On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Bergen County, FG-02-66-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued February 14, 2011 - Decided
Before Judges Lisa, Reisner,and Sabatino.
Defendant S.A.R. appeals from a December 21, 2009 order terminating her parental rights to her son, K.A. We affirm, substantially for the reasons set forth in Judge John A. Conte's comprehensive written opinion filed on December 21, 2009.
These are the most pertinent facts. K.A. was born in February 2006. He suffers from autism spectrum disorder, global developmental delays and obesity. He first came to the attention of the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) in the following way.
S.A.R. has an older child, T.A., who was physically abused by S.A.R.'s then boyfriend. T.A. was placed with his maternal grandparents under a kinship legal guardianship (KLG) arrangement. In 2007, S.A.R. sought to vacate the KLG order and regain custody of T.A. This led DYFS to investigate her living arrangements. DYFS workers found that S.A.R. was unemployed and living with a friend, and that K.A. was sleeping on a mat on the floor. The agency provided services to help S.A.R. care for K.A. However, in late August or early September 2007, S.A.R. dropped the child off at her parents' house and disappeared for over a week. When DYFS workers finally located S.A.R., she was unemployed, homeless and "living out of her truck." She admitted she could not care for K.A. As a result of the DYFS investigation, the agency arranged for K.A. to be legally placed with his grandmother. Over the next year, S.A.R. repeatedly refused to accept the services DYFS offered, including parenting classes, substance abuse evaluation and treatment, and anger management therapy. She also repeatedly failed to appear for scheduled visits with K.A. and avoided contact with the assigned DYFS worker.
The assigned worker, Josephine Robetto, described S.A.R.'s erratic behavior when they did have contact: "Her unpredictable behavior [included] having multiple fights at her parent's home, swearing at me, . . . screaming and swearing in front of the children as well. [She] [l]eft messages screaming at me, swearing." Another DYFS worker, Laurie Abbaleo, recounted an incident in which S.A.R. misrepresented where she was living, even going so far as to put a piece of paper with her name on it on the mailbox of a house at which she did not reside. The agency did not assist S.A.R. to obtain housing, because she repeatedly told her caseworker that she had housing.
According to Robetto, DYFS provided services to the grandparents to help them care for K.A. However, the agency ultimately concluded that the grandparents were unable to deal appropriately with K.A.'s developmental problems and his obesity. They overfed him, failed to take him for immunizations and necessary medical treatment, and left him in a chair in front of the television for hours at a time. Abbaleo confirmed her observation of those problems. She reported that, at two years old, K.A. weighed between fifty and fifty-five pounds. The grandparents told her "they had minimal interaction with the kid, and he just watched TV the majority of the day." Further, because they failed to take him for immunizations, he could not be enrolled in day care or specialized school programs.
K.A. was removed from the grandparents' care and placed with a foster family in February 2009. Although three foster placements did not work out, he was placed with a fourth foster family on April 3, 2009, and has been there ever since. According to Abbaleo, the child has thrived in his current foster home. He lost weight, "became more verbal . . . makes eye contact with people" and is "able to play and run around." He has begun to speak, and his temper tantrums have abated.
While his current foster parents cannot adopt him, they are committed to caring for him until DYFS finds an adoptive home for him. According to Abbaleo, the agency's permanency plan for K.A. is "select home adoption." She explained that after the child was "legally free for adoption" the agency would "then actively recruit for the child to locate an adoptive family that matches well . . . and will be able to meet the child's needs." She also explained that this matching process could not begin until parental rights were terminated and the child could be adopted. In Abbaleo's experience, she had been able to locate families for "many children with special needs . . . through this method."
Abbaleo also testified to her observation of visits between S.A.R. and K.A. and the difficulty S.A.R. had in dealing with the child's behavior. She overfed him and inappropriately used food to control his tantrums. S.A.R. also refused to accept that K.A. is autistic and had no ...