On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Morris County, Docket No. FL-14-02-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 5, 2010
Before Judges Yannotti and Espinosa.
Defendant A.B. appeals from the denial of her motion to vacate a judgment of kinship legal guardianship (KLG) as to one of her three sons. We affirm.
The salient facts relevant to this appeal can be summarized as follows. A.B. is the mother of three sons: M.L., Jr., born July 20, 1992, M.L., born October 29, 1995, and A.R., born May 7, 2002. Only M.L. is involved in this appeal.*fn1
This case stems from a referral received by the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) on March 13, 2001 alleging that A.B. physically abused M.L., Jr. and took him and M.L. to motels where "she met different men and drank alcohol with them." After DYFS investigated this referral and filed a complaint for protective services, A.B. consented to the temporary placement of the children with relatives. M.L. has been in the physical custody of A.B.'s sister, S.B., since April 24, 2001.
In the guardianship complaints filed thereafter,*fn2 DYFS made additional assertions regarding A.B. that included the following. In June 2000, A.B. admitted that M.L., Jr. had been spanked by all the adults in the household during the previous weekend. Also in 2000, M.L., Jr. was not registered for school until the week of October 5. He stated that he had not gone to school until then because he "had to go to work" with his mother. He reported that his mother frequently left him and his brother, M.L., in the care of a babysitter until approximately midnight while she went to a bar. M.L., Jr. described a drinking game called "Pass out" that his mother played with her friends.
As to the March 2001 referral, DYFS reported that M.L., Jr. confirmed allegations of abuse by his mother. He stated that when his mother and her friend, Donna, visited the motel room, he and his brother slept on the floor "with the roaches and mice," that "Rodney is on mom's body and Razied is on Donna's body." He demonstrated a humping motion and stated that they were "doing the nasty." He indicated that his mother also slept with "Vincent" and that they were so loud they kept waking up him and his brother. In addition to confirming these accounts of his mother's sexual activities, M.L. stated that his mother "gets tired of hitting my brother and says, 'Please don't let me kill my son.'"
A.B. agreed to submit to psychological and substance abuse evaluations and permitted her children to undergo psychological evaluations as well. She "agreed to cooperate with [DYFS] with all the recommendations following the evaluations." The conclusion reached by DYFS was that A.B. neglected her children and DYFS kept the case open for supervision.
Evaluations of M.L. and his older brother were conducted through the Family Enrichment Program (FEP). It was reported that M.L.'s teacher expressed concern regarding M.L.'s hygiene and dress, stating that he often wore the same clothes for up to five days; that his body odor permeated the room at times; and that he engaged in inappropriate behavior in class such as simulating smoking marijuana. A.B. rebuffed the teacher's efforts to discuss these issues with her. When the teacher explained to M.L. that she needed to speak with his mother, he begged her not to contact his mother because he was afraid that she would "beat him when he got home." Although M.L. was approximately six years old at the time of the evaluation, the evaluator also described conduct by M.L. that manifested a familiarity with sexual intercourse and oral sex. In describing discipline, M.L. stated that his mother hit him with her hand or a belt to the point of bruising. According to the complaint, the report described M.L. "as an aggressive and sexually reactive boy who had been neglected by his mother, and negatively impacted by alleged physical abuse and exposure to adult sexual behaviors[.]"
The report of the psychological evaluation of A.B. conducted in April 2001, stated that, although A.B. has "the foundation to be a nurturing parent with empathy for the needs of her children[,]" she lacks insight "into the impact of her abusive behavior towards her children" and has poor judgment when it comes to decisions regarding her children. The report recommended that A.B. attend individual therapy and participate in parenting classes and "therapeutic supervised visitation with her children."
A.B. was terminated from the Therapeutic Supervised Visitation Program (TSVP) in August 2001 for lack of attendance. She missed scheduled visitations in October, November and December 2001. In November 2001, the court ordered A.B. to attend counseling and substance abuse treatment and cooperate with parenting skills. Her failure to comply with that order was duly noted in April 2002, when the court approved DYFS's plan for M.L. and his brother to be adopted by S.B. In June 2002, A.B. was referred again to TSVP but she was suspended in February 2003 because of repeated absences. She was reinstated one month later and showed progress in attending visits and therapy ...