NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, Plaintiff-Respondent,
A.B. and D.F., Defendants-Appellants. IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF E.F., Minor.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted May 29, 2013.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Union County, Docket No. FG-20-35-11.
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant A.B. (Dana Citron, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant D.F. (William J. Sweeney, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
Jeffrey S. Chiesa, Attorney General, attorney for respondent (Andrea M. Silkowitz, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Sharon A. Walli, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, Law Guardian, attorney for minor E.F. (Caitlin McLaughlin, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
Before Judges Yannotti, Hayden and Hoffman.
Defendants, A.B. (Albert) and D.F. (Doreen), separately appeal from the judgment of the Chancery Division, Family Part, terminating their parental rights to their daughter, E.F. (Ellen), then ten years old. Addressing defendants' appeals in a single opinion, we affirm, substantially for the reasons set forth in Judge James Hely's cogent nineteen-page written opinion of March 1, 2012.
The following facts are derived from the trial record. Albert is a registered sex offender and a Tier 2 Offender pursuant to Megan's Law. On January 11, 2008, the Division of Youth and Family Services (Division) received a referral that Albert raped A.D., Doreen's niece and Ellen's cousin, a then eight-year-old girl. Albert was originally charged with molestation of a child, but on March 26, 2009, he pled guilty to third-degree endangerment of the welfare of a child, N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4. During the plea hearing, Albert testified that he knowingly exposed himself to A.D. for his own sexual gratification. Based on his plea, Albert received a state prison sentence.
The Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center issued a report pertaining to the sexual abuse charges against Albert. According to the report, A.D.'s mother took her to the hospital after A.D. claimed that Albert had placed his penis in her rectal area while she was asleep at her aunt's home. A.D. stated that she had been sexually assaulted by Albert at least fifty times over the course of four to five months, which included anal intercourse. According to A.D., Albert threatened, "Don't tell anybody or I'll keep doing it and I'm never going to stop."
Additionally, according to the report, Albert agreed during a psychological evaluation that
some sexual relations with children are a lot like adult sexual relationships; society makes a much bigger deal out of sexual activity with children than it really is, sometimes victims initiate sexual activity; some children are much more adult-like than other children[;] [s]ome men who molest children really don't like molesting children; [and] . . . the main thing wrong with sexual activity with children is it's against the law.
In April 2009, the Division received a referral from Ellen's therapist indicating Ellen disclosed that Albert had touched and rubbed her vagina on multiple occasions. According to the therapist, Ellen also claimed that Albert had threatened to hurt her if she disclosed the abuse to anyone. Ellen indicated that her mother lacked knowledge of the abuse. Thereafter, a Division caseworker interviewed Ellen, who confirmed that Albert had "touched her." The caseworker also interviewed Doreen, who denied knowledge of the abuse.
Following Albert's release from prison later that month, Doreen informed the caseworker that she had "bumped into [Albert] on the street" while she was out with her niece and Ellen. Upon seeing Albert, Doreen's niece froze and Ellen ran down the street. Based on the girls' reactions, Doreen claimed that she believed Albert had done something to them. Ellen informed the caseworker that she did not want to see her father.
In July 2009, Doreen signed a case plan in which she agreed to provide Ellen with a "safe secure environment free from neglect, sexual and physical abuse[, ]" and that Albert would not have unsupervised contact with Ellen.
Throughout the Division's involvement, it was apparent that both Albert and Doreen were influencing Ellen to change her story regarding the sexual abuse and lie to the Division. On July 27, 2009, Ellen denied to a Division worker that she had ever been inappropriately touched by anyone. She claimed that she has a relationship with her father and lives with him and her mother; however, the next day, Ellen changed her story and claimed that her father did not live with her and her mother.
On August 3, 2009, after receiving a referral indicating that Albert had unsupervised access to Ellen, the Division discovered Albert in Doreen and Ellen's home. A Division worker interviewed Ellen, who claimed that she feared her father. She elaborated that her father beats her with a belt and he accused her of having sex with her cousin. However, Ellen again denied that she had ever been inappropriately touched by anyone.
As a result of discovering Albert in the home, the Division executed an emergency removal of Ellen and placed her in foster care. On August 7, 2009, the Family Part entered an order granting the Division care, custody, and supervision of Ellen, and suspending Albert's visitation with Ellen. On April 29, 2010, Doreen stipulated to the court that she permitted Albert to have unsupervised contact with Ellen and that she was aware Albert was a convicted sex offender.
Heather Diamond, MSW, LCSW, who conducted a psychosexual evaluation of Albert, opined that Albert's "sexually abusive behavior can be considered repetitive and compulsive. He is a high risk adult for child sexual abuse, especially given the fact that he does not take responsibility for his actions and has had no services to address the offense to which he pled guilty." Ms. Diamond concluded that Albert "is an impulsive, antisocial, narcissistic adult who lives a parasitic lifestyle" and "is not an appropriate candidate for reunification with his daughter."
During a family therapy session with Doreen and Ellen in May 2011, Ellen explained how Albert sexually abused her. According to the therapist, it appeared that Doreen was coming to the realization that the abuse actually took place. However, at the next session, Ellen changed her story, claiming that the abuse only happened in a dream and that she should not have spoken about the dream.
The same month, Ellen wrote a disturbing essay in school describing how Albert sexually abused her. In the essay, entitled "When I got ...