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New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. W.A.

March 2, 2009


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, Docket No. FG-07-257-06.

Per curiam.



Submitted January 22, 2009

Before Judges Stern, Waugh and Newman.

Defendant W.A. appeals the judgment of the Family Part terminating her parental rights with respect to her son, D.J.S. We affirm.


The Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) initially became involved with W.A. in January 1993. DYFS was contacted when W.A.'s then five-year old son, D.A., was found alone and crying in her home. DYFS was contacted again in December 1993 when D.A. was found alone in the courtyard of a building wearing only a t-shirt and pants. In both instances, the allegations of abuse and neglect were substantiated against W.A. DYFS provided services to the family and the case was closed in June 1994.

In April 1999, W.A. took D.A. to the hospital alleging that her brother had physically abused D.A. The allegations of abuse were substantiated against W.A.'s brother. DYFS provided services to the family and the case was closed in July 1999.

In February 2005, D.A. was brought to the emergency room by police. The police had picked D.A. up, but could not locate W.A. The maternal grandmother was contacted and she informed DYFS that she had been taking care of W.A.'s second child, R.M., and that she was not sure where W.A. was living.

Shortly thereafter, DYFS was again contacted concerning W.A. It was alleged that W.A., who was five months pregnant, was using cocaine and not receiving any prenatal care. The referent also alleged that W.A. was not sending R.M. to school regularly. DYFS subsequently made contact with W.A., who agreed to a case plan which included her receiving drug abuse treatment, random drug screenings, and assistance in locating stable housing. It was determined that R.M. would live with her maternal grandmother and D.A. would live with an uncle.

DYFS scheduled three substance abuse evaluations for W.A. during March and April 2005. However, W.A. either cancelled or did not show up for these appointments.

On April 25, 2005, D.J.S. was born prematurely to W.A. D.J.S. tested positive for cocaine and for exposure to HIV from his mother. It was subsequently determined that D.J.S. was "medically fragile" and required placement in a "skilled home with a caretaker who is knowledgeable about the care of [a] premature, drug exposed and HIV exposed infant."

On April 27, 2005, DYFS informed W.A. that they would be filing for custody of both R.M. and D.J.S. A notice of emergency removal was filed the following day. DYFS filed a guardianship complaint on May 2, 2005. Following a hearing on the same day, the court granted DYFS custody of both R.M. and D.J.S.

D.J.S. was released from the hospital on May 27, 2005, and placed in foster care. He has resided in the same foster home since his release from the hospital.

At a hearing on June 3, 2005, both W.A. and D.J.S.'s father, J.S., were present.*fn1 Both parents were drug tested. J.S.'s test came back negative while W.A. tested positive for cocaine. The court continued DYFS's custody of both R.M. and D.J.S. and granted both parents supervised visits with their children.

After the hearing, a DYFS caseworker visited D.J.S. at his foster home. The worker noted that D.J.S was doing well and the foster mother reported no issues or concerns.

W.A. attended a substance abuse assessment on June 7, 2005. During her assessment, W.A. admitted to using cocaine and drinking alcohol every day. W.A. also told the assessor that she had two life-threatening illnesses. The assessor concluded that W.A. would benefit from both drug abuse treatment as well as mental health treatment. Concerns about W.A.'s ability to find stable employment and housing were also noted.

On August 9, 2005, a psychological evaluation of W.A. was conducted by Dr. Mark H. Seglin. He suspected that W.A. "was under the influence during the assessment" and found her to be "irritable, uncooperative, and demanding." He described W.A.'s personality as "paranoid and antisocial." In conclusion, Seglin found:

[W.A.'s] psychological evaluation appears to reinforce the impressions of the Substance Abuse assessment . . . which found her to be both alcohol and drug addicted, with no history of sustained clean time. However, unlike with the substance abuse evaluation, the client was only minimally cooperative. Further, since the time of her substance abuse evaluation, she has done nothing to address her addictions -preferring to construe that as [DYFS's] responsibility.

She exhibited few characteristics that would recommend her as a parent in this evaluation. On the contrary her indifference to the destruction her drug abuse and overall lifestyle has visited on her family and significant others in her life, borders on depravity in this examiner's professional opinion. Indeed it appears from the testimony of [J.S.], her most recent child's father, which she knowingly engaged in unprotected sex without informing him of her [HIV-positive] condition. Further, once she had conceived a child with him, she continued with the pregnancy with no prenatal care. These are criminal offenses, and this examiner saw nothing about her that would inhibit her repeating future endangerment of the public if that were seen to be instrumental to perpetuating her life style. If these are indeed the facts, then it seems to me that it is a greater priority to deliberate on what legal protections the public can be afforded from this very dangerous woman, before considering restoring her to any parental functions whatsoever.

At a compliance review on August 11, 2005, the court continued DYFS's custody of both R.M. and D.J.S. W.A., who admitted that she would test positive for cocaine during the hearing, was ordered to attend inpatient substance abuse treatment. Weekly-supervised visitations were continued between W.A. and the two children.

W.A. failed to attend a second substance abuse assessment that was scheduled for November 14, 2005. The assessment was rescheduled for December 5, 2005, which W.A. again did not attend.

On December 1, 2005, the maternal grandmother informed DYFS that she was willing to adopt R.M. Also on that day, D.J.S.'s foster mother expressed concerns about taking the baby to the scheduled visits with W.A. because she was developing a pattern of not attending the visits. She also informed the caseworker that she had taken D.J.S. to J.S.'s home so that he and W.A. could visit with the child. She reported that the visit had not gone well and the caseworker instructed her that there were not to be any unsupervised visits between D.J.S. and his biological parents.

On January 11, 2006, D.J.S.'s foster mother expressed her interest in adopting D.J.S.

W.A. attended a second substance abuse assessment on January 20, 2006. The results of the assessment mirrored those of the initial assessment in June 2005. The assessor found W.A. to have both a cocaine and alcohol dependency and to have failed to follow through with the recommended treatment plans from the first assessment.

In March 2006, W.A. expressed her desire to DYFS to work on ending her addictions to illegal substances and alcohol. To effectuate this, DYFS transported W.A. to an intake appointment with the Straight and Narrow drug treatment program on April 1, 2006. W.A. failed to follow through with this program.

On April 7, 2006, W.A. was transported to the emergency room after slitting her wrists in an attempt to commit suicide.

On April 27, 2006, following a compliance review hearing, a permanency order was entered establishing kinship legal guardianship of R.M. with her maternal uncle serving as the primary caretaker and adoption of D.J.S by his foster mother as the appropriate plan for the children.

On June 23, 2006, DYFS filed a guardianship complaint seeking to terminate W.A. and J.S.'s parental rights to D.J.S. An order was entered by the trial court on August 11, 2006, setting the time and place for bonding evaluations between D.J.S. and his biological parents as well as D.J.S. and his foster mother.

W.A. began a drug treatment program with Project FIRST in September 2006. She also began a step-down program with Beth Israel Medical Center in November 2006.

Dr. Frank J. Dyer conducted a psychological evaluation of W.A. and bonding evaluations between W.A. and D.J.S. and between D.J.S. and his foster mother in late 2006. Dyer found W.A.'s "overall behavioral impression was that of a chronic drug addict with a prominent antisocial dimension to her personality as well as a vulnerability to Major Depressive Episodes." W.A. told Dyer she was financially able to support her drug ...

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