On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Hudson County, Docket No. FG-09-185-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 16, 2008
Before Judges Fisher and C.L. Miniman.
In this appeal, we consider defendant M.G.'s contention that the trial judge erred in terminating her parental rights to her two children -- L.S., a daughter, born on June 19, 2002, and D.G., a son, born on January 22, 2006. The judge found that plaintiff Division of Youth and Family Services met its burden of proof by clear and convincing evidence on all four prongs set forth in N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1. We defer to the judge's findings because they are supported by credible evidence and, therefore, affirm.*fn1
The record reveals, and the trial judge found, that the Division first became involved with defendant and her children in early 2006, when a daycare facility reported to the Division that L.S. had a recurring problem with head lice and had been playing with dolls in a sexualized manner. The daycare center suggested that defendant had been overwhelmed following the birth of her second child.
The Division promptly investigated, and determined that defendant provided a safe and sufficient home, that there were no marks or bruises on either child, and that the children appeared clean, in good health, and appropriately dressed. Defendant complied with the Division's requests for urine screens, which proved negative for any substance abuse. She also complied with the Division's request that she take her daughter to the doctor regarding the lice problem. Having taken those steps, the Division closed its case.
Soon thereafter, however, defendant was hospitalized for five days for postpartum depression. She acknowledged having thoughts of hurting herself. In addition, on March 22, 2006, the Division received a referral from local police, who had responded to a call from defendant's maternal grandmother that defendant was threatening to hurt herself and her children. The police forcibly entered defendant's home because she did not voluntarily permit their entry, and found defendant feeding her son, while her daughter slept. Neither child nor defendant was injured. Defendant agreed to go to a hospital by ambulance for treatment, and there admitted having made statements about wanting to hurt herself and her children. Defendant was admitted and then referred to Mt. Carmel Guild for treatment, where she remained hospitalized for five days. She was treated with antipsychotic and antidepressant medication.
On April 14, 2006, defendant was admitted to Hackensack University Medical Center's psychiatric unit for suicidal ideation and auditory hallucinations. She was released that day, but received a full psychiatric evaluation five days later at Mt. Carmel Guild. At that time, Dr. Angel Hernandez diagnosed defendant with major depressive disorder, single episode, with psychotic features and postpartum onset. Dr. Hernandez noted defendant's cognitive deficits but ruled out psychotic disorders; he strongly encouraged defendant to enroll in the partial hospitalization plan at Mt. Carmel Guild. Though reluctant, defendant agreed and enrolled on April 20, 2006. This program required defendant's participation five days per week; defendant continued to take medications prescribed for her condition.
Although defendant claimed during her participation in this program that she did not remember making threats to herself or her children, she agreed, on April 24, 2006, with the Division's request for a stipulation that she not see her children without supervision. Despite that stipulation, the Division received a telephone call from defendant's maternal aunt, the caretaker of D.G., that she allowed defendant to take her son without supervision and that they had not returned. Defendant's maternal grandmother, who was the caretaker of L.S., had also permitted defendant, without supervision, to bring her daughter to daycare. These referrals prompted the Division's emergency removal of the children.
An action was commenced on April 26, 2006. At that time, a Family Part judge transferred legal and physical custody of the children to the Division, and provided defendant with liberal supervised visitation. The Division placed the children with defendant's maternal cousin, where they have since resided.*fn2
Testimony from a Division representative revealed that defendant initially visited the children every day, but visitation later became sporadic, even though the Division provided defendant with a bus pass and a visitation schedule.
The Division also engaged a service to clean defendant's home, but had difficulties contacting defendant to set up a schedule. In addition, the Division obtained little cooperation from defendant in attempting to assist her acquisition of welfare benefits. Defendant did, however, express an interest in attending parenting classes. She was referred to the Puerto Rican ...