On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, FG-07-106-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 7, 2008
Before Judges S.L. Reisner and Gilroy.
Defendant T.D. appeals from a trial court order dated February 2, 2007, terminating her parental rights to her son, T.M.D*fn1 , born March 11, 2002, and from an April 19, 2007 order terminating her parental rights to her younger child, S.D., born July 21, 2005. We affirm.
The following evidence was presented at the trial, which began on January 8, 2007. T.D. suffers from severe cerebral palsy, as a result of which she is confined to a wheelchair and has limited use of her left arm. Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS or the agency) social worker Ann Glass testified that based on concerns that T.D. was physically incapable of taking care of her children, both T.M.D. and S.D. were taken from her shortly after birth and were placed with foster parents who were relatives of T.D.*fn2 The agency's records also indicated that after S.D.'s birth, T.D. "was not cooperative with in-home services."
The agency paid for T.D. to be evaluated by Kessler Rehabilitation to determine what her abilities were to care for T.M.D. She was unable to pick the baby up or hold him and would require assistance in maintaining a safe home environment. T.D. could not be alone with the child "even for a few minutes." Kessler, as well as Dr. Allan J. Herman, also recommended that T.D. be evaluated with the child in her own home.
The agency referred T.D. to a medical day program for counseling, physical therapy and vocational training. However, she "refused to attend this program stating that it was boring, it took time away from visits with her child." Despite arrangements for her to attend the program twice a week, T.D. "refused to attend."
However, DYFS did arrange for T.D. to visit with the children on a twice-weekly basis since their birth, although at least one doctor recommended that visits be either daily or four times per week. DYFS paid for a nurse's aide to be present during the weekly visits.
T.D. did not follow up on any plans to take care of the children. She had initially planned to move to North Carolina with the children and to live with relatives, or to have her sister come live with her. Neither plan came to fruition. The agency initially filed for kinship legal guardianship, however, the relative foster parents preferred to adopt the children.
Ms. Glass confirmed that T.M.D. has special needs including some developmental delays. Both children were well cared for in their foster homes, and their foster parents wanted to adopt them. The foster mothers were sisters. They were both willing to allow T.D. to have continued contact with her children after adoption, and they facilitated visits between the children as well. However, T.D. was not willing to visit the children in the foster parents' homes. For example, they invited her to the children's birthday parties and she refused to attend.
Dr. Mark Singer, a clinical psychologist, testified that he conducted a psychological evaluation of T.D. He also conducted bonding evaluations of each child with T.D. and with each child's foster parent. Dr. Singer concluded that because she suffers from severe cerebral palsy, T.D. was unable to independently parent the children. He also concluded that T.D. underestimated the difficulty the children might have in separating from their foster parents, did not understand the children's needs, and tended to look to T.M.D., then age four, as a source of help with her needs instead of the other way around. Further, T.D. admitted to him that she had not participated in parental skills training, and psychotherapy services, although they had been offered to her.
According to Dr. Singer, T.M.D had a secure and significant bond with his foster mother and would be severely adversely impacted if he was forced to separate from her. The child also has some significant medical and developmental problems, to which his foster mother "seemed to be attuned" but which T.D. did not acknowledge. Dr. Singer also testified that S.D. had a "healthy secure attachment" to his foster mother and that "severing such an attachment would . . . have an adverse reaction." For both children, their foster parents had become their psychological parents. Dr. Singer testified that by age two children generally had a "solidified" attachment to an identified caregiver; for this reason it would be harder for T.M.D. to separate from his foster parent than it would be for S.D. to separate from her foster mother.
Further, according to Dr. Singer, both foster parents wanted T.D. to play a role in her children's lives, but T.D. had rejected their invitations to visit the children in their homes. T.D.'s alienation from the foster parents would increase the harm to the children if they were removed from the foster parents and placed with T.D. Based on his psychological evaluations, and not based on T.D.'s ...