On appeal from New Jersey Superior Court, Chancery Division, Family Part, Hudson County, Docket No. FG-09-109-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted November 14, 2012
Before Judges Reisner and Yannotti.
Defendants S.M. and B.J. (defendants or parents) appeal from an order dated September 29, 2011, terminating their parental rights to their children, Ja.J. and Jo.J., and terminating S.M.'s parental rights to a third child, J.M.*fn1 We affirm, substantially for the reasons set forth in the trial judge's comprehensive written opinion dated September 23, 2011.
We summarize the most pertinent evidence as follows. The Division of Child Protection and Permanency*fn2 (Division) removed the children from defendants' home on an emergency basis on March 5, 2008, because the home was filthy, the children were dirty and smelled of urine, and the parents were using illegal drugs. Both parents later stipulated that they had neglected the children, and waived a Title Nine fact-finding hearing on that issue. At the time of the removal, the three children were ages eight months, two years, and four years old. The children were initially placed in separate foster homes, but by February 2009, the Division had succeeded in placing all of the children with the same foster mother.
In addition to their drug abuse issues, both parents were later diagnosed as having serious mental health problems. They were given multiple opportunities to address their drug use, but S.M. resisted until her children had been in foster care for almost two years. B.J. continued to resist, even up to the time of the guardianship trial.
S.M. was placed into a comprehensive service program called Community Solutions in April 2008, but she repeatedly tested positive for drugs until she was terminated from the program in December 2008. The Division then referred her to an out-patient program at Integrity House in January 2009, but she continued to test positive for drugs until she failed out of the program in April 2009. In June 2009, S.M. was offered an available slot in the inpatient program at Integrity House, but she refused, claiming that the program was "too long." She was referred to another program, of her choice, which could not initially accept her because she had not been taking her psychiatric medication.
By the time she got back on her medications, there were no beds available at the program.
Finally, in November 2009, when her children had been in foster care for a year and eight months, S.M. entered the John Brooks program, an inpatient treatment facility in Atlantic County. She successfully completed that program in May of 2010. When she was released, she received mental health counseling at Christ Hospital until October 2010, and was able to remain drug-free with that assistance.
B.J. was far less successful than S.M. in addressing his substance abuse problem. He repeatedly tested positive for drugs. When a bed became available at the John Brooks program in 2010, he refused to go there, and also refused to go to Integrity House. His assigned Division case worker made numerous additional efforts to get him into drug treatment, but he either refused to go or failed at the programs due to repeated drug use. As of November 17, 2010, he was still testing positive for marijuana and PCP, despite both the drug treatment and mental health services that the Division provided. After November 17, 2010, the assigned case worker was unable to contact him.
B.J. was also inconsistent in visiting the children, and his visitation sessions were marked by inappropriate behavior on his part. He screamed at the children, called them "spoiled," told them that he was trying to keep them "out of jail," and threatened to put one of the children's "head through the wall." He also brought a pregnant friend (a woman other than S.M.) to one of the visitation sessions. He later claimed that, although this woman was pregnant with his child, they had only a superficial relationship and he had no commitment to her.
Although B.J. was clearly a less-than-ideal life partner, and an inappropriate caretaker for the children, the record contains substantial evidence that S.M. was committed to an ongoing relationship with him and that he was her main source of social support. Division case worker Shannon Fields testified that both S.M. and B.J. told her they had "been together for many, many, many years." S.M told Fields that "her support system is [B.J.]." Fields further testified that "[t]hroughout the case [S.M.] has told me . . . that she relies so much on [B.J.], that she does not . . . think that she can parent these children without him."
Fields testified that when she was unable to locate B.J. prior to the guardianship trial, she asked S.M. where he was. S.M. initially denied knowing his whereabouts but finally admitted that she knew. S.M. also admitted to Fields "on February 11, " that they were "still together" as a couple. S.M. told Fields that B.J.'s clothing was still in her home and "that they're together." Fields also recounted seeing
S.M and B.J. in the courtroom hallway on the first day of the trial. They were sitting close together, laughing and talking, ...