On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Bergen County, Docket No. FG-02-86-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 12, 2010
Before Judges Carchman and Graves.
In this appeal from an order of the Family Part granting guardianship of children, M.R., A.B. and Y.B.,*fn1 and terminating the parental rights of defendant M.C., defendant asserts that the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS or the Division) failed to establish the four prongs of N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a), by clear and convincing evidence. We disagree and affirm.
These are the relevant facts adduced at trial. C.M., the biological mother of three children, M.R. (born August 21, 2003), A.B. (born November 18, 2005) and Y.B. (born September 16, 2006), first came to the attention of DYFS on April 2, 2006, when it removed two-year-old M.R. from C.M.'s care and placed the child in foster care. C.M. and M.R. were staying with another woman, Sandra M.*fn2 C.M. and Sandra M. left the house in the middle of the night while M.R. and Sandra M's children were sleeping. Sandra M's eight-year old son woke up at approximately 12:30 a.m., realized that his mother was not home and called 911. The police responded and contacted DYFS. When C.M. and Sandra M. returned home, they told the police that they had been grocery shopping, but they carried no grocery bags or food.
Following an investigation by the Special Response Unit (SPRU), DYFS returned Sandra M's children to her home, on the condition that C.M. could no longer reside with Sandra M. M.R. would not be returned to C.M.'s custody until C.M. secured stable housing and engaged in services.
On April 4, 2006, the Division filed an Order to Show Cause and to Appoint a Law Guardian with Temporary Custody as well as a Verified Complaint, seeking care, custody, and supervision of M.R. and A.B. in the Family Part. The order provided:
Continuation of residence in the home would be contrary to the welfare of M.R. and A.B. because of the allegations that C.M. left two year old M.R. from approximately 10 p.m. to 3:30 a.m. without adequate supervision and C.M. is currently homeless and has not provided for the care and support of A.B. since February, 2006 . . . .
Both children where placed in DYFS' custody and M.R. was placed in various foster homes until his present placement with his paternal grandmother, A.R. A.B. remained with her paternal grandmother, Yo.B.
Following another hearing, C.M. was ordered to attend psychological evaluations and parenting skills training. Supervised visitation was also ordered.
On May 9, 2006, Dr. Michael J. Fiore, Ph.D. conducted a psychological evaluation of C.M. Dr. Fiore administered a Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory-III (MCMI-III) test to C.M., but the test was not scorable because she failed to respond to all test items. However, Dr. Fiore noted that a concern is [C.M.]'s poor judgment with regard to men. [She] is likely to attach herself to men who serve her living situation without regard for her own safety or the safety of her children. She is capable of permitting herself to be abused and exploited by others in a pattern that repeats the abuse she experienced as a child.
He explained that C.M. is a relatively young parent who is immature for her age and has no skills. She is reliant on others to provide her with housing and has had difficulty maintaining employment. . . . She has been having difficulty taking care of herself. She is not likely to be able to take care of her children.
Dr. Fiore further stated that, "[o]f concern is [C.M.]'s history of anger management difficulties. While she denied that rage and violence have been problematic for her in the recent past, this assessment yielded serious concerns about her emotional stability. [C.M.] is lacking in coping strategies to deal with the extensive emotional turmoil she experiences."
C.M. was thereafter ordered to attend a psychiatric evaluation, attend psychotherapy and comply with recommendations, engage in anger management services and independent living skills training, secure independent housing and be restrained from the home of Sandra M. C.M. also entered a stipulation admitting that she left her child alone, placing him at risk of harm.
DYFS then referred C.M. to parenting skills training at the American Red Cross and advised her that the class would start on July 12, 2006. DYFS also scheduled her for a psychiatric evaluation at the Integrative Recovery Group to take place on September 13, 2006, confirmed by a court order, which also provided that she attend parenting skills training, anger management services and independent living skills training.
Nine days later, on September 16, 2006, C.M. gave birth to Y.B.*fn3 Y.B. was born premature, did not receive any pre-natal care and remained hospitalized in the neonatal intensive care unit because of respiratory problems. DYFS sought custody of Y.B. on September 21, 2006. The judge granted the petition and noted that, removal of the child is necessary to avoid an ongoing risk to the life, safety or health of the child. Continuation of residence in the home would be contrary to the welfare of the child because of allegations that, C.M. left her son, M.R., age two at the time, without adequate adult supervision from approximately 10:00 p.m. to 3:30 a.m.[.] C.M. has been court ordered to attend psychotherapy but has yet to become engaged in such therapy. In addition, C.M. has not been visiting her children regularly.
Y.B. was discharged from the hospital and immediately placed in a foster home. She never resided with C.M. and remains in this foster home today.
C.M. completed psychiatric evaluation at the Integrative Recovery Group (IRG) with Dr. Raluca Radulescu, M.D. Dr. Radulescu concluded that C.M. did "not suffer from mental illness that currently would preclude her from having the ability to exercise a reasonable degree of parental care that is expected from the average adult" and that C.M. "does not pose any danger to her child that would stem from her psychiatric condition." But, Dr. Radulescu also noted that "the nature of [C.M.'s] personality and organization are as such that some decompensation in her mental condition is possible, which in turn may interfere with her ability to perform as a competent mother." The doctor recommended parenting classes, anger management therapy, continued medical treatment for seizures, random substance abuse screening, individual therapy and continued supervised visitations with her children.
Despite a compliance order compelling defendant to continue in the previously ordered services, in December 2006, C.M. stopped attending therapy at the IRG because she relocated to Philadelphia, PA. In February 2007 a Division caseworker visited C.M. at her home in Pennsylvania. C.M. produced a signed lease and a letter from her employer. After relocating to Pennsylvania, C.M. sought therapy in Philadelphia at Nueva Vida Behavioral Health Center. At this time, however, C.M. was not attending visitations with any consistency. She missed visits on September 20, 2006, October 4, 2006, December 29, 2006, January 9, 2007, January 23, 2007 and January 30, 2007.
However, in February 2007 C.M. again sought treatment at the IRG with Gustavo Mejia, a clinician. Mejia noted that C.M. "has demonstrated motivation towards goal achievement. This is presently eviden[ced] by the distance the client travels to attend appointments. . . . [C.M.] currently takes two busses [sic] and a train to her scheduled appointments." Mejia also concluded that C.M. "appeared prepared to be reunited with her children" and recommended that C.M. "be considered for reunification with her children at a residence that is approved by DYFS." This recommendation was contingent on C.M. and her children participating in a weekly family therapy session with progress monitored by DYFS for six months. He also recommended that C.M. continue individual therapeutic counseling sessions.
At a compliance review held in March 2007, DYFS presented a permanency plan for C.M.'s reunification with M.R., A.B. and Y.B. The Judge granted the permanency order for reunification but delayed implementation for three months because "C.M. required additional time in services and both C.M. and her children required a transition period prior to reunification." During this time period, the Division remained concerned about C.M.'s failure to attend visits. After the compliance review C.M. missed visits on March 12, 2007 and May 29, 2007. Further, in May 2007, C.M.'s therapist at Nueva Vida informed DYFS that C.M. had not been regularly attending therapy and was arriving late to sessions. After a comprehensive biophysical evaluation, Nueva Vida recommended that C.M. continue with individual psychotherapy and if reunited with her children, utilize support services to enhance parenting skills.
In June 2007, Nueva Vida again relayed these concerns to the Division. C.M. was still "noncompliant with therapy and med check appointments" and needed individual therapy, family therapy and supportive services. Ultimately, the ...