On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Passaic County, Docket No. FG-16-41-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 10, 2008
Before Judges Stern, Payne and Lyons.
This is an appeal by T.T., the biological mother of Z.T., now thirteen years old, from an August 27, 2007, final judgment terminating her parental rights to her son. The following factual and procedural history is relevant to our consideration of the issues advanced on appeal.
T.T. is the biological mother of Z.T. and J.T. is the biological father.*fn1 Z.T. was born on September 29, 1995. T.T. has one other child from a prior relationship, E.H., born in 1991. When E.H. was one-year old, T.T. surrendered her parental rights to E.H.'s paternal grandmother.
The Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) became involved with T.T. in June 2000. DYFS had received a referral, claiming that T.T. was living with her then paramour, C.M., both were alcoholics and were running a pornographic mail order business out of the home. There was also an allegation that Z.T. was seen playing with knives and was unattended outside on a deck that had no railing. DYFS found the allegations of abuse and neglect unsubstantiated and closed the case.
Six months later, DYFS again received a report alleging abuse and neglect of Z.T., claiming Z.T. was left home alone, without food, while T.T. worked, and was being exposed to pornographic materials. In April 2001, after investigating the matter, DYFS again found the allegations of abuse and neglect unsubstantiated and closed the case.
In January 2002, the local police were dispatched to T.T.'s residence, which she then shared with a new paramour, R.W., in response to a violent domestic dispute between T.T. and R.W during which Z.T. was present. In March 2002, Z.T.'s school filed a DYFS report, alleging that Z.T. was coming to school dirty, was not toilet trained, and had dried feces in his underwear that morning and three times the previous week and several times a week in general. DYFS investigated the matter again and found the allegations of Z.T. being dirty unconfirmed and recognized Z.T.'s problem regarding feces as medical, not parental.
In June 2002, the local police were again dispatched to T.T.'s home regarding a domestic violence dispute. The police also responded in November 2002 to another domestic violence dispute between T.T. and R.W., which Z.T. witnessed.
In November 2002, DYFS visited Z.T. at his school. He told the DYFS caseworker that R.W. had thrown a lit cigarette at T.T. while Z.T. sat next to her and that he was scared. He also stated that R.W. had been mean to him and his mother. DYFS then spoke to T.T. who acknowledged that R.W. had been abusive toward her. She acknowledged that she had lost teeth as a result of prior physical disputes with C.M. and that R.W. had burned her face with a cigarette. T.T. denied, however, that Z.T. had ever been abused by R.W.
DYFS had T.T. sign a case plan to address her and her son's problems. In June 2003, Z.T. continued to soil his clothes at school. He was diagnosed with encopresis.*fn2 Police were again called to a domestic violence dispute at T.T.'s home on February 3, 2004. Z.T., however, was not present during that incident.
In April 2004, Z.T.'s school contacted DYFS because Z.T. continued to soil his pants. This was occurring on a daily basis and Z.T., when confronted by the school, expressed concern that he could not go home because he would be hit. DYFS investigated the matter and discovered that after Z.T. came home, he was spanked by R.W. and had red marks on his buttocks. DYFS discovered that R.W. had a significant temper and would get very angry if disturbed. DYFS offered to move T.T. to a battered women's shelter because of the volatile relationship between her and R.W., but she refused.
On July 23, 2004, DYFS received another referral from the local police in response to another domestic violence incident between T.T. and R.W. This incident occurred in Z.T.'s presence. Following this occurrence, DYFS removed Z.T., then eight years old, and placed him in protective custody. At the time of his removal, Z.T. was disheveled, dirty, and smelled of cigarette smoke and urine. He stated he was hit on the torso when R.W. threw a computer keyboard at him during the domestic dispute.
On July 26, 2004, pursuant to a court order, Z.T. was placed in the legal custody of DYFS. On July 28, 2004, Z.T. was placed in physical custody of his current foster parents where he has remained since the initial placement.
The trial court ordered T.T. to attend domestic violence counseling and granted her supervised visitation. T.T. was provided numerous and various services following the removal of Z.T. In September 2004, she underwent a psychological evaluation. That evaluation revealed a history of sexual abuse as an adolescent and physical abuse at the hands of her paramours. She was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and adjustment disorder with mixed disturbance of emotion and conduct.
In 2004, the court ordered T.T. to obtain safe and appropriate housing and for DYFS to investigate the adequacy of the parenting classes that T.T. was attending. In November 2004, Z.T. completed a psychological evaluation. Based on that evaluation, it was clear that Z.T. desired to be reunited with his mother, but ...