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New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. C.M

March 23, 2011


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Warren County, Docket No. FG-21-104-08.

Per curiam.



Submitted: January 26, 2011

Before Judges Cuff, Sapp-Peterson, and Fasciale.

Defendant C.M. (Cathy) appeals from an order terminating her parental rights to her five children: L.B. (Lori), K.B. (Kate), C.B. (Carol), J.B. (John), and G.B. (Gail).*fn1 Cathy argues that the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence each of the four statutory prongs, N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1a, to allow termination of her parental rights. Persistent domestic violence between Cathy and R.B.,*fn2 Cathy's husband and the father of the children, and substance abuse by both parents are the root causes of the disintegration of this family. We remand to the trial court for further development of the record whether termination will not cause more harm than good to Kate and Gail.

In all other respects, the December 28, 2009 order terminating Cathy's parental rights to her five children is affirmed.

Cathy and R.B. are the biological parents of five children. Lori, the oldest, was born on October 2, 1996. Kate was born on January 21, 1998; Carol on January 8, 2001; John on December 11, 2005; and Gail on December 19, 2007. The family first came to the attention of DYFS in March 2003, when it received a referral from Lori's school. Lori, then six years old, appeared at school with a black eye caused when her mother pushed her. Lori later denied this account, as did Cathy. During the investigation of this referral, DYFS learned that Cathy had not taken the children for periodic medical appointments.

In July 2004, DYFS received three referrals concerning Cathy's treatment of Lori, Kate and Carol. The first referral reported that Cathy beat Kate. Cathy admitted hitting Kate with an open hand. The second referral reported that she locked the three girls out of the house for more than an hour. The caller also expressed concerns that Cathy was using cocaine and was being abused by R.B. He was incarcerated at that time due to a domestic violence incident involving Cathy. The third referral involved Lori. She had reported that Cathy punched her in the stomach, grabbed her hair and threw her to the ground. The caller also expressed concerns that Carol, then three years old, had been left unsupervised and that Cathy was using cocaine. During the investigation of this report, Cathy admitted that she endorsed spanking as a form of discipline. A DYFS worker counseled her for the second time about excessive corporal punishment.

A year passed before the next referral. On June 27, 2005, DYFS received a report that the three girls appeared bruised and sometimes seemed hungry when they came to the referrant's house. The referrant also reported the girls were unsupervised by their mother. DYFS never substantiated abuse or neglect but counseled Cathy about corporal punishment and noted "concerns" in various reports. After the June 2005 referral, DYFS decided the family required in-home services.

On October 21, 2005, DYFS received another referral concerning physical abuse of Lori. The caller reported that Cathy had hit Lori across the face with a belt, that domestic violence incidents occurred in the home, and that the children witnessed these incidents. On this occasion, the DYFS worker substantiated physical abuse of Lori by Cathy and neglect by R.B.

On November 27, 2005, DYFS received another referral. On this occasion, the caller reported continued domestic violence between Cathy and R.B., and crack cocaine use by both parents.

The caller also stated that the family had been locked out of their home and the three girls were left unsupervised. Although this incident remained unsubstantiated, a school social worker reported two days later that Kate appeared at school with a bruised face and reported that her mother hit her with an open hand. DYFS substantiated abuse by Cathy.

On December 11, 2005, Cathy gave birth to John. Mother and son tested positive for cocaine. In addition, Cathy had not obtained any prenatal care. Cathy gave conflicting statements whether she knew she was pregnant when she used cocaine. At the time of John's birth, the family had been evicted from their home and lived in a single room over a bar.

Lori, Kate, Carol, and John were removed the following day, on December 12, 2005. Lori's adjustment to foster care was terrible.*fn3 During the first year after removal, she resided in at least three foster homes. The other children adjusted more successfully to their placements. Carol and John were placed with a family, who planned to adopt both children. Kate and Gail were also successfully placed with a family who desired to adopt them.

Following the removal of the children, the extent of the family dysfunction, caused by Cathy's anger, the parents' drug and alcohol use, and domestic violence, emerged. Cathy testified at trial that she began using cocaine when she was nineteen years of age and started to use heroin in her 20s. She used methadone to address her heroin addiction and stopped methadone "cold turkey" in her 20s. On May 21, 2009, Cathy testified that she had been sober for exactly three years; that is, she regained sobriety when she was forty-two years old.

Cathy also acknowledged that R.B. had physically abused her but did not realize his capacity for violence until she became pregnant with Lori. She admitted that the longer she ...

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