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New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. T.B.

April 16, 2009


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Ocean County, Docket No. FG-15-37-07.

Per curiam.



Submitted March 25, 2009

Before Judges Payne and Waugh.

Defendant father T.B. appeals from the decision of the Family Part terminating his parental rights to his son R.W.B. We affirm.


R.W.B. was born prematurely on January 26, 2006, at the Mount Kimball Medical Center in Ocean County. T.B., who was twenty-one when his son was born, is a Jamaican citizen. R.W.B.'s mother, A.S., has not appealed the termination of her parental rights.

On January 27, 2006, while R.W.B. was still receiving medical care at Mount Kimball, the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) received a referral from an employee at the hospital who was concerned about A.S.'s mental health. The employee cited an incident, which had occurred a few months earlier while she was pregnant, in which A.S. tried to commit suicide by walking in front of a bus.

A Special Response Unit worker for DYFS, who was assigned to follow up on the referral, went to Mount Kimball to speak with A.S. She told the DYFS worker that she had suffered from mental-health issues in the past. The two most recent events, occurring in October and November 2005, resulted in her being hospitalized for seven and three days, respectively. A.S. agreed to sign a DYFS case plan. According to the case plan, A.S. was not to remove R.W.B. from the hospital until DYFS had been notified that he was ready to be discharged. A.S. agreed to allow DYFS to review her medical records and to follow DYFS's recommendations for evaluations. A.S. indicated that, at the time, both she and T.B. were unemployed. Although not yet married, the parents were living together.

DYFS assessed the parents' home on January 31, 2006. The worker found the kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom were clean, but the living room and dining room were "somewhat messy." All the utilities in the apartment were working and the parents had a crib and clothes for the baby. A.S. told the caseworker that she intended to return to her job at Wal-Mart in the next few months and T.B. said he had been working regularly at a family restaurant. The caseworker informed them that the baby could not be released to them unless DYFS approved a friend or family member to stay in the house with A.S. at all times.

During the investigation, DYFS discovered that police had been called to the parents' residence in September 2005, during A.S.'s pregnancy, because of a domestic violence dispute. The police had reported that A.S.'s mouth was bleeding and that there was noticeable swelling on her head. A.S. did not press charges against T.B.

DYFS filed for custody on February 10, 2006, basing the request on A.S.'s psychiatric problems and the history of domestic violence. DYFS was granted temporary custody of R.W.B. on February 10, 2006. In the order, the trial judge noted that "reasonable efforts to prevent placement prior to removal were not required because: the removal of the child was required due to imminent danger to the child's life, safety, or health." The trial judge based this decision on, among other things, "mental health concerns; . . . threats to unborn child; [and] domestic violence."

R.W.B. was released from the hospital into the custody of DYFS. He was placed in a foster home and has remained in the same foster home since his release from the hospital. The foster parents want to adopt R.W.B.

On February 25, 2006, the Lakewood Police Department responded to a domestic violence call at the parents' residence. T.B. told the officers that he was upset because he and A.S. were supposed to get married in five days and she had been out with her friends and had come home late. Both parties told the police that no physical altercation had taken place. T.B. was listed as the "victim" because he was the one who had placed the call.

A.S. and T.B. were married on March 2, 2006.

At a hearing on March 7, 2006, the trial judge ordered both parents to attend psychological evaluations and parenting classes. Additionally, A.S. was ordered to attend both individual and group counseling. T.B. was ordered to attend domestic violence perpetrators classes at 180 Turnaround. The parents were granted weekly supervised visitation with R.W.B. DYFS was ordered to evaluate specified family members for possible placement.

On May 15, 2006, A.S. and T.B. entered into a stipulation that DYFS's "involvement was necessary to protect the child's health, safety, and welfare due to mother's psychiatric history and state of mind and prior domestic violence pursuant to N.J.S.A. 30:4C-12 et seq." Both parents were ordered to attend psychiatric evaluations and domestic violence counseling. Weekly supervised visitation was continued.

T.B. met with Dr. Lori Lessin for a psychological evaluation on May 17, 2006.*fn1 T.B. told Dr. Lessin that A.S. had become ill while she was pregnant and that she was "constantly having seizures." T.B. reported that he did not graduate from high school. In her report, Dr. Lessin expressed concern about T.B.'s understanding of A.S.'s condition, which is discussed below. She stated that, "in spite of repeated hospitalization, subsequent to instances of self-injurious behavior and psychiatric disorganization, [T.B.] continues to believe that [A.S.'s] issues were related to seizures brought about by stress."

On July 7, 2006, Dr. Alexander Iofin evaluated A.S. Dr. Iofin reported that A.S. was "an individual who has a transgenerational history [of] mental health problems, with a documented history of suicide by her mother. She has a history of behavior that is indicative of either some seizure problems, or pseudo seizures, which is indicative of an underlying psychiatric pathology."

On July 20, 2006, the Lakewood Police Department responded to A.S. and T.B.'s home for a domestic violence call. Upon his arrival, the police officer found A.S. crying and "very upset." He "observed dry blood on her hand and foot." A.S. refused to cooperate with the officer. A.S. stated: "If he thinks I called the police he is going to kill me." The officer could not conclude with absolute certainty that T.B. was the man involved because A.S. would not provide him with sufficient information. A.S. refused to seek a temporary restraining order.

On the following day, July 21, 2006, the police were again called to the parents' home. A.S. told the police that T.B. had pushed her to the ground and kicked her in the head and ribs. A.S. also told the police that T.B. had hit her and thrown rocks at her, but missed. A.S. was taken to the hospital for treatment of her injuries. She again refused to seek a temporary restraining order.

After their weekly visit with R.W.B. on December 22, 2006, A.S. and T.B. were observed arguing in the parking lot as they left the center. A staff member at the center reported that the argument was "loud enough that [he] felt he needed to lock the front door. [He] was not actually sure what the argument was about, but thought he overheard them disagreeing about visiting at the program."

Later that same day, the Lakewood Police Department responded to a domestic violence call at the parents' home. The officer reported that large amounts of clothing had been thrown about on the ground. A.S. told the officer that T.B. had pushed her down the steps. She showed him bruises on her right knee. T.B. "admitted to [] pushing [A.S.] near the stairs but denied in fact she fell down the stairs. [T.B.] stated that [A.S.] came after him aggressively and instigated the encounter." T.B. was arrested for assault. A.S. was uncooperative with the police after T.B. was arrested.

A permanency hearing was held on January 22, 2007. Termination of parental rights followed by foster-home adoption was set as the appropriate and acceptable plan for R.W.B. The court cited the continued domestic violence between the parents and A.S.'s mental-health problems as the reasons for the plan. DYFS filed for custody of R.W.B. on March 2, 2007.

In March 2007, T.B. and A.S. successfully completed the twelve-week, in-home parenting class offered through the St. Francis Center. T.B. and A.S. both failed to attend psychological evaluations on April 26, 2007, and bonding evaluations on May 1, 2007, with Dr. Alan J. Lee.

On May 1, 2007, a bonding evaluation was conducted between R.W.B. and his foster parents. Dr. Lee concluded that R.W.B. has a "positive psychological attachment and bond with" both foster parents. "To end this significant psychological bond that [R.W.B.] has with the current caregivers would have a significant likelihood of resulting in severe, enduring, and irreparable psychological harm to the minor child." Dr. Lee recommended that the child remain with the foster parents.

The parents' bonding evaluations were rescheduled for June 6, 2007. On this date, T.B. and A.S. called Dr. Lee to inform that they were running late, but that they were en route. T.B. and A.S. arrived at Dr. Lee's office an hour late and, by that time, the appointment needed to be rescheduled.

Dr. Lee conducted a psychological evaluation of T.B. on July 30, 2007. T.B. informed Dr. Lee that he had been on probation for two years ending in 2005 for burglary and theft convictions. He reported that he was unemployed and had trouble finding a job because he was not a citizen. Dr. Lee found T.B. to be "remarkably egocentric and self-focused on his personal needs and personal interests. [T.B.] presents as characteristically much less mature and more primitive than expected for his chronological age with a strong sense of grandiosity, entitlement, and arrogance." Dr. Lee believed T.B. to be at "a very heightened risk for aggressive and explosive behaviors and attitudes with a known history of admitted domestic violence and a general sense of detachment to the same." Dr. Lee recommended a permanency plan that did not include reunification of R.W.B. with T.B.

Bonding evaluations were conducted between R.W.B. and his biological parents on July 31, 2007. Dr. Lee found that R.W.B. did not "evidence a significant psychological attachment or bond with the birthparents." He concluded that "there would appear a relatively low risk of any kind of severe, enduring, or irreparable psychological harm to [R.W.B.] if his relationship with this birthmother . . . and his birthfather . . . was permanently ended."

The guardianship trial commenced on January 23, 2008, and lasted three days. At the trial, Dr. Lee testified, primarily recounting the findings and opinions contained in his reports. Jenny Hyde, a DYFS caseworker, testified that T.B. and A.S. had only missed one scheduled visit with R.W.B. Hyde ...

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