On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Hudson County, Docket No. FG-09-119-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 10, 2007
Remanded Resubmitted March 12, 2008
Before Judges S.L. Reisner, Gilroy and Baxter.
Defendant L.G., the biological mother of eight-year old A.G., appeals from the February 16, 2007 order of the Family Part that terminated her parental rights to her son pursuant to N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a). The order in question awarded guardianship of A.G. to the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) so that adoption proceedings could commence. The parental rights of A.G.'s natural father, A.E., were also terminated, but he has not appealed. We remanded the matter to the Family Part for the limited purpose of conducting a supplementary proceeding. The purpose of the remand was to ascertain the present intentions of M.W., L.G.'s aunt, as to whether she wishes to adopt A.G., or instead provide A.G. with long-term care similar to that which would be provided under a Kinship Legal Guardianship (KLG), N.J.S.A. 3B:12A-6(d). We now affirm.
The record consists of the testimony of four witnesses presented by DYFS, the testimony of L.G. and her expert Dr. Gerard Figurelli, as well as more than 600 pages of exhibits that were admitted into evidence. Those exhibits include DYFS's contacts with L.G. and with various agencies that provided services to her along with a number of psychological and substance abuse assessments. The record as a whole demonstrates L.G.'s long struggle with substance abuse and describes the numerous terms of imprisonment she served after her son was born.
DYFS's involvement with L.G. began even before A.G. was born. During her pregnancy, DYFS received a referral in which the caller alleged that L.G. was using PCP and marijuana while pregnant with A.G. At the time of his birth, A.G. did not have drugs in his system. Shortly after his birth, L.G. entered an inpatient drug treatment program, but the record does not contain any description of the results.
Shortly after her discharge from that program, L.G. was incarcerated for a period of three years. During the time that his mother was incarcerated, A.G. lived with his aunt, P.R., who had obtained legal and physical custody. L.G. was not released from imprisonment until August 30, 2003. Thus, for the first four years of her son's life, L.G. was incarcerated for all but one.
Because L.G. expressed interest in regaining custody of her son once she was released from prison, DYFS made an effort to provide her with substance abuse treatment. In particular, DYFS instructed her to report for a substance abuse evaluation with a DYFS Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC). L.G. failed to appear for three scheduled appointments with the CADC in February and March 2004. By failing to show up for those appointments, L.G. also avoided providing urine drug screens.
On September 15, 2004, L.G. again contacted DYFS to request services. A DYFS caseworker reminded her that DYFS had already arranged several appointments for her with the CADC in the past, but she had failed to show up. Accordingly, the caseworker advised L.G. that she would be required to enroll in substance abuse treatment through Christ Hospital (the hospital), and would also be required to attend parenting classes.
L.G. completed the parenting classes the next month. Although three months elapsed before L.G. began her drug treatment at the hospital, hospital staff notified DYFS on January 4, 2005, that L.G. had been compliant with substance abuse treatment and had three negative urine screens in the month of December 2004. Based on her progress in treatment, the judge who was presiding over a custody complaint that L.G. had filed against P.R., ordered that L.G. be permitted to have overnight visits with her son every weekend until she completed her substance abuse treatment program on February 5, 2005. On February 5, 2005, legal and residential custody of A.G. was transferred to L.G. During a visit to L.G.'s apartment shortly thereafter, a DYFS caseworker observed the apartment to be "clean and appropriately furnished" with "plenty of food and suitable sleeping arrangements." A.G. was "clean and healthy."
Unfortunately, L.G.'s progress did not last long. On June 16, 2005, DYFS learned that L.G. had been arrested three days earlier on charges of simple assault, terroristic threats and bail jumping and was still incarcerated. As a result of his mother's incarceration, A.G. went to live with his father. L.G. posted bail and was released from custody on June 23, 2005.
L.G. retrieved A.G. from his father and she and A.G. moved to the home of L.G.'s friend in Hoboken. During a visit, a DYFS caseworker observed that L.G. had a black eye. L.G. told the worker that sheriff's officers had been required to throw her to the floor and restrain her after a violent outburst in a courtroom recently. Concerned by L.G.'s difficulties in controlling her temper, a problem that had also surfaced during L.G.'s angry confrontation with officials at A.G.'s school a few months earlier, DYFS referred L.G. to the Urban League for anger management classes. On July 31, 2005, DYFS received a report from the Urban League that despite multiple efforts to engage L.G. in anger management classes, she never established any contact with them.
A mere three weeks after L.G. was discharged from jail on June 23, 2005, she was locked up again on July 16, 2005. When she was arrested, L.G. made arrangements for A.G. to stay with one of her friends. Upon locating A.G., DYFS placed him with L.G.'s maternal aunt, M.W. Because of L.G.'s incarceration and because A.E.'s whereabouts were unknown, DYFS filed a complaint for care, custody and supervision of A.G. on July 29, 2005. The judge ordered A.G. placed in the custody of DYFS and noted in the order that "[i]t is contrary to the welfare of the child to return to biological mother as she is incapacitated due to incarceration . . . . "
On August 19, 2005, L.G. contacted DYFS to report that she was released from jail the previous day after having completed her sentence. The DYFS worker advised her that a substance abuse evaluation was scheduled for August 23, 2005. L.G. completed that evaluation, which resulted in a recommendation for long-term inpatient substance abuse treatment. During that evaluation, L.G. tested positive for marijuana. Two days later, when the CADC notified L.G. that DYFS had made arrangements for her to enter a long-term inpatient drug treatment program the following week, L.G. insisted that she wanted a program that would begin that very day because she was experiencing suicidal ideations. DYFS arranged for L.G. to be immediately transported to a local hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. After an evaluation, the hospital discharged her later that day. Despite the arrangements made by DYFS for L.G. to enter an inpatient drug treatment program, L.G. never enrolled.
At an August 31, 2005 compliance review hearing, the judge ordered that custody of A.G. remain with DYFS and physical custody with M.W. The judge ordered L.G. and A.E. to attend psychological evaluations as well as substance abuse treatment at a local outpatient program. The judge also ordered L.G. to attend anger management at Christ Hospital beginning on September 12, 2005. During the hearing, L.G. admitted to using drugs for fifteen years and acknowledged that her "drug of choice" was PCP and marijuana. The judge granted L.G. supervised visitation with A.G., to be arranged directly with M.W. A few days later, on September 2, 2005, during a home visit with A.G. at M.W.'s home, A.G. reported to the worker that he was happy there and glad his mother could visit with him.
On October 3, 2005, a DYFS worker contacted the hospital to find out if L.G. had ever enrolled in the anger management classes the court had ordered. The hospital told DYFS that although L.G. had agreed to an appointment for September 26, 2005, she failed to appear and never called to explain her absence or cancel the appointment.
Shortly thereafter, DYFS informed L.G. that she should schedule an intake appointment in order to begin her inpatient drug treatment. Again, L.G. refused to do so, this time stating that she needed to resolve three outstanding criminal charges, including an old narcotics charge from March 15, 2005. She insisted that she wanted to address her criminal charges before beginning inpatient treatment. When the caseworker asked to meet with her to discuss these problems, she refused to meet with the caseworker and refused to tell the worker where she was.
On November 21, 2005, DYFS wrote to L.G. by regular and certified mail, requesting that she contact her caseworker as soon as possible to advise as to her current whereabouts and her plans for her son once she surrendered on the outstanding bench warrants. Approximately one week later, L.G. responded to that letter and agreed to meet the caseworker at Walker's home. During that meeting, although L.G. expressed concern for her son's well-being, she was unable to provide the worker with a definitive plan for him.
At the next compliance review hearing on December 7, 2005, the judge ordered that legal custody of A.G. remain with DYFS and physical custody with M.W. L.G. failed to appear in court despite having been notified of the court date. The judge ordered that L.G.'s visits with her son be suspended until she made herself available for services. During the hearing, the judge also ordered DYFS to begin exploring a permanent plan for A.G., including adoption, because M.W. stated she was not willing to adopt him. Less than a ...