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Division of Youth and Family Services v. R.T

January 12, 2011


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Hudson County, Docket No. FG-09-159-09.

Per curiam.



Submitted November 17, 2010 - Decided

Before Judges Fisher, Sapp-Peterson and Simonelli.

R.T. appeals from the April 1, 2010 Family Part judge's order terminating her parental rights to two of her five children: N.R., born June 7, 2005; and O.M., born May 11, 2006. We affirm.

In addition to N.R. and O.M., R.T. is the biological mother of G.T., born February 26, 1997; M.T., born March 24, 1999; and E.T., born January 12, 2001. Beginning in 2004 and continuing until 2008, when the Division of Youth and Family Services (Division) removed all of the children from her custody through an emergency Dodd Act (Dodd)*fn1 removal, the Division responded to approximately twelve referrals involving R.T. and her children. The referrals alleged physical abuse, prostitution, substance abuse, and lack of supervision. Many of the referrals were made by M.T., Sr., R.T.'s former husband. Most of the referrals were deemed "unfounded" but a number of referrals alleging that she was intoxicated were substantiated. On May 22, 2007, the Division assigned to the family home health aides, who made daily visits to R.T.'s home to observe her interactions with the children. Throughout this same time period, R.T. was subjected to urine screens for alcohol and controlled dangerous substances. She tested positive for alcohol on June 22, 2007, but testing conducted three days later reported negative results for alcohol and drugs. On October 5, 2007, R.T. signed a case plan agreeing to submit to a substance abuse evaluation. She failed to attend the evaluation as scheduled and refused to undergo a urine screening that was requested on October 27.

On November 30, 2007, the Division filed a complaint for care and supervision of the five children, and on that same day, the trial court entered an order to show cause (OTSC) compelling R.T. to (1) send her children to school, (2) comply with twenty-four-hour "homemaker service, Family Preservation Services or a similar service during the weekends," (3) attend a psychological evaluation, (4) attend a substance abuse evaluation, (5) comply with the parenting evaluation and Children's House recommendations, and (6) obtain counsel for the return date of January 9, 2008. It was further ordered that the children be "placed in the care and supervision of the Division, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21 et seq. and N.J.S.A. 30:4c-12."

On December 4, the home health aide reported the presence of "rats, roaches [] everywhere." The next day R.T. signed another case plan agreeing to comply with the requested substance abuse evaluation. On December 21, the home health aide reported that R.T. came home intoxicated again and that the children had not attended school for more than a week.

On January 9, the return date of the OTSC, the court signed an order requiring R.T. to (1) attend outpatient substance abuse treatment, (2) comply with recommendations from Children's House, (3) complete forms for the Institute for Child Development, (4) provide the Division with a completed employment verification form, and (5) comply with recommendations made as a result of the psychological and parenting evaluations. R.T. missed the substance abuse evaluation scheduled for January 29, 2008. A subsequent evaluation scheduled for February 14, was postponed because R.T. was missing documents. This evaluation, scheduled at the North Hudson Community Action Corporation, was not rescheduled until October 6, 2008. However, R.T. missed another substance abuse evaluation the Division had scheduled for February 17, at a different location.

On February 8, 2008, the Division effectuated an emergency Dodd removal of the children after it was reported that R.T. left the younger children home with the home health aide while taking the older children to school. Under the terms of a prior court order, R.T. was not permitted to use the home health aides as babysitters. On February 13, the court entered an OTSC (1) transferring legal custody of the five children to the Division, (2) continuing the Division's physical custody of the children, (3) requiring defendant to undergo a psychological evaluation, and (4) scheduling visitation between defendant and the children for two hours every week. In addition, the court directed that the Division pursue placement of the three older children, G.T., M.T., and E.T., with their biological father, M.T., Sr., in Maryland, and pursue placement of N.R. and O.M. with their biological grandmother. Following a hearing on the OTSC conducted on March 19, 2008, the court continued the terms of its February 13 order.

Following the removal of the children from her custody, R.T. sporadically complied with services offered by the Division. Those services included numerous referrals for substance abuse evaluations, treatment, and screening. Her visits with the children were also sporadic during the time between their removal and the trial.

On June 11, 2008, R.T. waived her right to a fact-finding hearing and admitted that by leaving her children alone with the home health aide, she put her children at risk. The court ordered R.T. to attend psychiatric and substance abuse evaluations and parenting skills training. Additionally, the court ordered the Division to place G.T., M.T., and E.T. with their biological father, M.T., Sr., who was living in Maryland at the time. The court continued the Division's legal and physical custody of the two younger children. The court entered a permanency order on January 14, 2009, approving the Division's plan to terminate R.T.'s parental rights, followed by N.R.'s adoption by her current foster parent and the reunification of O.M. with his biological father, J.O.M., who was living in El Salvador. The court also transferred legal custody of the three older children to M.T., Sr.

The Division filed its guardianship complaint on March 11, 2009, and the court conducted a trial on the complaint on March 25, 26, and April 1, 2010. The Division called two witnesses: Carolyn O'Neal, the caseworker associated with the file; and Dr. Frank Dyer, Ph.D., the psychologist who conducted the bonding evaluations between R.T. and N.R., N.R. and the foster mother, R.T. and O.M., and O.M. and the foster mother. The Law Guardian appointed on behalf of N.R. called Dr. Antonio Burr, Ph.D., a psychologist, who conducted a psychological evaluation of defendant and several bonding evaluations. Defendant was the only witness who testified as part of her defense.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the court rendered an oral decision from the bench, finding that the Division had satisfied its burden of demonstrating, by clear and convincing evidence, that termination of R.T.'s parental rights to N.R. and O.M. was in the best interest of the children. The court entered an order terminating R.T's parental rights to N.R. and ...

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