Page, J.s.c. (temporarily assigned).
Child abuse and neglect is claimed by the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) as to three children, ages six, five and one. The effect of their mother's alleged chronic mental illness upon the children's mental and emotional well-being is the basis for this action brought under the provisions of N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21 and N.J.S.A. 30:4C-12.
Defendant C.M. has a long history of chronic schizophrenia. She has previously been hospitalized at the County Psychiatric Hospital at Lakeland. The children here involved are the three remaining with her of a total of seven. The other four children were previously placed in foster care several years ago and guardianship over them has now been awarded to DYFS in a separate action.
On February 11, 1981 this court issued an order to show cause with temporary removal of the children upon the verified complaint and affidavits. The court held substantial factfinding hearings; lay and expert witnesses were presented.
At the time of their removal the children, M. (born 12-4-74), E. (born 4-18-76) and D. (born 7-21-80), were residing with their mother, C.M., on the White Horse Pike in Lindenwold. The family was well-known to all of the social service agencies in Camden County, including DYFS, school authorities, the welfare board, the Department of Health, and the Visiting Nurse Association. All had attempted at one time or another to provide services to C.M. and her children.
C.M. was last discharged from the Psychiatric Hospital at Lakeland on October 19, 1970 with a final diagnosis of "Schizophrenia, residual type." Although follow-up treatment on an out-patient basis with continued medication was recommended,
C.M. complied for a short period and then was no longer receptive to continued visits or medication.
Beginning in the summer of 1979 she rented her present housing. From the outset there were complaints from the owner, Herman Kruckner, that the home was in substantial disarray. He testified that he had observed her section of the two-family house to be in very disorderly condition: clothes strewn all about and food left spoiling on the tables. He complained about her lack of housekeeping and received complaints from the other tenants that the property had become roach-infested from the debris contained in her apartment. He arranged to exterminate the roaches but they reappeared some three months later. He claimed that the situation continued, with dirty dishes, clothes, and food all through the house. On this basis he called the board of health in the spring of 1980 and sought to evict C.M. He discussed his concerns with her on many occasions. Each time she promised to do better. Finally, in March 1981 he went to the home and was told by C.M. that her children had been taken away. At that time he found the house very clean.
Witnesses representing four separate agencies testified as to the deplorable condition of C.M.'s house. It was described as "in bad condition," "filthy," "heavily infested with roaches," "cluttered with dirty clothes," "dirty dishes and spoiled food on the tables," and "always littered with bags of groceries and clothing." As to the children themselves, all witnesses testified that they were usually dirty and dressed in ill-fitting and inappropriate clothing. The children were well fed and appeared happy, although having a somewhat flat effect.
Three representatives of the Lindenwold School District testified as to their experiences with C.M. and two of her children, M. and E. Both children were enrolled in special classes conducted by the school district for "children who are developmentally delayed." M., the oldest, was enrolled in September 1979 and attended sporadically until February 1980 when C.M. took her out of the school program. She was present 57 days and absent 41 days during this period. Thereafter, in the school
year 1980-81 M. was enrolled in a special kindergarten program in a different school until her court removal and foster-care placement. Her sibling, E., was enrolled in the special education class on September 18, 1980 but was taken out of school on October 10, 1980; he was readmitted on December 2, 1980 and remained until February 10, 1981, at the time of his removal from the home. E. was present 37 days and absent 19 days during this period. C.M.'s relationship with the school authorities was strained at best. The children's continued absences resulted in inquiries being made from the school officials to C.M., who offered a variety of different excuses, including lack of ability to transport them even though they lived directly across the street from the school. Notes from C.M. to the teacher and school nurse were disorganized and disjointed. Finally, in February 1980 after the school nurse tried to contact C.M.'s social worker, Hirsch, to obtain his assistance with the problem, C.M. became "very upset that I had tried to contact Mr. Hirsch" and withdrew M. from the school for the rest of the year. She complained in a "hostile and agitated" manner that "I should keep my nose out of other people's business." C.M. contended that the school authorities were attempting to take her remaining children away from her.
As to the children's appearance and behavior in school, the school authorities testified that they were seriously developmentally delayed. Her teacher noted that M. scored "very, very low" on all the tests and would only respond to questions and would not readily verbalize in the classroom. Likewise, the younger E. only answered "yes" or "no" to questions and would not interact with the other children, even at play. He was clothed in diapers and "just sat there and watched." "The other children treated him like a younger brother." Several times C.M. brought the children for classes at the wrong time, in the afternoon, although both were scheduled for morning classes.
Four expert witnesses testified as to the childrens' problems and C.M.'s mental illness. Dr. Charles Bassman, a licensed clinical psychologist, on the staff of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, ...