On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Camden County, Docket No. FG-04-114-09.
RECORD IMPOUNDED NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 24, 2011
Before Judges Sabatino, Ashrafi and Fasciale.
Defendant C.P. appeals from a January 14, 2010 order terminating her parental rights to three of her biological children, now ages seven, five, and four.*fn1 C.P. argues that she was denied effective assistance of counsel, and 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.
Although defendant has been known to the Division since she was a child due to allegations that her father abused her sexually, the three referrals that led to the removal of the children occurred between November 2007 and January 2008. At the time, defendant was nineteen years old, living with her parents, Donald's father, and the three children. During a visit from a Division caseworker, defendant's father explained that it was a burden having his daughter's family living with him and that her part-time job did not cover the bills.
In November 2007, the first caller stated that Donald was born prematurely and defendant did not receive prenatal care. Three weeks later, the second caller stated that Donald had been admitted to the hospital for vomiting and poor weight gain. He was diagnosed with failure to thrive and remained for three days in the hospital, where defendant visited him once. The Division then learned that Ana and Charles were overdue for their vaccinations and well visits, and that defendant had been watering down Charles' milk.
The Division opened a case and provided services. Defendant and Donald's father entered into a case plan with the Division, agreed to take Ana and Charles to the doctor, attend psychological and psychiatric evaluations, and allow in-home services.
In January 2008, the Division received the third referral. The caller stated that Donald had been admitted to the hospital because of a bluish discoloration in his face. Defendant waited six hours while Donald was in critical condition before bringing him to the hospital. The Division learned that Donald had suffered a bilateral skull fracture, multiple rib fractures, pulmonary contusions, and other injuries. Although neither parent initially accepted responsibility, Donald's father admitted that he was "heavy handed" with Donald, and defendant claimed that she caused the skull fracture by accident five days before Donald's hospitalization, but did not seek medical treatment.
In January 2008, the police arrested defendant and Donald's father, and charged them with second-degree endangering the welfare of a child, N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4(a). They were incarcerated and the criminal court entered an order of no contact between the parents and Donald. Defendant was released on bail, but Donald's father remained in jail. One year later they pled guilty to the charges.*fn2
In January 2008, the court approved the removal of the children from defendant's care due to Donald's hospitalizations and critical condition. After a one-month hospitalization, the Division placed Donald at Marlton Weisman Rehabilitation, where he remained for several weeks. Due to his medically fragile state, the Division then placed Donald with a special home service provider. The Division placed Ana and Charles together in a foster home.
All three children have special needs: Ana has been diagnosed with Tourette's Syndrome, behavioral problems, and speech and language delays; Charles has been diagnosed with static encephalopathy, expressive language delays, and behavioral problems; and Donald has been diagnosed with reflux and developmental delays, and has difficulty walking due to his fractures.
In April 2008, the judge conducted a fact-finding trial and concluded by clear and convincing evidence that defendant and Donald's father had abused and neglected the children. The judge ordered that the parents undergo mental health evaluations, submit to random urine screens, and attend counseling and parenting skills classes.
On January 25, 2008, Dr. Kristen Cirelli, a court-appointed psychologist, evaluated defendant to assist the Division to determine what ...