On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, FG-07-203-05.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges A. A. Rodríguez and Sabatino.
In June 2006, following a three-day guardianship trial, the Family Part granted the application of the Division of Youth and Family Services' ("DYFS") to terminate the parental rights of E.H. regarding her son, N.A.H. The trial court had previously terminated the parental rights of N.A.H.'s biological father, M.W., in a default proceeding in September 2005.
E.H. is the sole appellant.*fn1 She contends that the trial judge incorrectly determined that (1) she is unable or unwilling to eliminate the harm facing her son and cannot or will not provide him with a safe and stable home; (2) a delay in N.A.H.'s permanent placement will add to the harm; (3) DYFS made reasonable, unsuccessful efforts to reunify her son with her; and (4) termination of E.H.'s parental rights will not do more harm than good.
Given our limited standard of review, see N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Services v. M.M., 189 N.J. 261, 279 (2007), we affirm the Family Part's disposition substantially for the reasons expressed in Judge Peter Ryan's comprehensive and well-analyzed written decision of September 15, 2006.
We first summarize the facts most salient to our review.
E.H., a young woman whose date of birth is uncertain,*fn2 has had an extremely turbulent and unfortunate life. She was abandoned by her own biological mother, and thereafter lived with a foster parent, Y.H., who neglected her. In or about November 1998, E.H.'s foster mother moved her and her presumed siblings*fn3 from Florida to New Jersey.
Since moving to New Jersey, E.H. was under DYFS' oversight for most of her remaining childhood. In February 1999, DYFS received a report that Y.H. had left E.H. and her other foster children at home with her paramour, and that the children had been seen begging for food. This led to DYFS obtaining temporary custody of E.H. in March 1999, but E.H. was subsequently returned to Y.H. About a year later, in March 2000, E.H. was again removed from Y.H.'s home by DYFS because she had been mistreated. This resulted in E.H. being placed in a shelter for girls, along with her presumed "twin" sister, L.H.*fn4
Thereafter, in July 2001, E.H. was relocated to a group home to receive counseling. In sum, E.H. had an estimated nineteen different residential placements between March 1999 and April 2005.
Although it is not verified in the record, there is some indication that E.H. was sexually assaulted by the boyfriend of Y.H., and possibly by others. Apart from the psychological trauma arising from those apparent sexual episodes, E.H. has also experienced strong feelings of abandonment. She has been diagnosed with dysthymic and adjustment disorders, with mixed anxiety and depressive moods. Her IQ has been measured in the lower range, although the trial court found her to be "intellectually capable."
Plagued with these problems as a child, E.H. has a long history of runaway behavior, dating back to at least 2002. She appears to have run away to deal with her fears of abandonment. During one of those runaway scenarios, in July 2003, E.H. was brought into a DYFS office and determined to be pregnant. Her then-boyfriend had been arrested for striking her. However, before DYFS could provide her with any services, E.H. fled. Similar behavior occurred throughout her pregnancy.
According to the trial testimony of a DYFS caseworker, Gerlando Jean-Louis, E.H. appeared at a hospital in the fall of 2003 with a urinary tract infection. E.H. then stated that she had not received prenatal care, although she later claimed that she had received such care at UMDNJ. DYFS attempted to place E.H. in a foster home at the time, but she once again disappeared. On September 24, 2003, E.H. resurfaced, claiming to be living with a twenty-two year-old friend named Quaisha Jacobs. Caseworker Jean-Louis attempted to give her services, including a parenting skills course for her forthcoming child and psychological evaluations. Jean-Louis also tried to place E.H. in a home for pregnant women.
The infant who is the subject of the present appeal, N.A.H., was born on October 30, 2003. DYFS was not notified when N.A.H. was born because E.H. listed him under a different last name, apparently in an effort to hide him from DYFS. Around the day of N.A.H.'s birth, Jean-Louis attempted to visit Quaisha Jacobs' residence to speak with E.H. about a missed psychological evaluation, but found the home padlocked. Subsequently, Jean-Louis managed to find and speak with E.H. on the telephone on November 5, 2003. At that point Jean-Louis realized that the child had been born, but did not know where E.H. was located.
E.H. and her baby were eventually found as the result of another DYFS investigation of persons in the house where they were staying. The home turned out to be that of Jacobs' cousin in East Orange. Jean-Louis went to the home with Department of Human Services police to remove the baby. Although N.A.H. was seemingly not in distress, Jean-Louis still believed removal was appropriate because she did not want to risk E.H. running away with the child again.
Jean-Louis attempted to get E.H. into a program for teen mothers, but E.H. was not available for the evaluations required for admission to that program. Meanwhile, N.A.H. was successfully placed into foster care. E.H., still a minor herself, did not wish to be placed and walked out of the DYFS office. She went back to the home of Jacobs and her grandmother. Thereafter, E.H. was not stably housed, going back and forth between Dorothy and Quaisha Jacobs' home and also at times living in a hotel with her then-boyfriend, who was Quaisha Jacobs' cousin. At times E.H. could not be found at all, and various missing persons reports were issued.
DYFS scheduled supervised visits for E.H. and N.A.H. E.H. attended these visits on a "pretty regular" basis. Visits were also provided for E.H. with her supposed siblings. E.H. did not, however, participate in the multicultural community services program for parental training that had been recommended by DYFS. Jean-Louis also attempted to assist E.H. in returning to high school, which she refused to attend.
Jean-Louis explained to E.H. that to have her son returned she had to attend school, live in a stable environment, and stop running away. To assist her in that regard, Jean-Louis provided E.H. with clothing, medical care, and a bus fare card, and also arranged psychological evaluations and therapy. She also referred E.H. to a psychologist, Dr. Barry A. Katz, who indicated that E.H. was in need of a "program that provides care, support and training to teenage mothers . . . ."
On July 27, 2004, E.H. was placed in such a teenage-mother program, known as Union Industrial, with N.A.H., who had previously been living in foster care. During her brief involvement in this residential program, E.H. kept her room clean and looked after her son. As part of the rules of the house, it was explained to E.H. that DYFS needed to assess any person she was going to see before she could leave the premises with that person. Nevertheless, on September 3, 2004, E.H. left the facility in a taxi, without her son, without obtaining permission and without leaving information as to where she was going. She did not return to Union ...