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In re Guardianship of A.R.G.

February 19, 1999


Before Judges Long, Kestin and Carchman.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Carchman, J.A.D.


Submitted January 26, 1999

On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Burlington County.

Defendant L.M.G. appeals from a judgment of the Family Part terminating her parental rights to four of her children, M.A.G., C.M.G., E.D.G. and J.N.G. *fn1 We affirm.

The facts describe circumstances which unfortunately are not atypical. Defendant was involved with drugs and a victim of an abusive relationship with her husband. During the infant years of the children, defendant was using crack cocaine. Despite some progress away from addiction, defendant's drug evaluation suggested more denial than true recovery.

The Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) first became involved in defendant's case on January 8, 1993, when informed by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia that defendant had delivered twins, not subject to this proceeding, prematurely due to her cocaine abuse. Over the next six months, DYFS documented numerous instances of abuse and neglect of the children while defendant remained unreceptive to rehabilitation efforts. Finally, on June 1, 1993, a neighbor reported to DYFS that defendant regularly hit the children and left them unattended for extended periods of time.

DYFS obtained custody of the children on June 7, 1993, after the Burlington Police informed DYFS that the children were again left unattended. According to defendant's DYFS caseworker, the children were hungry and dirty. The children were eventually placed in foster care, and, despite several search attempts, DYFS remained unaware of defendant's location for the next two years; defendant occasionally contacted DYFS but refused to indicate her whereabouts. *fn2

Also on June 7, 1993, defendant was admitted to the Rancocas Hospital and diagnosed with major recurrent depression, cocaine abuse, chronic alcoholism and pharyngitis. While her condition was improving with medical care, she eloped from the unit eleven days later.

Within a few months of DYFS's involvement with the children, it received information regarding sexual abuse of the children. Further investigation revealed that A.R.G., the children's older sibling, had sexually abused one of the children, and a former foster mother's nephew abused two of the other children. Finally, the children had been exposed to their mother engaging in sexual relations with men.

The children's lives with their mother were self-described as ones filled with drug use, sexual activity and domestic violence. One of the children described being forced to steal money from her mother to buy food as defendant would otherwise spend the money on drugs.

Dr. Ronald S. Gruen conducted comprehensive psychological and bonding evaluations and a psychological assessment of the parties. Dr. Gruen determined that defendant was "indifferen[t] to the psychological suffering of her children," and consistently "minimized the damages to the children as a result of her history of drug and alcohol abuse." He added that she is very narcissistic, meaning she is her own central concern while "the children are kind of peripheral." Furthermore, Dr. Gruen noted that her "addiction potential is great and her current remission is relatively short-term." Also, while he found no strong bonding between defendant and the children, Dr. Gruen observed a "positive and developing psychological bond between the children and the foster parents." Dr. Gruen concluded that the children were thriving with the foster parents, and removing them would create enduring harm. Therefore, he recommended that the children's long-term best interests would be served by terminating defendant's parental rights and allowing foster-parent adoption. Dr. Gruen also advised DYFS that visitation between defendant and the children was not in the children's best interests.

Defendant's expert, Dr. Kenneth Goldberg, found that the children bonded to defendant, but that she "may be limited in addressing the children's needs separate from her own need to assuage her guilt." Therefore, while Dr. Goldberg agreed that the children should remain with the foster parents and that serious and enduring harm would occur if they were moved, he also argued that permanently severing L.M.G's parental rights would be harmful. Dr. Goldberg concluded both that the children should not be returned to defendant and that her parental rights should not be terminated. Therefore, after acknowledging that it was difficult to reconcile his opinion with current law and public policy, he recommended continuing and increasing visitation between defendant and the children and deferring the possibility of reunification until later evaluations are made.

An addendum that Dr. Goldberg provided to his initial report after conducting a bonding evaluation of the children and the foster ...

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