On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Passaic County, Docket No. FG-16-21-11.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted February 15, 2012 -
Before Judges Payne, Simonelli and Hayden.
Defendant H.V., Sr. (Henry),*fn1 the biological father of H.V., Jr. (Howard), born December 26, 2002, appeals from the April 20, 2011 order terminating his parental rights to Howard. Defendant contends that plaintiff New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (the Division) failed to prove that termination was in Howard's best interests pursuant to the best interests of the child test contained in N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a). After carefully reviewing Henry's arguments in light of the record and governing legal principles, we affirm.
We discern the following facts from the record. The Division received a referral on April 16, 2004, concerning Howard and his mother D.B. (Doris)*fn2 from a staff member at St. Joseph's Medical Center. The reporter stated that Howard had been admitted and diagnosed with "failure to thrive," and the mother had engaged in verbally abusive behavior toward her sick child. The Division determined the neglect allegations were unsubstantiated, but offered the family services due to concerns with Doris's parenting skills and Howard's health issues.
In August 2005, the Division again received a referral from a staff member at St. Joseph's, stating that Doris was at the emergency room because she had been smoking marijuana laced with rat poison. Doris also tested positive for cocaine. On August 9, 2005, the Division filed for and obtained custody of Howard. The Division then attempted to supply the mother with services to effectuate reunification with her son.
Because Doris did not participate in the services, in August 2006, the Division asked Henry to take custody of Howard. However, he could not assume custody immediately because of his cocaine addiction. The trial judge ordered the Division to provide services to him, including a substance abuse assessment, out-patient drug treatment, a psychological evaluation, and parenting skills classes. Henry cooperated with the ordered services at the time, as did his live-in girlfriend, who was willing to help parent Howard. By May 2007, after Henry had successfully completed the necessary services, the Division had given custody of the child to Henry and closed the case.
From May through November 2008, the Division received several referrals from staff at Howard's school reporting concerns about Howard's care and his absences from school. The Division investigated each complaint and determined the circumstances did not constitute abuse or neglect. For example, on November 2, 2009, the Division received a referral from a staff member at Howard's school, stating that the child was very dirty, came to school in the same clothing and undergarments for weeks at a time, appeared malnourished, had missed ten days of the new school year, and had a bruise on his hip. The Division's investigation determined Howard's babysitter was responsible for the bruise and his poor hygiene but the allegations of neglect concerning Henry were unfounded.
On December 28, 2009, the Division received a report from the Paterson Police Department, stating that Henry, while with his son, had been arrested the previous day purchasing crack cocaine. He also appeared to the arresting officers to be under the influence of drugs. The Division later learned that Henry had been arrested in October 2009 for selling cocaine.
When arrested, Henry was with J.M. (Jason), a Tier Three convicted sex offender. According to Henry's initial statement, Jason took care of his son for extended periods of time, but he denied knowing Jason was a convicted sex offender. Later he reported that Howard had only stayed with Jason twice, and asserted that Jason would not harm his son because Jason was his friend.
On December 29, 2009 the Division filed for and was granted custody of Howard. Henry requested that the Division place Howard with his former girlfriend, but she was ruled out due to unsuitable housing. The Division placed Howard in a resource home with M.B., who has remained his foster mother and has expressed her commitment to adopt him. On April 13, 2010, at the fact-finding hearing, ...