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Division of Youth and Family Services v. S.T.

October 21, 2008


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division-Family Part, Hudson County, Docket No. FG-09-125-07.

Per curiam.



Submitted: October 2, 2008

Before Judges Cuff and Baxter.

S.T., the mother of J.M.M. and E.G.M., III,*fn1 seeks review of an order terminating her parental rights. She contends that the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) failed to carry its evidential burden to support this relief. We affirm.

On November 19, 2004, E.M., S.T. and their son, E.G.M., III, and S.T.'s daughter, D.M.R., moved into an apartment in Jersey City. Their second child, J.M.M., was born on December 19, 2004. On January 11, 2005, E.M. and a man he met in prison entered the apartment of E.M.'s landlord with the intention of committing a burglary. E.M. was armed with a 9mm handgun. E.M. and his colleague restrained the landlord, his wife and two daughters, searched the house for money, found the landlord's debit card, obtained the personal identification number for the card, and then killed each member of the family. E.M. and his accomplice left the apartment; E.M. walked upstairs to his apartment. The bodies were found several days later. E.M. was identified as complicit in the robbery and murders through his use of the landlord's debit card.

On March 2, 2005, E.M. was arrested. The arrest occurred early in the morning at the apartment shared by E.M. and S.T.; the entire family was present at the time of the arrest. S.T. was not arrested. There is no evidence that she knew of E.M.'s plan to rob the landlord or knew what he had done until he was arrested. E.M. is now in prison; he must serve sixty-three years, eight months and thirty days before he is eligible for parole.

S.T. was arrested on August 15, 2005. On that morning, police executed a search warrant of her apartment. A handgun and marijuana were found in the dryer in the apartment. S.T. was charged with weapons and drug offenses. Unable to post bail, S.T. remained incarcerated until January 31, 2006. At the time of her arrest, D.M.R. was ten years old, E.G.M., III, was four years old, and J.M.M. was eight months old. The children were placed in foster care because S.T. was unable to care for them and no family member had been identified to care for them. On September 2, 2005, D.M.R. was placed with a paternal aunt.*fn2

Since October 26, 2005, E.G.M., III, and J.M.M. have resided in their current foster home.

Two days after her release on bail, S.T. was ordered to submit to a substance abuse evaluation and a psychological evaluation. The February 7, 2006 substance abuse evaluation, including a urine screen, was negative. No treatment recommendations were made. A psychological examination was conducted on February 15, 2006. Dr. Kenneth Schulman, a psychologist, reported that S.T. suffered from Major Depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, as well as Avoidant Personality Disorder with Negativistic Personality Traits. He recommended that she undergo psychotherapy as a prerequisite to obtaining her children. He explained that S.T. has "fewer resources than most" for coping with the demands of everyday living. She copes "by leading a restricted life and working hard to keep stressful experiences out of her life." Her desire to appear calm makes her susceptible to becoming upset when she must confront ordinary types of stress that occur in everyday life. This, in turn, may interfere with her ability to function effectively as a parent.

On March 28, 2006, S.T. was referred to the Easter Seals Parent Support Program and began receiving services on April 3, 2006. She applied for city welfare and obtained Medicaid coverage. She also participated in weekly parenting skills classes and met the program specialist once a week. By September 2006, however, S.T.'s progress had stalled because her welfare status and pending criminal charges prevented her from obtaining an apartment and a job.

When the children were first removed from S.T.'s care, DYFS interviewed and evaluated several relatives proposed by S.T. or who presented themselves as caregivers for the children. D.T., the maternal grandmother, was ruled out due to four convictions for weapons and drugs. At that time, she had completed a two-year term of imprisonment for weapons and drug offenses in September 2001. J.O., the paternal grandmother of D.M.R., was ruled out because her home was too small, and a son had been removed briefly from her care by DYFS. J.R., a maternal aunt, was ruled out because her home was too small. In December 2005, W.S., a friend of S.T., advised DYFS that she was interested in caring for the children. She was ruled out because she did not provide the required information about her roommates.

When first removed, E.G.M., III, and J.M.M. did not reside in the same home. They were reunited on October 26, 2005. E.G.M., III, expressed delight in the reunification and asked to sleep in the same room as his brother. The boys and their sister visited their parents at the courthouse on November 28, 2005. That same day, E.G.M., III's, foster mother reported that he was having nightmares about bloody monsters and feeling anxious. He was referred for counseling. During a home visit on December 16, his foster mother advised the DYFS worker that E.G.M., III, was still having nightmares and had difficulty going places by himself. His therapist reported that the child was receiving trauma specific play therapy to alleviate his symptoms of fearfulness. By March, E.G.M., III, was still having nightmares. He reported seeing "bloody people." He refused ...

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