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New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. S.R.S

June 13, 2012


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Camden County, Docket No. FG-04-166-11.

Per curiam.



Submitted June 4, 2012 -

Before Judges Sabatino and Fasciale.

S.R.S. appeals from an August 16, 2011 order terminating his parental rights to his biological daughter, G.H.S.*fn1 He argues that the judge erred by terminating his rights because the Division of Youth and Family Services (the Division or DYFS) failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence at trial each prong of the best interests of the child standard, N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a). We disagree and affirm.

In October 2009, the Division received a referral expressing concerns for G.H.S.'s well-being. The caller asserted that the mother was using drugs and "on the streets," that S.R.S. had no means to support the family, that the parents were asking others to provide diapers and milk, that G.H.S.'s stroller and mattress were dotted with cigarette burn holes, and that G.H.S. was sleeping with her parents on a couch that contained cigarette burn holes. As a result, the Division investigated the allegations.

Caseworkers arrived at the home and observed that the mother was "very highly intoxicated, her eyes were dilated[,] and . . . she was very jittery." They noted that she appeared to be under the influence of drugs. The caseworkers learned that G.H.S. had been staying with a paternal aunt for about one week, while the parents sorted out what were described in the record as some "problems" between them. As the caseworkers attempted to inspect the home, S.R.S. entered and, according to the testimony of one of the caseworks, "was very vulgar . . ., very hostile, and became very threatening to them." The caseworkers called 9-1-1 because S.R.S. chased them out of the house and threatened to shoot them. When the caseworkers returned to the house with the police, the doors were locked and no one was there. The caseworkers returned to the home over the next few days to perform an inspection, but were unsuccessful.

In late October and December 2009, a caseworker conducted a home inspection and communicated with both parents. S.R.S. stated that he was receiving monthly Social Security disability benefits for diabetes, asthma, and sleep apnea. The mother explained that she intended to apply for benefits for bipolar and obsessive compulsive disorders. The caseworker observed that the home was without much food. The Division learned that the parents had an addiction to drugs, and S.R.S. admitted that, in the preceding month, he had been arrested and charged with four drug-related offenses and for making terroristic threats. Although S.R.S. tested positive for alcohol and cocaine, he was reluctant to seek treatment for substance abuse or his psychological problems.

Meanwhile, the Division learned that G.H.S. was again staying with the paternal aunt, who had notified the caseworkers that S.R.S. had threatened to kill her unless she returned G.H.S. to him. The aunt contacted the police and obtained a restraining order against S.R.S., and the police then issued a warrant for his arrest.

In January 2010, the Division conducted a Dodd removal,*fn2 without any objection by the paternal aunt, and placed G.H.S. in a non-relative resource approved home. The court entered an order to show cause, approved the removal to avoid ongoing risk to G.H.S., and awarded to the Division care, custody, and supervision. The judge found that both parents suffered from substance abuse issues, and that the paternal aunt had obtained a restraining order to protect herself, her family, and G.H.S. from S.R.S.'s threats of violence. The judge ordered S.R.S. to submit to substance abuse and psychological evaluations, and permitted S.R.S. to participate in weekly supervised visitation.

G.H.S., who suffers from developmental and speech delays, was then removed from the resource home and placed in a maternal aunt's home. However, because the maternal aunt was unable to care for G.H.S., the Division, in July 2011,*fn3 placed G.H.S. in her current foster home, where she remains today with her half-sister. The current foster parents adopted the half-sister and wish to adopt G.H.S., too.

In May 2010, the judge conducted a fact-finding hearing and concluded that S.R.S. abused and neglected G.H.S. The judge ordered S.R.S to attend classes for parenting skills and anger management and submit to substance abuse treatment.*fn4 The judge permitted S.R.S. to continue supervised visitation with G.H.S. S.R.S. attended drug treatment and anger management classes, but failed to complete the latter because he verbally threatened staff members. He submitted to a psychological evaluation and was diagnosed with mood disorder and intermittent explosive disorder.

In January 2011, the judge conducted a permanency hearing and approved a plan of termination of parental rights followed by adoption. S.R.S. did ...

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