On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Middlesex County, Docket No. FG-12-76-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Lisa, Sapp-Peterson, and Alvarez.
Defendant A.G. appeals from the trial court's termination of her parental rights to three of her six children pursuant to N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a). Guardianship of the three children was awarded to the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (the Division). A.G.'s three other children are not involved in this appeal. Her oldest two reside with their maternal great-grandmother, and an infant child, E.J., resides with A.G. in a residential substance abuse treatment center. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
The following facts were developed at trial. A.G. and I.T. are the parents of B.T. (Bobby),*fn1 born May 19, 2002, I.T. (Irene), born August 18, 2003, and L.T. (Lucy), born December 29, 2004. A.G. first came to the attention of the Division when, on January 10, 2003, a complaint was received that her oldest child, then five years old, had missed many days of school and had been seen walking home alone from school along a busy highway. The case remained open for services.
On January 21, 2003, one of the family's pit bulls mauled one of the older children. At that juncture, the parents were referred for parenting skills training, and on June 17, 2003, the case was closed as the Division determined that the family was no longer in need of services.
Thereafter, on March 10, 2004, another referral was received. A.G.'s oldest child, who was then six years of age, was dropped off at home at 3:30 p.m. Because no one was present at the home, the child was taken to the local police station. A.G. was not heard from until approximately 6:50 p.m. She was charged with endangering the welfare of a child and entered a guilty plea to a disorderly persons offense. The children were temporarily removed from her custody and care, but were returned two weeks later.
On August 31, 2004, another referral was made when I.T. and A.G. were seen transporting Irene and Bobby, aged approximately one and two, with only one car seat. I.T. and A.G. were placed on a waiting list for parenting classes. Four months later, Lucy was born. The case remained open for supervision.
I.T. was incarcerated in April 2005 on charges of aggravated sexual assault. A.G. was also later charged in the incident, which involved two unrelated teenage girls.
Lucy was admitted to the hospital on June 30, 2005, suffering from asthma exacerbation and difficulty breathing. Because A.G. had left her medication at Lucy's daycare center, she could not be treated at home. Lucy remained hospitalized for several days after the admission. Hospital staff were concerned about A.G.'s failure to visit and the fact that the child's immunizations were not up to date. On July 2, 2005, when hospital personnel advised A.G. that Lucy was well enough to go home, A.G. said that she was in the midst of a move and could not take her child back. Lucy was finally discharged on July 20, 2005. A.G. failed to appear for the child's scheduled follow-up visit.
The first of several evaluations of A.G. by Dr. Charles Kaska took place on August 11, 2005. In Dr. Kaska's view, the prognosis for meaningful change was "guarded at best." It was his opinion, reiterated throughout his various reports, that despite having the capacity to make better judgments, A.G. does not do so.
In September, A.G. entered into a case plan that included keeping a cleaner house. When unannounced visits were made by Division workers, the deplorable conditions in the house included clogged toilets, spilled food in the refrigerator, substantial trash and debris on the floor, and no sheets on the beds. The sheets that were on some of the beds were filthy. In fact, because of the condition of the home, a few days after the case plan was signed, A.G.'s landlord called to inform the Division that she was considering evicting the family. Days later, during another unannounced visit, the Division worker discovered that Lucy, then nine months old, was sleeping on a top bunk with an older sibling. The bunk had no rail. During that same visit, Bobby ran around the apartment with a pair of manicure scissors, and Irene attempted to drink a cleaning product, believing that it was soda.
On November 14, 2005, in response to the deplorable condition of A.G.'s home as well as her inability to keep the children clean and appropriately clothed, the Division referred A.G. to Family Preservation Services (FPS). The agency attempted to address parenting and safety issues with A.G., purchased storage containers and cleaning supplies, and assisted her in organizing and cleaning the home. FPS ultimately terminated A.G. from the program because no overall progress was made, as she attended meetings sporadically and was unable to focus while at therapeutic sessions.
On November 23, 2005, A.G. was arrested for the sexual assault matter. A.G. eventually entered a guilty plea to child endangerment. The Division removed all five children on an emergency basis. Bobby, Irene, and Lucy were temporarily placed in a residential facility as the sole family resource could not provide for their care. Thereafter, the children were placed in a series of foster homes. The Division provided A.G. with visitation while she was incarcerated.
It bears noting that Bobby, who suffers from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), requires psychiatric intervention for behavioral and other problems. During the pendency of these proceedings, he has been placed in multiple foster homes and has experienced significant difficulties in school. He is currently in a therapeutic foster home. Similarly, Irene has serious behavioral problems, has been in several foster homes, and is currently in treatment necessitated by her emotional difficulties. Lucy suffers from significant developmental delays and has been in multiple foster homes, but is currently in a home where the resource family wishes to adopt both her and Irene.
When on February 6, 2006, A.G. was released from jail, the Division provided her with supervised bi-weekly visitation. She visited with the children intermittently and had difficulty controlling them. Later that month, A.G. tested ...