April 24, 2009
NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF J.M., MINOR.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Union County, FG-20-40-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted March 24, 2009
Before Judges Graves and Grall.
J.M. appeals from a judgment terminating her parental rights to her son, who was born in August 2006 when J.M. was fourteen years of age.*fn1 She contends that the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) failed to establish that termination of her parental rights is consistent with the best interests of her son under the statutory criteria. N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1a(1)-(4). DYFS and the law guardian for J.M.'s son urge us to affirm the termination.
J.M. is presently in the custody of DYFS and has been for most of her life.*fn2 She and her son were initially placed together in a facility for mothers and their children, but J.M. was unable to care for her son in that setting or comply with the facility's rules. As a consequence of self-destructive behaviors and suicidal ideation J.M. was hospitalized in December 2006. In February 2007, J.M. was arrested for shoplifting and her son was removed from her care. At that time, J.M. and her son were placed in separate foster homes.
Within a month of her son's removal from her care and her placement in a foster home, J.M. was placed in Isaiah House. While there, she was again hospitalized because of self-mutilation. In April 2007, a psychologist evaluated J.M. She reported a history of substance abuse and sexual activity with numerous partners. In the psychologist's opinion, which was informed by review of treatment reports, testing and an evaluation, J.M. was suffering from major depressive disorder and did "not appear to possess the insight or skill set to regain physical custody of" her son. The psychologist recommended comprehensive treatment in a residential setting where J.M. could receive "individual therapy, group therapy, medication management, and an academic program in a highly structured setting."
Subsequent to her evaluation, J.M. was dismissed from Isaiah House due to her aggressive and sexually inappropriate behavior. A series of failed placements followed.
Between August 2007 and June 2008, when the termination trial was held, J.M. resided in a treatment center in Pennsylvania, where she had made some progress but not enough to earn the privilege of leaving the premises. She continued to have problems with "impulse control," and the major and first goal of her treatment team was to have J.M. "demonstrate an improved ability to manage her impulses." The first objective was demonstration "of improved decision making by being able to stop and think before acting" and the second was acquisition of the ability to "express anger through appropriate conversation" and "her feelings through safe methods." J.M.'s treatment team was working with her on "developing an improved awareness of how [her] impulsive behavior affects her and others," to "educate [her] on [the] ways her poor choices affect her and other people," and to help her "develop coping skills [in managing] anger." She is taking medication to address the conditions that inhibit her progress.*fn3
J.M.'s son has remained in the same foster home since he was removed from his mother's care in February 2007. He has developed a relationship with his foster parents, and they are interested in adopting him. According to a psychologist who evaluated J.M.'s son and his foster parents, the severance of the child's relationship with these adults who are his psychological parents would cause the child to experience a sense of loss likely to result in regressive behavior. Despite J.M.'s regular visitations with her son, the same psychologist found no attachment between J.M. and her child. In his opinion, J.M. lacked the ability to care for herself outside of the structured setting in which she was living and could not care for her child.
After considering the record in light of the arguments presented on J.M.'s behalf, we conclude that the trial court's findings relevant to termination are supported by "'adequate, substantial and credible evidence' on the record." N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. M.M., 189 N.J. 261, 279 (2007) (quoting In re Guardianship of J.T., 269 N.J. Super. 172, 188 (App. Div. 1993)). We affirm substantially for the reasons stated in Judge Crystal's oral decision of July 14, 2008, to which we must defer. Ibid.