November 5, 2007
NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF D.A.W. AND A.D.W., MINORS.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, FG-07-123-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 16, 2007
Before Judges Grall and Chambers.
M.W., the mother of D.A.W. and A.D.W., appeals from a judgment entered on September 15, 2006, terminating her parental rights to these children.*fn1 The judgment also terminates the parental rights of D.P., who is A.D.W.'s father. D.P. does not appeal. The identity of D.A.W.'s father is unknown.
On appeal, M.W. contends that the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) failed to establish the grounds for termination of her parental rights required by N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1. DYFS and the law guardian for the children argue that the evidence clearly and convincingly establishes that the termination of M.W.'s parental rights is in the best interests of D.A.W. and A.D.W. and in accordance with the statutory standards. We affirm substantially for the reasons stated by Judge Rothschild in his oral decision of September 15, 2006, and his written decision of November 27, 2006.
We provide only a brief summary of the evidence presented, which is discussed in detail in Judge Rothschild's decisions.
M.W. has a history of mental and emotional disturbance complicated by drug abuse and manifested by conduct that includes threats of property damage and bodily injury to others and self-inflicted injury. As a consequence, she has been and remains unable to care for her children.
In 1999, when she was seventeen years of age and enrolled in high school, she was hospitalized after threatening destruction of the school and injury to its principal. In June 2004, she was again hospitalized, on this occasion for threatening to burn the YMCA. She was subsequently admitted to a program for the mentally ill and chronically addicted, but was discharged due to threatening behavior directed at members of the staff.
D.A.W. was born in September 2004. Three weeks after the birth, M.W. threatened to destroy a welfare office. The threat was reported to DYFS, and M.W. and the baby were placed in a shelter pending an assessment of her ability to care for the child. M.W. was expelled from that shelter after she threatened to harm another resident and a member of the staff.
DYFS arranged for a psychologist to evaluate M.W. The doctor concluded that M.W. was depressed, exhibited paranoid ideation and should be evaluated by a psychiatrist for a recommendation as to whether medication could address these problems. In his opinion, her problems were sufficiently severe to require supervision of her contact with her child.
Based on M.W.'s behavior and the psychologist's evaluation, DYFS obtained a court order authorizing removal of D.A.W. On November 8, 2004, D.A.W. was placed in the home of foster parents who are willing to adopt him.
DYFS followed the psychologist's recommendations and arranged a psychiatric evaluation. The psychiatrist noted her history of hospitalizations and prior diagnoses of bipolar disorder and drug and alcohol dependence as well as the impact of those conditions on her impulse control and aggressive behavior. M.W. denied any present problems and declined medication. The psychiatrist recommended counseling, which was arranged.
In May 2005, M.W. was hospitalized after assaulting police officers who arrested her on allegations of terroristic threats. During that hospitalization, she threatened staff and injured herself and was restrained to prevent her from further injuring herself or others.
A.D.W. was born within five months of M.W.'s hospitalization. She admitted that she had used drugs during this pregnancy.
DYFS obtained a court order authorizing removal of A.D.W. and placing the child with a relative of M.W., who wants to adopt A.D.W. In December 2005, M.W. was evaluated for substance abuse. She professed a desire to stop using marijuana but reported that she would not. In May 2006, M.W. refused to supply a urine sample for drug screening.
From the date of the removal of D.A.W. up to entry of the final order of termination, DYFS provided services. As noted above, M.W. attended counseling consistent with the recommendations of the psychiatrist. She also attended parenting skills classes and biweekly visitations arranged by DYFS. DYFS also referred M.W. for drug evaluations and treatment.
DYFS secured a bonding evaluation. The psychologist concluded that D.A.W. was primarily bonded with his foster parents, who were meeting "his needs for nurturance and stability." Although the doctor acknowledged that the child demonstrated an attachment to M.W., he concluded that the child "was not reliant upon her for his primary emotional needs." In his view, D.A.W.'s foster mother was his "psychological parent." The psychologist concluded that D.A.W. would have short term but not likely permanent psychological problems if removed from his foster home. The doctor did not evaluate the bond between A.D.W. and her mother or foster parent because A.D.W. was only six months old at the time.
DYFS also obtained an updated psychological evaluation of M.W. In September 2006, the psychologist who had previously evaluated her, noted that M.W.'s personal hygiene had deteriorated since he had last seen her. He concluded that her inability to care for herself, evinced by a strong odor of urine detected by the psychologist during the evaluation, raised additional concerns about her ability to care for her children. At trial, M.W. acknowledged that she was not yet sufficiently stable to care for the children. She did not agree to a termination of her parental rights, however.
"Appellate review of a trial court's decision to terminate parental rights is limited, and the trial court's factual findings 'should not be disturbed unless they are so wholly unsupportable as to result in a denial of justice.'" In re Guardianship of J.N.H., 172 N.J. 440, 472 (2002) (quoting In re Guardianship of J.T., 269 N.J. Super. 172, 188 (App. Div. 1993)). The evidence in this case provides more than adequate support for Judge Rothschild's conclusion that termination of M.W.'s parental rights is in the best interest of these children, as that standard is defined in N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1.
The judge found that the children's health and safety had and would continue to be endangered by the parental relationship and that, despite reasonable efforts by DYFS to help M.W. correct the problems that led to removal, M.W. remained "unwilling or unable" to eliminate the harm and "provide a safe and stable home for" them. N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1a(1)-(3). The judge also found that "[t]ermination of [M.W.'s] parental rights will not do more harm than good." N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1a(4). Those findings are more than adequately supported by the record. Proof that a parent has failed to provide "solicitude, nurture, and care for an extended period of time is in itself a harm that endangers the health and development of the child." In re Guardianship of D.M.H., 161 N.J. 365, 379 (1999).
We reject M.W.'s claim that the judge erroneously rested his decision exclusively on her emotional admission of lack of adequate stability to parent. The record is laden with evidence of M.W.'s aggressive and impulsive behavior and her need for continued assistance and frequent intervention to control conduct dangerous to herself and others. There is no basis for disturbing Judge Rothschild's conclusion that these children, who are both in the homes of caretakers willing to adopt, will not suffer more harm than good if M.W.'s parental rights are terminated and they are freed to enjoy the stability and permanency that she remains unable to provide.