On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Cumberland County, Docket No. FG-06-0032-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Fuentes, Gilroy and Simonelli.
S.M.B-G. (S.B.) the biological mother of Jason (a fictitious name), born June 2007, appeals from the June 18, 2009 order that terminated her parental rights to her son.*fn1 We affirm.
S.B., now twenty-seven years of age, has suffered from mental health issues since childhood. In 1993, S.B. was hospitalized at the Eastern Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute. Because of continued emotional difficulties, S.B. was placed later that year by the Philadelphia Department of Human Services into the Crestwood Residential Treatment Program in Langhorne, Pennsylvania. S.B. continued in that program for several years. In October 1997, S.B. was diagnosed with psychotic disorder, N.O.S., oppositional defiant disorder and mild retardation.
Following her placement at Crestwood, S.B. continued receiving mental health services through various community programs. In August 2001, she was admitted to Ancora Psychiatric Hospital and released in November 2004; admitted again in August 2005 and released in January 2006; admitted a third time in January 2006 and released in August 2006. On August 5, 2007, S.B. was admitted again to Ancora Psychiatric Hospital after having been incarcerated for assaulting two behavioral health specialists. While in jail, S.B. had attempted to hang herself with a blanket. Upon admission to Ancora, S.B. was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, borderline personality disorder and mild retardation. S.B. was discharged from the hospital on September 4, 2007, on a conditional release. S.B. returned to the hospital on November 16, 2007, having been arrested and charged with aggravated assault by attempting to injure her husband with a kitchen knife. S.B. was discharged from Ancora on December 10, 2007, after the hospital created an aftercare program for her.
The New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS or the Division) first became involved with S.B. on January 30, 2007, on a referral from the University of Medicine and Dentistry Hospital of New Jersey (UMDNJ) in Newark when it informed DYFS that S.B. was a patient in its psychiatric unit, was twenty weeks pregnant, had failed to obtain prenatal care, and had told a hospital psychiatrist that "when she gives birth to the baby she will put it in a bag." In June 2007, S.B. gave birth to Jason. Because of concern of S.B.'s mental health, her possible inability to properly care for Jason, and a history of domestic violence between S.B. and J.G., her then paramour who also suffers from mental health issues, DYFS completed an emergency removal of Jason the day of his birth. On removal, DYFS placed Jason with a resource family where he has remained since.
On July 3, 2007, DYFS filed a complaint seeking custody of Jason. That same day, the court entered an order granting DYFS's request, determining that "the removal of the child was required due to imminent danger of the child's life, safety or health," as S.B. suffers from "schizophrenia, [bipolar] disorder, explosive disorder, mild to moderate, and is not able to care for the child." Because of S.B.'s mental health issues, the court appointed a guardian ad litem to represent her in the action.
On April 15, 2008, having ascertained that S.B. and J.G. had married on January 7, 2008, DYFS filed an amended complaint adding J.G. as a defendant. During the proceedings, DYFS provided various services to S.B., including psychological and psychiatric evaluations. DYFS also offered S.B. counseling services, but she did not attend. DYFS provided parenting classes to S.B. and J.G.; however, on August 12, 2008, the parenting class provider ended its involvement with S.B. and J.G. because of S.B.'s lack of cooperation. It was the instructor's opinion that S.B. was "not... capable of caring for her child, keeping him safe or parenting effectively. She is far too easily distracted to be responsible for a toddler. I am also concerned about the way [S.B.] deals with stress and anger at this time."
On September 23, 2008, the court entered an order approving the Division's plan for termination of parental rights followed by adoption. On November 18, 2008, DYFS filed its guardianship complaint against S.B., and later amended the complaint adding J.G. as a defendant on December 12, 2008. On January 29, 2009, after J.G. was excluded as Jason's biological father, the court dismissed him from the action.
The matter was tried on May 7, 13, 21, and June 18, 2009. Testifying at the guardianship proceeding were Joanne Thorton, a DYFS adoption specialist; S.B.; and Dr. Joanne M. Schroeder, a clinical psychologist who performed a psychological evaluation of S.B. on March 4 and 18, 2009, and a psychological evaluation of J.G. on April 13 and 17, 2009. The doctor also performed a bonding evaluation between Jason and G.G., his foster mother; and between Jason and S.B. and J.G. on March 6, and April 13, 2009, respectively.
Dr. Schroeder testified that when S.B. appeared at the Division's office for her psychological evaluation, she presented herself as "dirty," "smell[ing] of urine" and acting in a bizarre manner. "At one point, she removed all of her upper garments, revealing a bathing suit. And then she flipped the straps off of her shoulders and pointed out her skin to me. She put her hands in her pants, both the front and the back." The doctor opined that her actions disclosed "disorganization,*fn2 lack of contact with reality, [and] confusion." During the interview, S.B. left the office to use a restroom. After S.B. failed to return, the doctor went to check on her twenty-four minutes later and found her "in the bathroom with wet hair, ...