On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Passaic County, Docket No. FG-16-60-11.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 11, 2012 -
Before Judges Grall, Simonelli and Accurso.
Defendant R.S., the biological mother of S.J.S., born in October 2007, and K.N.J., born in October 2008, appeals from the December 14, 2011 judgment of guardianship, which terminated her parental rights to the children. On appeal, defendant contends that plaintiff New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (the Division) failed to establish the four prongs of N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1a by clear and convincing evidence. We disagree, and affirm.
The record reveals that defendant became involved with the Division after S.J.S.'s birth in 2007, due to her drug addiction. During her involvement with the Division, defendant denied she had an addiction, refused to attend a drug treatment program, and failed to complete parenting skills classes, maintain regular contact with the Division, and obtain stable housing and employment. Defendant also has mental health issues and failed to take her prescribed psychiatric medication. The court suspended her visitation with the children in January 2010, due to her continued drug use, non-compliance with services, and failure to take her psychiatric medication.
Following a trial, Judge Sabbath set forth extensive factual findings in a December 14, 2011 oral decision. He concluded that the Division met all four prongs of N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1a by clear and convincing evidence. Regarding the first and second prongs, the judge found that the children were harmed by defendant's drug use and their removal and placement in foster care, and defendant's continued drug use placed the children at a significant risk of harm. He also found that the suspension of defendant's visitation constituted a "prolonged inattention to the children," which also harmed them. The judge determined that defendant was unwilling to eliminate the harm and could not provide a safe and stable home for the children because she continued using drugs, refused to attend a drug treatment program, and was non-compliant with her psychiatric medication. The judge concluded that the delay in permanent placement would add to the harm because, except for a brief and unsuccessful reunification with S.J.S., the children were in foster care since they were born.
Regarding the third prong, Judge Sabbath listed the numerous services the Division provided to defendant, including psychological evaluations, psychiatric treatment,*fn2 visitation, drug assessments, several drug treatment programs, counseling programs, transportation, and parenting skills classes.*fn3 He found that defendant was "virtually non complaint" with each service, and emphasized that the Division's effort to provide services to defendant was "virtually [H]erculean."
Judge Sabbath rejected defendant's claim that the Division failed to assist her with housing and employment, concluding that defendant's continued drug use and non-compliance made it "impossible" for the Division to do so. Because defendant said she would not attend any drug treatment program, the judge also rejected her claim that the Division should have offered her a drug treatment program outside of Paterson. The judge further concluded that the Division explored, and properly rejected, the relative resources defendant had identified, and there were no alternatives to termination of parental rights.
Regarding the fourth prong, based on the undisputed expert evidence
Judge Sabbath concluded that defendant's drug addiction, psychiatric
issues, and refusal to attend a drug
treatment program and take her psychiatric medication rendered her
unable to ever safely parent the children in an unsupervised capacity.
The judge found that the children were with a foster parent who was
meeting their special needs and wanted to adopt them.*fn4
The judge concluded that the children needed permanency, and
the termination of defendant's parental rights would not do them more
harm than good and would be in their best interests. This appeal
On appeal, as to the first and second prongs defendant argues that Judge Sabbath exaggerated the nature and extent of her drug problem; discounted her efforts to address the problem and her willingness to seek treatment outside of Paterson; and ignored that she had been drug-free for several months prior to trial and was willing to undergo random urine screens. She also argues that the judge erred in concluding that she was inattentive to the children based on the suspension of her visitation.*fn5
As to the third prong, defendant argues that the Division failed to consult her about a drug treatment plan or provide a program outside of Paterson, and failed to provide psychiatric services and inquire whether there were additional relative resources. As to the fourth prong, defendant argues that the judge erred in relying on the expert evidence and ignored evidence favorable to her. She also argues that absent ...