On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Ocean County, Docket No. FG-15-03-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 13, 2010
Before Judges Wefing, Baxter and Koblitz.
Defendant L.B. appeals from a June 30, 2009 Family Part order that granted the request of the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS or the Division) for termination of L.B.'s parental rights to her daughter, A.B., born on August 28, 2004. We conclude the proofs presented by the Division amply support the judge's conclusion that despite a wide array of services offered by the Division for several years, L.B. continues to suffer from a chronic mental illness that has caused her to drift from one unsuitable residence to another, thereby denying A.B. the safety and security to which she is entitled. We affirm.
L.B., who was forty-six years old at the time of trial, is the mother of six other children, born between 1990 and 2003, as a result of her relationships with five different men. To provide context for our discussion of the Division's efforts to terminate L.B.'s parental rights to A.B., we briefly describe the Division's involvement with L.B. starting in 1990. In February 1990, DYFS received a referral that L.B. was on the verge of causing harm to her infant daughter because she could not tolerate the baby's crying, with L.B. saying to the child's father "either you get this baby out of here or I'm going to hurt her." L.B. also told him to take the baby to welfare and "give her away." When the father brought the baby to his cousin's home, DYFS closed its file.
In the latter part of 1996, DFYS received a referral from the apartment manager of the public housing complex in which L.B. and her three children were residing, who reported that even though L.B. had been terminated from the transitional housing program, she continued to live there and would shortly be evicted. The apartment manager reported that L.B.'s three children were "unattended and in the care of a young girl" and her apartment was "in disarray." DYFS investigated, and although the agency concluded the children were not being properly supervised, DYFS closed its investigation without taking further action.
On December 10, 1996, L.B.'s son went to school with a "black and purple swollen cheek area near his eye." L.B. admitted she slapped her son, who was four years old, because he "had gotten on her nerves." Notably, L.B. had been on medication for an impulse control disorder, but the medication was apparently ineffective.
On April 23, 2003, the Division received a referral that one of L.B.'s sons had been staying with his godmother since birth because L.B. was suffering from post-partum depression and could not care for him. Shortly after the child was returned to L.B., she contacted DYFS requesting temporary foster care for the child, who was then nine months old. She reported that she was suffering from bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and depression but had not seen a psychiatrist or taken medication for her mental illness in more than a year. After learning of L.B.'s inability to care for the child, DYFS returned him to the godmother's care.
During L.B.'s pregnancy with A.B., the Division attempted to provide in-home counseling for the family through Family Nurturing Service (FNS). L.B. was extremely uncooperative with the FNS program, often canceling when FNS staff arrived in the parking lot and were approaching her door. On the rare occasions that L.B. did permit the worker to enter her home, she participated only superficially because, according to a DYFS caseworker, L.B. "didn't feel she needed the services." When DYFS attempted to enroll L.B. in a step-down program, which is a program offering less intensive services, L.B. was terminated due to non-compliance.
In August 2004, when L.B. was nine months pregnant with A.B., the Division sent a worker to L.B.'s home to evaluate the steps L.B. had taken to provide for the impending birth of her child. DYFS learned that other than a car seat, a bouncy seat and some diapers, L.B. had nothing prepared for the arrival of the baby. In particular, she had no crib, no bedding, no formula or baby bottles and no clothing for the baby. L.B. admitted to the worker she had no plan for the baby's care if she slipped into post-partum depression again, but insisted she would "find someone to care for the child." The worker advised L.B. that she would contact her again in a week to see whether L.B. had made adequate preparations for the child.
Eight days later, when L.B.'s planning for the baby was no better than it had been earlier, DYFS conducted a court-approved emergency removal of A.B. because of L.B.'s lack of planning for the child and her failure to comply with the psychological and in-home services offered by the Division. The removal was accomplished when A.B. was three days old. DYFS placed A.B. in foster care, where she has remained ever since. The other children remained in L.B.'s custody because a judge determined that removal of the older children was unwarranted.
As part of its permanency planning for A.B., DYFS asked Dr. Alan J. Lee, Psy. D., to conduct a psychological evaluation of L.B. to evaluate her prospects for becoming a suitable caregiver for A.B. As a result of his November 12, 2004 evaluation, Dr. Lee reported that L.B. was "angry and irritable" during the evaluation, seemed to "lapse into moments of psychotic-like thinking" and displayed marked difficulty in "comprehending [the] conversation." He also noted that L.B. had reported a significant history of depression, which included bipolar disorder, with significant mood swings, periods of depression and pronounced irritability when faced with stressful situations. He opined that she was "generally immature and psychologically underdeveloped," and recommended that DYFS not return A.B. to L.B.'s care. In fact, Dr. Lee recommended that DYFS consider removing L.B.'s older children from her care, or, at a minimum, instituting "constant in-home supervision" to ensure that the children were not left alone with her.
Dr. Lee also recommended in his November 2004 report that DYFS provide an array of services, which included intensive outpatient treatment, medication monitoring, parenting classes and substance abuse treatment. DYFS provided all of those services, although L.B.'s participation was spotty. In particular, Shoreline Behavioral Health Center in Toms River terminated L.B. from its intensive outpatient program because of her irregular attendance.
In May 2005, L.B. was arrested on outstanding warrants.
L.B. called the Division because she was unable to post bail and her children were home alone. When the caseworker suggested a fifteen-day placement with a foster family, L.B. became irate and began cursing and screaming over the telephone. Eventually, L.B. provided her father's name and phone number, and the Division conducted an emergency removal of the children and placed them with their maternal grandfather, where they remained for several years. A.B., however, did not go to live with her maternal grandfather but remained in foster care.
From October 2005 until May 2007, DYFS provided L.B. with supervised visitation; however, the judge terminated the visitation in May 2007 upon being notified by DYFS that A.B. was routinely upset and crying on the way to the visits and that this behavior continued during the time she spent with her mother. In particular, A.B.'s daycare center reported that as the time approached for A.B. to leave the daycare center for her visits with her mother, she would begin to cry "uncontrollably." In fact, A.B. would cry even when she was handed her coat for outside recess, thinking she was about to be taken on a visit to her mother. The daycare center also reported that it took a ...