On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, Docket No. FG-07-11-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Wefing, Grall and LeWinn.
M.B. is the natural mother of S.B., born in June 1995, and D.B., born December 17, 1997. She appeals from the June 19, 2009 judgment of the Family Part terminating her parental rights to D.B.*fn1 and awarding guardianship to the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS).*fn2 We affirm.
Defendant has a long history of involvement with DYFS, dating back to 1997, shortly before D.B.'s birth. From that time until the children's removal from her custody in August 2006, DYFS received numerous referrals relating to defendant's chronic drug abuse, unemployment and homelessness. During that nine-year period, DYFS referred defendant to several drug treatment programs, none of which she completed successfully.
At the time S.B. and D.B. were removed from defendant's care, the three were living in a homeless shelter; the referral that triggered the children's removal was that defendant had left them unsupervised at the shelter for approximately six hours, in violation of shelter rules and regulations.
A psychological evaluation conducted by Dr. Mark Singer in May 2007 noted that defendant had "a personality style consistent with Narcissistic Personality Disorder[,]" and that she lacked "the emotional and physical resources needed to care for her children at this time" due to her substance abuse and "significant mental illness." Defendant reported to Dr. Singer that she had recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was, therefore, unable to work.
Dr. Singer recommended that defendant "continue to participate in substance abuse treatment and maintain a substance free lifestyle." He further recommended that defendant participate in a parenting skills program, that her medication be monitored, and that she obtain "appropriate housing and employment." Continued therapy was also strongly recommended to enable defendant to "develop ways of coping with her disorder[,]" and participate in a "long-term [Mentally Ill Chemically Addicted] program." Dr. Singer's prognosis for defendant's case was "poor."
Since July 2007, D.B. has been in the custody of V.W., a paternal cousin. Initially, she was placed there with her brother, S.B.; however, in August 2007, S.B. was removed from V.W.'s custody because of behavioral problems and was thereafter placed in a therapeutic foster home.
DYFS arranged visitation for defendant with D.B. and S.B. An observer noted that defendant and the children interacted positively, laughed and had fun together and demonstrated a good deal of affection with each other. The observer also noted a particularly strong bond between S.B. and D.B.
Defendant continued to enter, and then leave prematurely, various drug treatment programs to which DYFS referred her. In 2008, for example, defendant entered an inpatient program at Trinitas Hospital in late May and was discharged on June 9, for "inappropriate behavior and offensive language." In September, defendant completed a hospital-based treatment program at St. Claire's Hospital and was then referred to Oasis, which she attended from October to December 2008.
Dr. Singer reevaluated defendant in November 2008, at which time she reported having been unemployed since 2004 and stated that she was living in a one-bedroom apartment where her children would not be permitted to live. Defendant also informed Dr. Singer that she was not consistently taking her medicine for her bipolar disorder, allegedly because of insurance difficulties, and that she "just stay[ed] home."
Dr. Singer evaluated D.B. in February 2009, and noted that the child "has a significant emotional attachment to [defendant]...." D.B. told Dr. Singer that V.W. intended to move to North Carolina the following summer and that the prospect of not being able to see her brother, S.B., upset her. D.B. expressed ambivalence as to the person with whom she wanted to live, telling Dr. Singer that she wished to be adopted by her ...