On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Middlesex County, FN-12-58-05, FL-12-61-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Holston, Jr. and Grall.
Defendant, R.R., appeals the Family Part's October 20, 2004 order under Docket No. FN-12-58-05 entered after a factfinding hearing conducted on September 29, 2004 pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.46(b). The court determined by a preponderance of evidence that R.R. abused or neglected her minor daughter, L.L. R.R. also appeals the Family Part's August 3, 2006 order under Docket No. FL-12-61-06 granting a Judgment of Kinship Legal Guardianship (KLG) of L.L. to V.L. and S.L., L.L.'s paternal grandparents.*fn1 We affirm both orders.
R.R. is the twenty-six year old mother of L.L., who was born March 9, 2001. The Division first became involved with R.R. in July 2001, as a result of a referral from L.L.'s paternal grandfather, shortly after R.R. came to New Jersey from Florida. The grandfather reported that R.R. had left the child in the grandparents' care because L.L. had become sick and needed medical treatment. R.R. did not return for her daughter for several weeks. The child suffers from asthma and allergies.
On February 7, 2004, the Division received a referral that R.R. left the child alone with friends and relatives and then disappeared. Ultimately, the Division learned that R.R. had been confined to Trenton State Psychiatric Hospital (Trenton Psychiatric) for twenty-one days.
On June 7, 2004, the Division received a referral from the Raritan Bay Mental Health Center (Raritan Bay), where R.R. brought L.L. due to a high fever and seizures. The referrer stated that R.R. was displaying inappropriate behavior and cursing at the staff. The child defecated on the floor and stepped in it. R.R. refused to clean it up and L.L. was throwing it around.
The Division's investigation revealed that R.R. had been hospitalized in February of that year at Raritan Bay after having been found lying face down in the snow. R.R. was transferred to Trenton Psychiatric because of depression, where Zoloft was prescribed. The referral added that R.R. was not compliant with her medication on the date of the June 7, 2004 incident. Based on the referral report, the Division placed a hospital hold on L.L. because of R.R.'s uncontrolled behavior and because she was homeless.
Several attempts to locate the residence of R.R. showed she did not stay at any one place on a continuing basis. L.L. was temporarily placed with a maternal aunt. However, after R.R. signed a six-month consent on June 10, 2004, L.L. was placed first with a paternal aunt and on July 9, 2004 with her paternal grandparents.
After the consent for placement expired, the Division sought and was granted by order dated July 9, 2004, care, custody and supervision of L.L. Placement remained with the paternal grandparents. The Division provided R.R. with parenting skills classes, therapy, a drug and alcohol evaluation, monthly bus passes and a security deposit. Supervised bi-weekly visitation was granted to R.R. However, her visitation was irregular, even though the Division was available to transport her and to provide her bus passes.
On July 9, 2004, R.R. had a psychological evaluation by Dr. Andrew Brown. Dr. Brown's clinical impression was that R.R. has symptoms of "depression, anxiety, stress and borderline personality [disorder]." R.R. struggles with psychiatric stability, which compromises her functional potential. Dr. Brown recommended R.R. be placed under psychiatric care, comply with medication management, and that she engage in individual counseling to resolve issues related to her family history, stress, and anxiety.
The Division investigated several placement options with R.R.'s family members including R.R.'s grandmother and maternal aunt but none were approved. Placement of L.L. with R.R.'s mother in Florida was investigated, but Florida officials would not approve the placement after an interstate investigation.
On August 27, 2004, R.R. had a psychiatric evaluation by Dr. James Ferretti. Dr. Ferretti opined that R.R. suffers from a psychotic disorder of unknown type. Although prescribed Risperdal and Zoloft when hospitalized, R.R. is non-compliant with medication and has virtually no insight into the fact that she suffers a psychiatric illness. Dr. Ferretti recommended that R.R. "be treated psychiatrically, based on appropriate psychiatric medication, [be] periodically evaluated and [only] if she shows she is capable of achieving stability and is psychiatrically able to assume the responsibility of parenting" should family reunification be considered.
On September 29, 2004, a factfinding hearing to determine whether L.L. was an abused and neglected child was held as required by N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.44 and N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.46. The court heard the testimony of the Division's caseworker assigned to L.L.'s case and the testimony of R.R. The court also considered the referral response reports from July 27, 2001, February 7, 2003, and June 7, 2004, and R.R.'s discharge summary from Trenton Psychiatric. The caseworker testified to the June 7, 2004 incident at Raritan Bay, R.R.'s previous hospitalization at Trenton Psychiatric, R.R.'s non-compliance at that time with the taking of medication, R.R.'s lack of housing stability, the Division's inability to confirm R.R.'s housing at any particular time, and L.L.'s continuing medical condition, which included continuing problems with seizures and kidney disease.
On October 20, 2004, the court, in an oral decision memorialized in an order of the same date, made a finding of neglect by a preponderance of evidence against R.R. The court detailed R.R.'s bizarre, erratic, and hostile behavior when she brought L.L. to the hospital on June 7, 2004 and her unwillingness to assist L.L. The court also recited R.R.'s lack of initial cooperation on her admission for depression to Trenton Psychiatric, including her resistance to medical treatment. The court stated:
When I looked to the discharge, it stated that she was instructed to comply with her medications and aftercare and follow up. There were issues on the discharge sheet that she was not being compliant with the ...