The New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) seeks the termination of parental rights of the biological Spanish-speaking, parents M. and F., and guardianship of four children, D. age 10, C. age 9, E. age 7 and A. age 5, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15 and 30:4C-20.
The four children were voluntarily placed in foster care on September 25, 1974 and have remained in their respective foster homes since that time. Little information is available regarding early family history.
In 1970 M., the mother, was hospitalized in Ancora Psychiatric Hospital for approximately six weeks due to a "nervous breakdown." The diagnosis was "acute schizophrenic episode."
On November 30, 1973 the parents were visited by a nurse from the Visiting Nurse and Health Association of Camden County. The nurse observed that the mother did not respond appropriately to questions and was in need of psychiatric help, which she would not accept from the agency.
On January 30, 1974 the mother allegedly signed a DYFS application requesting social services for the four children. In March of 1974 a DYFS caseworker visited the parents. She noted that A., who was then six months old, had not received any post-natal care. He also needed medical treatment for a heart murmur. D., six years old, had not been enrolled in school. C., five years old, had not learned to communicate verbally.
In the spring of 1974 the home conditions were very poor. Although F., the father, was employed, the family was experiencing great financial difficulties. There was no food,
heat or electricity in the home. The children were scantily clothed. M., the mother, told the caseworker that F. was gambling and drinking with the money. The emphasis of DYFS intervention during this period was on improving the family situation. Despite the family's receiving additional welfare monies, no change in circumstances resulted. F. assured the caseworker that the bills were being paid; however, this was not true. M. interacted very little with the children and spent most of her time sitting or standing in a corner. All efforts to improve the living conditions in the home and the family's financial situation failed.
On September 24, 1974 F. signed a voluntary care agreement which granted DYFS care and custody over D., C., E. and A. The following day the children were placed in foster care with non-Spanish speaking families. Regular supervised visits between the children and their natural parents occurred until March 1975.
On December 14, 1974 M. was admitted to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital mental health ward. Prior to her admission she had been withdrawn, uncommunicative and had no interest in performing household chores or caring for the children.
In March 1975 the parents, M. and F., returned to their native Puerto Rico. DYFS was not able to reach the family at the addresses M. gave the caseworker prior to their departure. Unsuccessful attempts were made during 1975 to find the parents through the Department of Social Services in Puerto Rico.
In July 1976 the DYFS caseworker received a letter from Social Services which indicated that the parents had been located and a home investigation had been made. It revealed that M. cooked and did housework whenever possible, but "mostly she sits in a chair for hours." As a result, F. assumed primary responsibility for the home and care of their baby girl who was born in August 1975. M. was not receiving any after-care treatment at the mental health center since she "insists she does not need it." F. stated he was
unable to find work and he was receiving unemployment compensation. However, the social service worker believed his inability to hold a job was due to his heavy drinking. F. and M. stated they wanted their children back but did not feel they had an adequate home for them. M. stated that "they are better off where they are." The Department of Social Services' recommendation was that the children's return to Puerto Rico should be postponed until conditions improve.
F. responded to a DYFS letter sent to him in August 1976 and advised the agency that his caseworker had told him to get in touch with DYFS after he had obtained housing for his family.
On March 8, 1977 the DYFS office received another letter from the Department of Social Services in Puerto Rico stating that M.'s mental condition remained unchanged. F. had secured employment but he left his job due to his wife's inability to care for their home or for their daughter who was sickly. The parents realized they were incapable of caring for their children under present circumstances, but they were attempting to contact family members who might be suitable caretakers for the children. The Department was planning to evaluate the homes of their relatives to ascertain whether or not placement with them would be appropriate.
On June 2, 1977, while he was in New Jersey employed as a seasonal farmworker, F. came to the DYFS office in Camden to discuss the agency's plans for his children. The worker explained that the children had been in English-speaking homes for almost three years and their foster parents anticipated adopting them. F. opposed the idea of adoption but he made no effort to see his children while he was in the United States.
A few weeks later the DYFS office received a letter from Social Services in Puerto Rico which indicated they had investigated the homes of the relatives and deemed them to be unsuitable for placement of the children.
In July 1977 the worker received a letter from F. which indicated he was leaving the United States and returning
to Puerto Rico because "they want to put my wife in the hospital and I have to care for my daughter." During July 1977 the cases of C and A. ...