On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, Docket Nos. FG-07-128-06 and FN 07-326-04.
FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted February 6, 2008
Before Judges Parker, R. B. Coleman and Lyons.
In these consolidated cases, Q.W., the father, and P.A.P., the mother, appeal from a judgment entered on December 19, 2006 terminating parental rights to their biological child, Q.A.P.W.
The Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) first became involved with this family in May 2001 when the mother's then-three-year-old child was not picked up on time from daycare. The daycare center made a referral to DYFS, which did not substantiate abuse or neglect based upon P.A.P.'s representation that she thought the child's father, B.M., was picking up the child.
On May 8, 2003, a school nurse reported to DYFS that P.A.P.'s then-eight-year-old had lost weight, was malnourished and did not have her asthma medication. The child was admitted to the hospital. When DYFS investigated, it determined that P.A.P. had lost her Medicaid benefits because she had not attended required programs. As a result of the lost Medicaid benefits, P.A.P. could not buy the child's medication. P.A.P. was also behind in her rent and was going to food pantries to feed the children.
On May 23, 2003, P.A.P. signed a six-month consent for placement of the eight year old with a family member. At a factfinding hearing in February 2004, it was determined that that child had been malnourished and medically neglected. DYFS continued to be involved with P.A.P. and her two older children.
With respect to this case, P.A.P. advised both DYFS and the court at the February 2004 hearing that she was pregnant with Q.A.P.W. She previously had an ultrasound examination that indicated possible fetal liver calcifications, which could be caused by a number of infections acquired by P.A.P. during her pregnancy. This condition is known as TORCH syndrome.
Q.A.P.W. was born on March 26, 2004. Five days later, on April 1, 2004, a DYFS caseworker went to P.A.P.'s home to determine whether the infant was healthy but could not find the mother or infant. When DYFS contacted the family member caring for P.A.P.'s two older children, she told the caseworker that P.A.P. had asked her to take care of the infant because she believed DYFS would take him. When the caseworker called P.A.P.'s home from the relative's phone, P.A.P. answered the phone. The caseworkers then went to P.A.P.'s home, but the five-day-old infant was not there and P.A.P. claimed that the infant's father had taken him. DYFS substantiated allegations of neglect because P.A.P. appeared to be hiding the infant and demonstrated poor judgment in not knowing where he was. On April 2, 2004, DYFS filed an order to show cause for P.A.P. to produce the infant. The court granted DYFS custody and supervision.
DYFS made several attempts to serve P.A.P. with the order and take custody of the infant. When DYFS went to P.A.P.'s house, the father, Q.W., answered the door and objected to removal of the infant. When the caseworker assessed the home, she found that the mother and father had been living together and that the infant's bed was a car seat. The infant also appeared to have an eye infection.
The infant was taken to the emergency room and it was determined that he had an abnormal liver, requiring further testing for the TORCH syndrome. Allegations of medical neglect were substantiated because P.A.P. had not followed up on the infant's serious medical problems.
After several attempted family placements were unsuccessful, the then-six-month-old baby was placed in a foster home in October 2004. In July 2005, P.A.P. was evaluated by Dr. Albert Griffith. Dr. Griffith reported that P.A.P. was unemployed, had a marginal ability to read and write and was in need of parenting skills training and therapeutic intervention. He found that P.A.P. was unaware of her own limitations and could become unintentionally neglectful.
Dr. Griffith also evaluated Q.W. and reported that he lived with P.A.P. in a substandard apartment and was also unemployed. He had been working in a fast food restaurant but quit when his hours were shortened. Dr. Griffith found that Q.W. had poor insight and did not accept responsibility for himself or his child. Dr. Griffith found that Q.W. had the potential to learn parenting ...