On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Somerset County, Docket No. FG-18-119-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted February 28, 2012
Before Judges Messano, Yannotti and Espinosa.
S.C. appeals from a judgment entered by the Family Part on March 25, 2011, terminating her parental rights to J.C.*fn1 and granting custody of the child to plaintiff, the Division of Youth and Family Services (Division or DYFS) so that he could be adopted by his foster parents. We affirm.
S.C. gave birth to J.C. on February 21, 2008. The child's biological father has not been identified. At the trial of this matter, S.C. stated that this was "none of [the Division's] business]." Before J.C. was born, the Division received a report that S.C. was pregnant and tested positive for illegal substances. At the time, S.C. was incarcerated in the county jail, after she was arrested and charged with assault upon a police officer.
Within weeks of J.C.'s birth, the Division received a report that S.C. was not caring for him appropriately. On March 17, 2008, the Division effected an emergency removal of J.C. from S.C.'s custody without a court order pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.29. The Division determined that S.C.'s neglect of J.C. was substantiated because she failed to provide him with adequate shelter, used an illegal substance while caring for him, and acted recklessly by taking him to the home of her aunt, D.C., who had recently pled guilty to a drug charge and did not have custody of her own children. On March 19, 2008, the Division filed a complaint in the Family Part seeking care, custody and supervision of the child. The trial court granted the Division's application.
On March 28, 2008, S.C. was sentenced to three years of probation, conditioned upon service of 270 days in jail, and was required to perform seventy-five hours of community service, as a result of her convictions for third-degree aggravated assault and fourth-degree resisting arrest. The following month, J.C. was classified as a medically fragile child based on a neurological diagnosis. As a result of that diagnosis, J.C. was placed in a Special Health Provider Home.
S.C. was released from jail on July 23, 2008. On August 7, 2008, S.C. was arrested and charged with third-degree unlawful possession of a weapon, third-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, and certain disorderly persons offenses. S.C. was released from jail on November 8, 2008. Several days later, J.C. was placed with the foster parents with whom he continues to live.
In January 2009, Dr. Alexander Iofin (Dr. Iofin) performed a psychiatric evaluation of S.C. During his evaluation, Dr. Iofin learned that S.C. had been treated at a psychiatric hospital from January 16, 2007 to January 26, 2007, when she was discharged to the county jail. The hospital's records detailed S.C.'s long history of aggressive behavior, poly-substance abuse, psychiatric problems, hallucinations, suicide attempts, self-injurious behaviors, and arson. While at the hospital, S.C. reported that she had been using drugs since she was twelve years old. She admitted that she had used cocaine, ecstasy, phencyclidine (PCP), marijuana, and alcohol.
Dr. Iofin diagnosed bipolar disorder with significant psychotic features and concluded that S.C. required treatment for substance abuse and her psychiatric problems. He found that S.C. could not "be considered as a minimally adequate parent for any minor child now or . . . through the year of 2009."
On February 9, 2009, S.C. was again arrested and charged with fourth-degree unlawful possession of a weapon and fourth-degree certain persons not to have weapons. S.C. later pled guilty to those charges and was sentenced to eighteen months of imprisonment.
On March 18, 2009, the trial court conducted a permanency hearing and approved the Division's plan to terminate S.C.'s parental rights to J.C., followed by his adoption. On May 1, 2009, the Division filed a verified complaint seeking the termination of S.C.'s parental rights. The protective services litigation was dismissed. The court conducted another permanency hearing on February 3, 2010, and again approved the Division's permanency plan to terminate S.C.'s parental rights.
The guardianship trial commenced on January 4, 2011. On March 25, 2011, the trial court issued a written opinion in which it concluded that the Division had proven by clear and convincing evidence all four prongs of the best interests standard enunciated in New Jersey Division of Youth & Family Services v. A.W., 103 N.J. 591, 607 (1986), and thereafter codified in N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a).
The court found that the Division had established that J.C.'s safety, health and development had been harmed by his relationship with S.C. The court stated that J.C. was removed from S.C.'s care due in part to S.C.'s continued drug abuse. The court noted that, in the years that followed, S.C. failed to provide J.C. with a safe and stable home because of her incarcerations, continued substance abuse, and failure to meaningfully participate in and take advantage of the resources that the Division had provided. The court found that J.C.'s resulting inability to achieve permanency also constituted harm to the child.
The court further found that the Division had established that S.C. is unwilling or unable to eliminate the harm to J.C. and the delay in the child's permanent placement will cause further harm. The court noted that S.C. failed to participate in or complete services that the Division had provided, including substance abuse treatment, counseling, and parenting skills classes. The court pointed out that these services were needed to allow S.C. to adequately parent the child.
The court also noted that S.C. was incarcerated at the time of the guardianship trial, and she had been in jail for about one-half of J.C.'s life. In addition, the court stated that S.C. remained incapable of parenting the child. The court said that, upon her release from jail, S.C. would require various services.
The court additionally stated that S.C. would have to obtain suitable housing and employment. The court said that, while this occurred, J.C. would have to remain in foster care, where he had been since he was one month old. The court found that "it would be inappropriate for [J.C.] to continue in a state of uncertainty while waiting for [S.C.] to be able to care for him."
In addition, the court found that the Division had shown that it made reasonable efforts to address the causes for the child's removal from the home and had considered alternatives to termination of parental rights. The court stated that the Division had provided S.C. with an array of services to address her psychological and psychiatric problems, persistent drug use and inadequate parenting skills. The court found that the Division had ...