DIVISION OF CHILD PROTECTION AND PERMANENCY, Plaintiff-Respondent,
Q.M. and C.M., Defendants-Appellants. IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF P.M., Minor.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 11, 2013.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Bergen County, Docket No. FG-02-51-12.
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant Q.M. (Theodore J. Baker, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant C.M. (Kevin G. Byrnes, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondent (Andrea M. Silkowitz, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Eric S. Pasternack, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, Law Guardian, attorney for minor P.M. (Phyllis G. Warren, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, on the brief).
Before Judges Sapp-Peterson, Maven and Hoffman.
Defendants Q.M. (Quentin) and C.M. (Carol) appeal separately from the August 8, 2012 Family Part judgment terminating their parental rights to their then five-year-old daughter, P.M. (Paula). On these appeals, which we have consolidated, defendants contend that the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (Division) did not prove by clear and convincing evidence the four prongs of the best interests test. N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1a. The Law Guardian supported termination before the trial court and, on appeal, joins the Division in urging us to affirm.
Based on our review of the record and applicable law, we are satisfied that the Division proved by clear and convincing evidence the requisite statutory factors required to terminate defendants' parental rights. Accordingly, we affirm.
We derive the following facts from the trial record. Carol and Quentin are the biological parents of Paula, who was born in the spring of 2007. Carol is also the mother of three other children (from two different fathers), none of whom live with her. Quentin has been in and out of prison for most of his adult life. In August 2007, when Paula was approximately four-months-old, Quentin was incarcerated, and not released until May 2010.
The Division first became involved with Carol and Paula on January 30, 2009, when it received an anonymous referral reporting that Carol smoked marijuana, used cocaine, and drank intoxicating amounts of alcohol, all in the presence of Paula. The referent also described Carol's associates as dangerous. The Division investigated, but was unable to substantiate the allegations.
On July 7, 2009, the local police went to Carol's home and found L.M., Carol's mother, who lived in the home, "highly intoxicated." Between August and December 2009, the police responded to other calls involving domestic disputes in Carol's home.
On December 16, 2009, the Division received a referral from a local police officer, who reported that there was a domestic dispute involving Carol, T.Q. (Carol's paramour at the time), and L.M. During the dispute, T.Q. was stabbed and the home was vandalized, but the officer could not determine responsibility for the stabbing or vandalism. The officer further reported that a witness stated that two-year-old Paula was present during the incident and placed at risk of harm.
Later the same day, two Division caseworkers met with Carol and L.M. at the police station and immediately noticed they both appeared intoxicated and were "belligerent and agitated." Carol stated that she had been at her grandmother's home with T.Q. and L.M., as well as Paula and T.Q.'s three-year-old son. Carol stated that after they left her grandmother's home, T.Q. started arguing with her, and when they arrived home, T.Q. began to strangle her; however, Carol denied stabbing him.
Next, the caseworkers went to Paula's maternal uncle's home and found Paula sleeping. The uncle informed the caseworkers that Carol and T.Q. fight all of the time and T.Q. has strangled Carol on multiple occasions. As a result of the incident, and the Division's concerns with Carol's substance abuse, the Division substantiated the claims against Carol for neglect and executed an emergency removal of Paula.
On December 17, 2009, while examining Paula, a Division nurse discovered that her front teeth were decayed and that she had scars on her stomach and back. Paula's decayed teeth required four tooth extractions, two root canals, and four fillings. On December 28, 2009, after attending substance abuse treatment, Carol tested positive for marijuana.
On May 13, 2010, Quentin was released from prison and placed in a halfway house in Newark, where he remained until August 2010. On May 18, 2010, Quentin stipulated that due to his incarceration, he was unable to provide adequate care for Paula thereby placing her at risk of harm. Thereafter, Quentin was incarcerated from March 25, 2011 through March 30, 2011, and again from April 14, 2011, through May 6, 2011.
In May 2010, Paula was moved to another foster parent, after her then foster mother advised the Division she could no longer care for Paula. Paula was returned to Carol's care on February 8, 2011, but was removed again three days later due to allegations of domestic violence and alcohol abuse in the home. Thereafter, the Division placed Paula in another foster home, but had to remove her following sexual abuse allegations against the foster father. The Division then placed Paula with S.A., Carol's cousin, on June 27, 2011, where she remains today. This was Paula's fourth placement. S.A. has expressed that she would adopt Paula if defendants' parental rights were terminated.
On July 7, 2011, the Division filed its complaint for guardianship, and a five-day guardianship trial was conducted in the Family Part between May 21, 2012 and June 5, 2012. The Division offered testimonial evidence from its caseworkers, Jennifer Mazzola and Sandro Villa Vicencio, who recounted the history of the Division's involvement with the family, and the Division's efforts to assist defendants reunify with their daughter. The Division also presented the testimony of its psychological and bonding expert, Elayne Weitz, Psy.D.
Dr. Weitz testified concerning psychological evaluations she conducted of Carol and Quentin, as well as bonding evaluations between each of them with Paula, and S.A. with Paula. Based on her psychological evaluation of Carol completed on January 20, 2012, Dr. Weitz testified that
the most significant concern I had was that she really took no responsibility for the child's initial or continued placement in foster care . . . therefore, [she] also created the impression that there was not a whole lot that she would do differently once the child is back in her care.
Additionally, Dr. Weitz stated that she shared the concerns of the Division that it was dangerous for Paula to be in a home where the police were regularly called and where she was regularly exposed to domestic violence and substance abuse. She also expressed concern that Carol's failure to recognize that her constantly intoxicated mother posed a threat to Paula. Dr. Weitz elaborated that a home with problems such as Carol's can impact a child's growth and development by making her ...