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New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. S.H.

June 25, 2010


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Mercer County, No. FG-11-33-08.

Per curiam.



Submitted April 20, 2010

Before Judges Wefing, Grall and Messano.

S.H. appeals from a trial court judgment terminating her parental rights with respect to her two children, D.N.M., Jr. ("D"), born on July 10, 2003, and now nearly seven years old and G.A.H ("G"), born on December 12, 2006, and now three years old. D's father has executed a voluntary identified surrender of his parental rights and G's father is unknown. After reviewing the record in light of the contentions advanced on appeal, we affirm.

S.H. unfortunately has a long history of substance abuse problems and mental health problems. S.H. herself was placed in foster care several times as a child. Her first contact with DYFS with respect to her own children occurred in June 2004 when a social worker at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital notified DYFS that S.H. had come to the hospital seeking treatment for a urinary tract infection; at the hospital, S.H. admitted smoking marijuana, and was seeking Vicodin and exhibiting signs of depression, for which she was taking Zoloft. She was twenty-three years old, D not yet one.

By July 2004, DYFS took custody of D because S.H. refused to participate in a substance abuse evaluation, as had D's father. DYFS had, in the interim, received another referral with respect to S.H. from an individual who had observed her, her current boyfriend and D at a municipal court proceeding. When D exhibited signs of distress, the boyfriend took the baby, and started to yell at him and shake him. S.H. expressed no distress at this but, rather, said that D was a bad child who was on medication for his behavior. S.H. did not submit to a drug assessment until finally ordered by the court to do so. The results were positive for marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy.

Following DYFS's assumption of custody of D, and the filing of a complaint and order to show cause alleging abuse and neglect, DYFS made extensive efforts to locate programs to assist S.H. She was ejected from a number of these programs because of her behavior. Eventually, the agency supervising her visits with D refused to continue in that role because of her abusive behavior.

After the initial removal of D, S.H. began a counseling program at Princeton House Behavioral Health ("Princeton House"). Princeton House suspended her as of August 24, 2004, because of her angry outbursts during group therapy sessions. In February 2005, the trial court ordered S.H. to attend substance abuse treatment, to submit to random drug testing and attend parenting skills training through Mercer Street Friends. A subsequent progress report noted that out of a fifteen-session program, she had attended only three of the last eleven sessions.

In April 2005, S.H. began another substance abuse program at Princeton House. In less than two months, she produced six positive urine tests, and her treatment team recommended a more intense level of treatment for her. In June, Princeton House again suspended her.

DYFS located two residential treatment programs for S.H., but the first was eliminated because of its cost. She was accepted into the second, and a DYFS worker accompanied her to the facility. She was almost immediately removed from the program due to her behavior. In addition, the agency that had been transporting her to her supervised visits with D refused to continue to do so because of her behavior. In a subsequent visit she threatened to punch the worker supervising the visit and refused to surrender D at the end of the visit; eventually an officer had to be summoned, and DYFS then arranged to have the next several visits attended by an officer.

In October 2005, the abuse and neglect litigation was terminated, and DYFS filed a complaint and order to show cause seeking to be appointed D's guardian. Shortly after this complaint was filed, S.H. entered another residential treatment program. She was rejected after three days; she had threatened another patient and did not comply with the rules. When she threatened suicide, she was transferred to a hospital for evaluation.

When she was released, her supervised visits resumed. In February 2006, during one such visit, police had to intervene between S.H. and the supervising staff when she began screaming and threatening them. In addition, she persisted in telling D during these visits that he would be coming home, even though she was repeatedly instructed not to tell him that.

We do not find it necessary to recite within this opinion a complete chronology of each of these incidents. It is sufficient, in our judgment, to note that the trial court's finding that both D and G have suffered harm from their relationship with S.H. finds ample support in the record.

When DYFS initially took custody of D, he was placed at Angels' Wings at St. Francis Hospital. Shortly after, he was placed with a paternal aunt and uncle, T.M. and N.M. Initially, S.H. had visitation with D at their home. That, however, had to be changed because of S.H.'s behavior. D remained with T.M. and N.M. for nearly two years, when they said they had ruled out adoption and kinship legal guardianship. D then went to live with his paternal grandmother, who eventually said that she was unable to care for D into the future. D spent approximately three years living with his grandmother. She testified about D's behavior problems.

[H]e can be very aggressive when he's told to do things, he can be argumentative, very stubborn, and if he doesn't get his way he can throw tantrums to the degree where he may throw things at you or knock over things and scream and spit and bite and fall out. All of those things he's done.

She said there were times when they were out shopping that she had summoned the police to assist her in gaining control of D.

On February 15, 2006, a consent order was entered which dismissed the guardianship complaint and reinstated the abuse and neglect proceeding. S.H. was directed to attend various forms of counseling, including anger management, individual therapy through Penndel Mental Health Program, parenting classes, and weekly random drug screening.

Problems persisted with S.H.'s behavior during her visits with D. The record contains a memo from August 2006 that ...

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