On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Camden County, Docket No. FG-04-147-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 4, 2010
Before Judges Axelrad, Sapp-Peterson and Espinosa.
L.L. appeals from the final order terminating her parental rights to her daughter, A.L.G.*fn1 She contends that the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) failed to present clear and convincing evidence of the four prongs of N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a) required to warrant termination. We affirm.
We adopt the factual findings of the trial court in its written decision dated February 20, 2009, and note only the following salient facts.
A.L.G. was L.L.'s seventh child, born on March 20, 2007. DYFS first became involved with L.L. approximately fourteen years earlier. L.L.'s rights to five of the six children she had before A.L.G. were terminated; the exception being her oldest son who has reached majority. A.L.G. has not lived with L.L. since she was removed from her care at approximately five weeks old. DYFS intervened when L.L. left A.L.G. alone at home, a residence described as being in deplorable condition with no working utilities. Since her removal, A.L.G. has lived with a foster mother who seeks to adopt her.*fn2
L.L. has a history of chronic mental illness. Reports of bizarre behavior have ranged from asking herself questions and answering them during an interview, to episodes of disrobing in public, urinating in public areas and hostile behavior that included harassing DYFS employees and carrying an eight-inch knife in public. She has had multiple involuntary hospitalizations dating back to 1998 and a well documented history of refusing to take prescribed medications, even when hospitalized. Her resistance to treatment and even diagnosis is further demonstrated by her persistent denials of her mental illness, symptoms and the need for treatment.
In addition to other evidence regarding L.L.'s mental health, DYFS presented the testimony of a clinical psychologist, Dr. Linda Jeffrey. After reviewing L.L.'s prior records and conducting an evaluation, Dr. Jeffrey diagnosed L.L. with bipolar disorder with psychotic features. She explained that
L.L. suffered from both a mood and thought disorder that made her unable to manage her emotions and moods and that her condition also presented with paranoia and difficulty forming relationships.
Dr. Jeffrey described L.L.'s conduct during her interview as irritable, hostile and bizarre, causing several test results to be invalid. She had conducted two prior evaluations of L.L. and, in each evaluation, had determined a Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) score for L.L. In 2003, L.L.'s GAF score was 60 out of a possible 100, which Dr. Jeffrey described as "a quite impaired score" but one in which the individual has some features of normal functioning. In the evaluation performed for this case, L.L.'s GAF score was 30, reflecting "much more serious kinds of behaviors." Dr. Jeffrey stated that this score "means that she is experiencing major problems with communication, with being able to function in a situation such as the psychological evaluation context. . . . she was displaying unusual, bizarre and extremely noncompliant patterns of interaction."
Dr. Jeffrey stated that L.L.'s history of noncompliance with medication, decompensation, hospitalization and pattern of aggressive hostility presented a poor prognosis. She concluded that a child would be at risk in L.L.'s care. Noting the progressive nature of psychotic disorders and L.L.'s history, she stated that it was unlikely that L.L. could progress significantly to the point where she could safely parent a child within a period of six to nine months.
Dr. Jeffrey also conducted bonding evaluations of A.L.G. with L.L. and with her foster mother. Although A.L.G. was familiar with L.L., she did not respond to her with spontaneous affection and did not relate to her as a parental attachment figure but rather as a temporary caretaker. L.L. did not respond to A.L.G. in an age-appropriate manner, did not engage her in conversation or maintain eye contact with her. In contrast, A.L.G. related to her foster mother as her psychological mother. Dr. Jeffrey concluded that A.L.G is likely to be at risk for harm if placed in the care of L.L. and that the termination of L.L.'s parental rights was unlikely to cause A.L.G. any harm. In light of A.L.G.'s secure attachment to her foster mother and the fact that she was at a critical period for attachment, Dr. Jeffrey concluded that A.L.G. would be at risk for severe and enduring harm if that relationship ...