On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Burlington County, Docket No. FG-03-27-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 21, 2008
Before Judges Wefing, Yannotti and LeWinn.
D.L. appeals from an order entered by the Family Part on July 31, 2007, which terminated her parental rights to T.L.B.*fn1
For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
D.L. gave birth to T.L.B. on May 1, 2003. T.L.B. was born prematurely. He weighed only two pounds, four ounces. T.L.B. suffered from numerous medical problems, including chronic lung disease, hypothyroidism, retinopathy, and gastroesophageal reflux for which he required a feeding tube. On May 24, 2003, T.L.B. was transferred to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) where he spent the next six months. He had eye surgery in July and August 2003 to address the eye hemorrhages that were related to his premature birth.
T.L.B. was discharged from CHOP on November 3, 2003. It was recommended that he continue medical treatment and follow-up with an ophthalmologist, an endocrinologist, and the feeding tube team. T.L.B. had a gastric tube for feeding, oxygen to aid in his respiration, and a variety of medications were prescribed. D.L. had two other young children, B.S. and R.B., Jr. at home. She had to work and maintain the household as a single parent.
In December 2003, the Division was informed that the family was about to become homeless. The Division investigated the matter and determined that further action was not required because D.L. had moved in with her parents. In November and December 2003, D.L. failed to take T.L.B. for certain medical appointments. In January 2004, T.L.B. was hospitalized for emergency treatment for respiratory distress.
In January and February 2004, D.L. failed to take T.L.B. to appointments with an endocrinologist. She took T.L.B. to a pulmonary specialist in February 2004. The child was again hospitalized from February 27, 2004 to March 7, 2004, due to respiratory distress.
In March 2004, D.L. failed to take T.L.B. for an appointment with an ophthalmologist. In April and May 2004, T.L.B. missed appointments with his pediatrician. The child missed an appointment in June 2004 with the endocrinologist. In December 2004, T.L.B. was again hospitalized due to respiratory distress.
In August 2004, D.L. was admitted to a hospital and diagnosed as having alcohol dependence. Upon admittance, D.L. reported that, in the previous thirty days, she had consumed two quarts of vodka each day. She voluntarily entered a detoxification program, but requested a discharge before she had completed the protocol.
D.L. met with Division worker Kimberly Crawley on January 30, 2005. She told Crawley that she was overwhelmed by T.L.B.'s health needs. D.L. assured Crawley that T.L.B. would attend his future medical appointments and medical daycare at Weisman Children's Rehabilitation Hospital (Weisman). On February 1, 2005, D.L. was again admitted to the hospital for problems associated with alcohol dependence. She was discharged on February 4, 2005.
Between April 6 and April 10, 2005, T.L.B. was again hospitalized for respiratory distress. On April 11, 2005, the Division learned that T.L.B. missed appointments in March 2005 and April 2005 with the endocrinologist and the pulmonary specialist. The Division also learned that the child required a follow up visit with the eye specialist. On April 14, 2005, T.L.B. missed a scheduled appointment with his primary care physician. Later that month, on April 20, 2005, D.L. signed a case plan with the Division in which she agreed that T.L.B. would attend the Weisman medical daycare program and all of his medical appointments.
On May 4, 2005, the Division filed a verified complaint and order to show cause pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21 and N.J.S.A. 30:4C-12 for the care and supervision of all three of D.L.'s children. On that date, the court granted the relief sought by the Division. T.L.B. was placed as an in-patient at Weisman.
On May 13, 2005, the Division filed a complaint and order to show cause seeking the custody of T.L.B. on the ground of medical neglect. The court granted the Division's application for temporary relief, and on the return date of the order to show cause, ordered that T.L.B. remain in the Division's custody. The court dismissed the Division's complaint as to D.L.'s other children.
In July 2005, T.L.B. was placed in Dooley House, a residential nursing facility for medically fragile children. At that time, T.L.B. was very thin. The child was not speaking. He barely walked and was diagnosed as developmentally delayed. T.L.B. was diagnosed with Marfan disorder, which required yearly echocardiograms and other tests. He was also diagnosed with friction syndrome and cerebral palsy. While at Dooley House, T.L.B. continued to attend the medical daycare program at Weisman.
On September 29, 2005, the Division filed an amended complaint and order to show cause for the care and supervision of B.S. and R.B., Jr. and for custody of T.L.B. On that date, the court granted the Division custody of T.L.B. and ordered that he remain at Dooley House. The other children were placed under the Division's care and supervision. In October 2005, on the return date of the order to show cause, the court continued the prior orders as to custody and supervision. The court ordered D.L. to attend substance abuse treatment and visit T.L.B. at Dooley House each week.
The court entered another order on January 12, 2006, which stated that D.L. had stipulated that the missed medical appointments had placed T.L.B. at risk of harm and constituted medical neglect. In the order, the court dismissed the Division's claims as to B.S. and R.B., Jr. However, on February 9, 2006, the Division removed those two children from the home on an emergent basis because the water in the residence had been turned off due to non-payment. The emergency removal was rescinded when water was restored.
The Division thereafter filed an amended complaint and order to show cause seeking responsibility for the care and supervision of B.S. and R.B., Jr. because D.L. was unable to pay her water and electric bills. The court granted the relief sought by the Division but the order was vacated on April 3, 2006, when the utilities were restored. On that date, the court also entered a ...