On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division - Family Part, Cumberland County, Docket No. FN-06-110-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Baxter and King.
In this Title 9 abuse and neglect litigation, T.B. appeals from an April 17, 2008 order that terminated the litigation without requiring the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) to provide T.B. with further services and without directing DYFS to pursue reunification of T.B. with her son, C.C. We affirm.
C.C. was born on August 22, 1988 with Downs Syndrome and severe developmental disabilities. DYFS involvement with T.B. began in November 2004, when it filed an abuse and neglect complaint against T.B. and removed C.C. from her care after she was admitted to the mental health crisis unit of a local hospital. After T.B. completed substance abuse treatment, the abuse and neglect litigation was terminated and C.C. was returned to his mother.
T.B.'s sobriety did not last long, because on December 15, 2005, C.C.'s maternal grandmother called DYFS to report that T.B. was taken by ambulance to a local hospital after C.C. found her unconscious. When a DYFS worker met with T.B. at the hospital, the worker observed that T.B. was sluggish, her speech was unintelligible and slurred, and she smelled of alcohol. T.B. was unable to provide the telephone number of her adult daughter, H.M., or to provide the address of her parents, who lived next door. The hospital reported that T.B.'s confusion and disorientation was the result of alcohol intoxication.
In the months that followed, the maternal grandparents notified DYFS that T.B. was again abusing drugs and alcohol. At the same time, H.M. reported that T.B. was neglecting C.C.'s personal hygiene because his fingernails were long and dirty, and he was malodorous.
On December 20, 2005, DYFS filed an order to show cause and verified complaint alleging that C.C.'s removal was required to prevent imminent danger to his "life, safety or health" based on T.B.'s substance abuse and inability to care for him. At the same time, DYFS removed C.C. from T.B. and placed him with H.M.; however, on January 19, 2006, DYFS in conjunction with the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) placed C.C. in a DDD resource family home. After failing to appear at the first two scheduled hearings after the removal, T.B. finally appeared with counsel on September 25, 2006, at which time the judge terminated the litigation because C.C. was over the age of eighteen and had achieved permanency through his DDD placement.
T.B. filed an appeal of the September 25, 2006 order, and sought a remand to the trial court for a full factfinding hearing. By order of May 16, 2007, we remanded the matter to the trial court for a full evidentiary hearing, and directed the trial judge to determine whether T.B. had neglected C.C.
The remand proceedings spanned a ten-month period between June 26, 2007 and April 17, 2008, and encompassed seven hearings. At the first hearing, on June 26, 2007, T.B. did not appear, but a DDD representative reported that T.B. had only visited C.C. once in the previous six months even though DDD continuously offered her transportation. Shortly thereafter, T.B. was arrested and incarcerated for failing to obtain substance abuse treatment that had been ordered in an unrelated domestic violence action. She remained incarcerated for two months.
Indeed, T.B. was still in custody at the time of the next hearing on August 2, 2007. Under oath, she voluntarily waived her right to a full trial, and stipulated that her use of alcohol and drugs impaired her ability to effectively parent her son, thereby placing him at risk of neglect. She testified that she offered such stipulation freely, and that doing so was in C.C.'s best interest. Judge Mendez accepted her stipulation as knowing, voluntary and willing. He found that C.C. was an abused and neglected child, as defined by N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21, based on T.B.'s "very severe alcohol and substance abuse problem, which . . . impacted her ability to properly parent ...