On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Somerset County, Docket No. FG-18-104-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Stern, Rodríguez and Espinosa.
Defendant A.D. appeals from a final order that terminated her parental rights to her son, "Corey."*fn1 We affirm.
A.D. is the mother of three children: two daughters, K.B. and A.P., and a son, Corey, born June 3, 1998. The order here terminates A.D.'s parental rights only as to Corey. At the time of trial, K.B. was in a residential placement and A.P. resided with her biological father.
A.D. was twenty years old when she was hospitalized in July 1993 for a period of three weeks and diagnosed with bipolar disorder. A.D.'s mother had also been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. As a result of her mother's hospitalizations, A.D. was placed with a foster family at age two and eventually adopted by that family at age nine. A.D. graduated from high school and completed one year of college. She gave birth to her first child, K.B., on November 7, 1994. In 1997, A.D. was hospitalized for part of January and from February through May. She had increasing thoughts of suicide and was diagnosed with major depression with psychotic features.
On December 28, 1999, K.B.'s biological father, who was involved in a custody dispute with A.D., called the Division of Youth and Family Services ("DYFS") to report his concerns regarding A.D.'s mental health and her neglect of K.B. Corey was approximately eighteen months old at the time. The DYFS caseworker interviewed A.D. at the motel where she was residing with the children and her paramour. She reported that A.D. appeared confused and "not in touch with reality." A.D. admitted that she was not on any medication and did not want to take any, saying, "This is really all about Barney," referring to the purple dinosaur on television. Her paramour confirmed that she did not take her medication. A.D. admitted leaving Corey alone in an unheated car in twenty-six degree weather for fifteen minutes. The caseworker observed that the two children were unkempt. Corey was dressed in a tee shirt, summer pants and dirty socks although it was late December. A.D. failed to respond to Corey when he became stuck between beds. The motel unit had a kitchenette but there was no milk, juice or bread for the children, only a jar of peanut butter.
The caseworker left to confer with her supervisor and contact Psychiatric Emergency Screening Services ("PESS"), and then returned to the motel with the police. No one was there. The police then received a call from K.B.'s biological father, who stated that A.D. had gone to his home with the children and demanded that he let her in and give her the house. K.B. ran to her father and asked to stay with him. A.D. then went to the police station with Corey and reported that K.B.'s father had kidnapped K.B. The caseworker proceeded to the police station where she found A.D. in an even more confused state. Neither she nor Corey were wearing a coat. A.D. agreed to go to PESS but was unable to fill out the forms.
DYFS concluded that the report of neglect was substantiated and commenced its first protective services litigation to gain custody of Corey. Corey was placed in the legal and physical custody of his maternal grandparents.
A.D. was admitted to St. Francis Medical Center in Trenton, on December 29, 1999 and involuntarily committed to a short-term care facility. She was referred to long-term treatment at Hagedorn Psychiatric Hospital ("Hagedorn") on January 11, 2000. She was discharged on March 1, 2000, but stopped taking her medications and was returned just nine days later. She refused psychiatric treatment, stating that she did not need to be there; that she merely needed to take lithium to be stable and leave. The initial psychiatric assessment stated that she was paranoid and had "disorganization of her thoughts with some psychotic symptoms." As of May 2, 2000, DYFS was advised by a physician at Hagedorn that A.D. would need "supervision in order to maintain psychiatric stability" after discharge.
By letter dated May 19, 2000, DYFS notified A.D. of its determination that she had been identified as harming Corey and K.B. and that the allegation of neglect had been substantiated. Corey was returned to A.D.'s custody in the summer of 2001. There were additional referrals to DYFS during the next year but the complaints proved to be unfounded, and Corey was found to be generally well-nourished and well-developed.
On August 12, 2002, A.D. had her third child, A.P. Corey remained with A.D., A.P. and A.P.'s father, C.P., until December 2002, when A.D. was brought to an emergency room by police after "yelling, screaming and acting psychotic" at a gas station.
A.D. was transferred to Hagedorn, where she remained until she was conditionally discharged in mid-February 2003. She agreed to continue her medications, to accept services and be monitored by Bridgeway Rehabilitation Services, a community outreach organization that specializes in providing comprehensive psychiatric rehabilitative services. However, A.D. refused to submit to psychological evaluations on September 30 and October 20, 2003, and was reportedly non-compliant with medication.
The next referral to DYFS was made by K.B.'s father on October 22, 2003. A.D. was living with her three children and A.P.'s father, C.P, in North Plainfield. A.D. told the caseworker that, during the previous evening, C.P. had been getting on her nerves and interrupting her while she was trying to think so she had to leave. She took Corey with her and visited her biological mother, "Vicky," and her boyfriend, "Bob." A.D. stated that Bob told her that he wanted to "eat her out" and "cut her up into 10,000 pieces." A.D. then took Corey and slept in her car in a parking lot.
When the caseworker asked her to agree to leave her son at home if she wanted to sleep in the car in the future, A.D. asked for a minute to think about it and began to stare into space. Eventually, she stated that she had forgotten the question. Then, A.D. began to act erratically. She became angry with C.P. and became even more erratic. The caseworker reported, "Her sentences did not make sense, she would answer a question with answers that had nothing to do with the questions asked and the worker could see that she was mentally not doing well. She would stop mid-sentence and sort of stare off into space."
The caseworker left A.P.'s home and arranged for PESS and the police to go to the home. He was reluctant to return to the house alone because A.D. "was obviously not in her right mental capacity." As the police arrived, A.D. drove away from the house, leaving the children with C.P. According to C.P., A.D. had been hearing things that were not happening and responding to people who were not there. A.D. was located later that evening outside the home of K.B.'s father and taken to St. Francis Medical Center.
Corey and A.P. were left in the custody of C.P. and K.B. was left in the custody of her father. Corey and A.P. were removed from C.P.'s custody in November 2003 and placed with their maternal grandparents.
A.D. remained hospitalized at Hagedorn until January 4, 2004. Noting A.D.'s long history of bipolar disorder and poor compliance with medication and outpatient psychiatric follow-up, the initial psychiatric assessment reported that she had been "depressed, psychotic and highly paranoid that others are against her." A.D. was acutely psychotic ...