NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, Plaintiff-Respondent,
J.A.A., Defendant-Appellant, and M.L.M., Defendant. IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF N.A. AND N.D.A., Minors.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 10, 2013
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Gloucester County, Docket No. FG-08-21-11.
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Larry Leung, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondent (Lisa A. Puglisi, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; James D. Harris, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, Law Guardian for the minors N.A. and N.D.A. (Todd Wilson, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
Before Judges Reisner and Ostrer.
Defendant J.A.A. appeals from an August 31, 2012 order terminating his parental rights to his children. We affirm, substantially for the reasons set forth in the written opinion issued by Judge Mary K. White on August 30, 2012.
Judge White's opinion sets forth the facts in detail. To summarize, defendant and M.L.M. have two children, N.D.A. (Norman), born in 2006, and N.A. (Nancy),  born in 2009. The Division of Child Protection and Permanency (Division) became involved with the family due to M.L.M.'s persistent substance abuse issues. Because of M.L.M.'s drug problems, and a domestic violence restraining order entered against defendant, Norman was placed in foster care in 2008. In 2009, Nancy was born with cocaine in her system and was immediately placed in foster care. Despite extensive opportunities to address her drug addiction, M.L.M. was unable to do so, and she eventually made an identified surrender of her parental rights in favor of the foster parents with whom both children were living.
Although defendant initially showed some interest in the children, he has not visited them since 2010. He failed to stay in contact with his assigned counsel and did not attend hearings in the case for an extended period of time. When he finally appeared before Judge White on August 1, 2011, he admitted that he had absented himself from the proceedings for a period of "about two years." He also failed to cooperate with scheduled drug tests, did not appear for a scheduled psychological evaluation, and did not take advantage of various services the Division offered to him. Defendant was incarcerated during a portion of the trial and appeared by writ from the county jail. When he was released, he failed to appear for the remainder of the trial.
During the years that the children were in foster care, defendant's mother, R.A., filed and then abandoned a series of complaints seeking permanent custody. At a pre-trial hearing before Judge White on August 1, 2011, R.A. explained that she abandoned each application based on repeated assurances from M.L.M. that she was about to regain custody of the children. In response to Judge White's questioning, R.A. admitted that she never presented herself to the Division as a potential foster home placement for the children. A Division witness later provided testimony confirming that information, and confirming that defendant never asked the Division to evaluate his mother's home as a possible placement for his children.
In her August 1, 2011 appearance, R.A. claimed she did not know that, in 1987, the Division had substantiated an accusation of child abuse made against her and that she had been ruled out as a possible placement for the children on that basis. Judge White directed that the Division immediately serve her with "a new substantiation letter" and indicated on the record that R.A. ...