On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, Docket No. FG-07-236-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 17, 2011
Before Judges Sabatino, Ashrafi and Fasciale.
Defendant I.N.M. (I.M.) appeals from a June 24, 2010 order terminating her parental rights to two of her biological children, now ages five and four.*fn1 She argues that the judge erred by terminating her rights because the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (the Division) failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence each prong of the best interests of the child standard, N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a). We disagree and affirm.
The Division has been involved in I.M.'s life since she was a teenager. At age fifteen, the Division removed I.M. from her home because I.M.'s mother was selling drugs. At that time, I.M. admitted that she used marijuana at age twelve and drank beer daily at age fourteen. Over the next few years, I.M. gave birth to R.R.M. and K.N.S., used drugs, and failed to maintain adequate housing.
The Division received several referrals from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) that I.M. failed to administer R.R.M.'s medicine, which resulted in numerous hospitalizations. The Division then placed I.M. and her children into a family home, but that placement failed because I.M. displayed an "attitude problem." As a result, I.M. and her children began living in various shelters.
In April 2008, the Division received a referral that I.M. had been locked out of a transitional housing facility for homeless families and had been seen walking the streets in the middle of the night while she was under the influence. The Division investigated, substantiated the allegations of neglect, and entered into various case plans with I.M. in which she agreed to comply with the rules imposed by her shelter. I.M. then lived in several shelters between April and May 2008. The shelters eventually terminated I.M. as a resident because she disobeyed the rules.
In May 2008, the Division received another referral from UMDNJ that I.M. did not administer medicine properly to R.R.M. During the course of the Division's investigation, I.M. admitted that she did not use his asthma nebulizer because roaches were stuck in it. The Division learned that I.M. and her children had returned to live with I.M.'s homeless mother who had been sharing an apartment with a friend. A caseworker visited the apartment, learned that there were several people standing outside the residence with money in their hands, and noticed that the apartment next door had just been raided. I.M. did not see any problem with these living conditions.
I.M. reluctantly returned to a shelter with the caseworker. Two days later the Division located I.M. and her children at a different shelter. In May 2008, the Division filed a complaint and order to show cause (OTSC) seeking custody of the children. The court approved the removal of the children from I.M.'s care because "continuation in the [shelter] would be contrary to the welfare of the children." I.M. tested positive for marijuana on the return date of the OTSC. The children were then placed in a foster home together. Two weeks before the guardianship trial, the children were placed in a new foster home. The current foster parents wish to adopt.
The court ordered I.M. to obtain substance abuse treatment and to attend parenting skills classes. She began drug treatment at New Directions in August of 2008, but that program terminated her due to lack of attendance and resistance to treatment. The Division referred her to intensive outpatient treatment at the Gateway to Freedom, but that program also terminated her due to poor attendance, confrontational attitudes, and lack of participation in groups. Her next drug treatment provider, Family Connections, terminated her for lack of attendance, too. I.M. attended parenting classes at Reunity House sporadically, but had difficulty "managing her children without a lot of supervision."
In May 2009, the court approved a plan of termination of parental rights followed by adoption. In June 2009, the Division filed its guardianship complaint and continued to provide services to I.M. and the children.*fn2 The Division considered placement of R.R.M. and K.N.S. with several family members, but ruled them out because of their prior involvement with the Division, poor health, involvement with the legal system, poor housing, or lack of interest.
In September 2009, Dr. Jason Fleming, a forensic psychologist, performed a bonding evaluation between I.M. and her two children. I.M. appeared disheveled, sucked her thumb, denied any marijuana problem, and refused to admit that she had been removed from her mother's care as a teenager. Dr. Fleming opined that I.M. was an emotionally and intellectually vulnerable young woman and poorly equipped to parent. He determined that placement of the children in I.M.'s care ...