On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division-Family Part, Essex County, Docket No. FG-07-69-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted: October 15, 2009
Before: Judges Cuff, Payne, and Waugh.
This is a termination of parental rights case. We review an order terminating the parental rights of C.M.K. also known as C.M.P.K. (C.P.K.) to her two children, A.R.M.M. also known as A.R.M.J. and A.R.M.P.K. (A.J.) and Z.T.S.J. also known as Z.T.S.P.K. (Z.J.). We affirm.
The Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) first became involved with C.P.K. on the occasion of the birth of her first son, A.J., on March 9, 2005. C.P.K. was nineteen years old. A nurse notified the agency the next day that C.P.K. had been arrested the previous day for possession of marijuana and was being held pending results of a drug screen. She was released with her son two days later when the screen was negative for drugs.
DYFS continued to monitor C.P.K. On March 16, 2005, a DYFS caseworker visited the home to perform a home assessment. She discovered a bucket of urine in the home. C.P.K. informed the caseworker that she used it for convenience to avoid multiple trips upstairs to the toilet. During another visit in May 2005, a caseworker had to knock several times before C.P.K. answered the door. The caseworker observed that C.P.K. had been asleep on the couch. C.P.K. insisted on returning to the couch to lie down as she answered questions posed by the caseworker. A.J., now two months old, was observed asleep in a bassinet littered with a coat, a snow suit, a plastic fork, candy wrappers and other debris. In addition, the apartment lacked hot water, a refrigerator, and adequate formula and diapers for the infant.
Following these observations, DYFS provided C.P.K. with regular home health services. Between May 18 and June 18, 2005, C.P.K. was not home during some of the scheduled visits, and she had not acquired either a crib for her son or a refrigerator. On the other hand, the service provider noted that the apartment seemed safe. The provider also observed that C.P.K. understood the nurturing and social needs of her infant son but did not seem to appreciate the need for continuity and routine.
In June 2005, C.P.K. submitted to a psychological examination and substance abuse assessment; she also enrolled in a parenting skills class. Although the substance abuse assessment was negative and the psychologist opined that in spite of her mental retardation, C.P.K. could provide adequate care to her child if she followed the recommendations of DYFS, a nurse from the Covenant House parenting program expressed concern about C.P.K.'s ability to care for her son. In particular, C.P.K. lacked interest in infant bonding, allowed others to hold the child while she socialized, and improperly picked up the child by his arm. In addition, the child's pediatrician expressed concern about the child's development and poor weight gain.
DYFS filed an action for care and supervision of A.J. on June 30, 2005. The judge amended the complaint to care, supervision and custody, and ordered A.J. removed from the care of his mother. On July 13, 2005, the judge found C.P.K.'s residence was dirty and unsuitable, and she failed to change the infant's diaper regularly and cooperate with service providers. He ordered her to continue services, including anger management and parenting skills. A.J. was placed with a foster parent.
During this placement, A.J. did well, although an evaluator noticed delays in fine motor skills and attributed those delays to neglect and lack of stimulation by C.P.K. while the child was in her care. On November 3, 2005, A.J. returned to C.P.K.'s care because she had obtained stable housing and complied with services. Home health services were reinstated, and C.P.K. received training in personal hygiene, diaper changing, maternal bonding, age appropriate activities for her son, and home management chores.
A.J.'s reunion with his mother was short-lived. He was removed from his mother's care on January 26, 2006, following her eviction for nonpayment of rent, noncompliance with mandatory counseling services, and residence with a boyfriend and other adults about whom DYFS knew nothing. During this removal, C.P.K. received individual counseling and anger management counseling. On September 30, 2006, C.P.K. gave birth to a second son, Z.J. He was released to her care. A.J. returned to her home on November 3, 2006. A home health services review found the family unit, which included C.P.K., her boyfriend, A.J., and her newborn son, functioning in a positive manner. A DYFS caseworker reported that as of December 11, 2006, there were "appropriate sleeping arrangements, clothing, food, utilities within the home."
This positive progression was temporary. On December 12, 2006, A.J. was left in the care of her boyfriend while C.P.K. and Z.J. went to New York City for the day. C.P.K.'s boyfriend found A.J. in the bathtub not breathing. Rushed to the hospital by ambulance, A.J., now twenty-one months old, was near death. His body was covered with bruises and his body temperature was ninety-two degrees. An emergency room physician opined that the bruises were inflicted by a person. A.J. and Z.J. were removed from C.P.K.'s care that evening. A.J. returned to the foster parent ...