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New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. C.F. and W.J

October 23, 2012


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Mercer County, Docket No. FG-11-49-11.

Per curiam.



Submitted October 2, 2012

Before Judges Reisner and Yannotti.

Defendants C.F. and W.J. appeal from an order entered by the Family Part on September 26, 2011, terminating their parental rights to K.C.M.J. We affirm.


We briefly summarize the relevant facts. K.C.M.J. was born on May 5, 2007, at a hospital in Mercer County, New Jersey. Two days later, Megan Pennyacker (Pennypacker), a caseworker with the Bucks County Children and Youth Social Services Agency (BCCYS) in Pennsylvania, contacted the Division of Youth and Family Services (Division) and reported that the BCCYS had an open case regarding C.F. and W.J., the child's birth parents. Pennypacker reported that the BCCYS had a long history of involvement with C.F. and her children.

Pennypacker said that in addition to K.C.M.J., C.F. has six other children. The eldest child was living on her own, C.F.'s mother has custody of three of the children, and one child was living with one of C.F.'s relatives. Another child, V.J., was in foster care. W.J. is V.J.'s birth father. Pennypacker reported that, while C.F. had undergone substance abuse treatment, it was thought that she was still abusing alcohol. Pennypacker said that C.F. and W.J. had recently surrendered their parental rights to V.J.

A Division caseworker commenced an investigation of the BCCYS's report. On May 11, 2010, the Division was informed that K.C.M.J. was medically ready for discharge from the hospital. The Division concluded that C.F.'s extensive history with the BCCYS substantiated allegations of neglect. The Division effected a "Dodd removal" of K.C.M.J. and placed her in foster care.*fn2

On May 13, 2010, the Division filed a verified complaint in the Family Part against C.F. and W.J. for the protection of K.C.M.J. The court thereupon entered an order placing K.C.M.J. in the Division's care, custody and supervision. The child was placed in a resource home. The court subsequently entered orders continuing the child's placement.

While that litigation was pending, the Division provided C.F. and W.J. an array of services, with a goal of reunifying them with K.C.M.J. However, following a permanency hearing conducted on April 14, 2011, the trial court determined that it would not be safe to return K.C.M.J. to C.F. and W.J. in the foreseeable future because the reasons for the child's removal had not been remedied.

In support of its decision, the court noted, among other things, that C.F. had not participated in weekly substance abuse counseling, and W.J. failed to appear for scheduled substance abuse and psychological evaluations. The court ordered the Division to file a complaint seeking termination of their parental rights to K.C.M.J.

The guardianship trial began on September 13, 2011, and concluded on September 19, 2011. Alan Stuart Gordon, Ed.D. (Dr. Gordon) testified on behalf of the Division as an expert in psychology. Dr. Gordon had performed psychological evaluations of C.F. and W.J., as well as evaluations of the child's bonds with C.F., W.J. and with the foster parents.

Dr. Gordon opined that neither C.F. nor W.J. was fit to parent K.C.M.J. He noted that C.F. continued to consume alcohol, and she failed to complete treatment for her alcohol abuse. Dr. Gordon stated that W.J. also continued to abuse alcohol, failed to attend previously-scheduled evaluations, and had not complied with recommended services. The doctor opined that neither C.J. nor W.J. could ameliorate the harm K.C.M.J. would suffer if she were removed from her foster parents.

Andrew P. Brown III, Ph.D. (Dr. Brown) testified on behalf of C.F. as an expert in psychology and neuropsychology. Dr. Brown criticized Dr. Gordon's use of certain psychological tests and stated that C.F. had the cognitive and psychological ability to parent K.C.M.J. However, on cross-examination, he stated that if C.F. were actively drinking, she would not be capable of parenting the child. Dr. Brown also acknowledged he was not aware that C.F. failed to attend substance abuse treatment from December 2010 to April 2011.

C.F. testified that, while she had a problem with alcohol in the past, that was no longer the case. She admitted, however, that she relapsed and began to consume alcohol after V.J. was born. She relapsed again in 2011. C.F. also admitted she had received numerous referrals for substance abuse treatment. She denied using ...

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