Children['s] Institute . . . 24 hr/day the entire week. You will participate in all care throughout the day and attend every therapy session that [C.C.] has . . . . At least one parent will be required to stay overnight and perform her overnight care as well. Your first day is scheduled to review [C.C.]'s care and be show[n] how to care for [C.C.]. You then will be expected to perform care ...