On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Passaic County, FG-16-46-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 18, 2007
Before Judges Fuentes and Chambers.
In this termination of parental rights case, defendant L.A. appeals the decision of the court below, terminating her parental rights as the mother of D.K.A. Since the decision to terminate her parental rights is well supported by the record below and is in the best interests of D.K.A., we affirm.
Plaintiff, the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services ("the Division") commenced supervision over L.A. and her children after L.A. contacted the Division in 1999, because she did not have sufficient income to care for her daughter D.K.A. and a younger son. (The son is not part of this appeal.) Various services were provided to L.A., and the Division established supervision over the family. Later that year, the Division substantiated an allegation that L.A. had struck D.K.A. with a belt on the face, although L.A. denied this finding.
L.A. attended a parenting class which she completed, and she went to counseling.
On November 2, 2000, Dr. Malini Bhatia conducted a psychiatric evaluation of L.A. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was prescribed medication. The Division closed its case on June 28, 2001.
In July 2002, L.A. experienced a psychiatric episode, in which she heard voices, and she was hospitalized. The Division filed a verified complaint and sought an order to show cause, seeking custody, care and supervision of L.A.'s children. By order of July 25, 2002, custody of the children was granted to the Division on the basis that L.A. was unable to care for her children due to her mental illness. The children were placed with a family friend. The family friend reported receiving a call from L.A., who threatened to take the children. Despite being advised by a Division caseworker not to remove the children, L.A. did so, but the children were returned to the family friend by the police. On August 28, 2002, the return date of the order to show cause, physical custody of the children was ordered to remain with the Division, L.A. was ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation and to attend counseling, and provision was made for supervised visitation. This was done. At the recommendation of Dr. Raymond Ransom, a psychiatrist, the children were returned to L.A. on November 18, 2002, and the case was dismissed.
On February 13, 2004, the Division received a referral from the children's school that L.A. had assaulted a teacher and that L.A. admitted to using marijuana. While no child neglect was found, the Division kept the case open for supervision of the children, because L.A. had a history of mental illness and was not taking her psychiatric medication, had tested positive for marijuana, and had refused recommended outpatient drug treatment. Later that month, D.K.A.'s school reported to the Division that L.A. reported seeing shadows in the home going back and forth through her room, and that she believed her landlord had "roots" on her daughter. While no neglect was found, Division supervision continued.
On September 13, 2004, the Division received a report from L.A.'s psychologist that L.A. was incoherent and seriously mentally impaired and that L.A. believed people were targeting her for destruction. L.A. reported to a Division worker that her landlord was using voodoo against her and her children.
L.A. confirmed that she had stopped taking her psychiatric medication and that she occasionally used marijuana. However, the children reported that their mother was taking good care of them, and no abuse or neglect was found. In November 2004, the Division filed a verified complaint for investigation, seeking to compel L.A. to submit to psychological and substance abuse evaluations and urine screening. In December 2004, L.A. was evaluated by Dr. Leslie Trott, a psychologist, who found that L.A.'s "psychological disability so impairs her functioning that she cannot be considered competent to parent." Trott recommended an immediate psychiatric evaluation.
In January 2005, the daughter, D.K.A., told the Division worker that she was hearing voices at night, and that she had formerly been fearful of shadows appearing in the apartment, but that she was no longer fearful of the shadows because they were the spirits of dead people who had been killed in the house. Once she was ...