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New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. A.S. and T.O

February 14, 2012


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Monmouth County, Docket No. FG-13-62-09.

Per curiam.



Submitted October 31, 2011

Before Judges A. A. Rodriguez, Sabatino and Ashrafi.

These are consolidated appeals by A.S., the mother, and T.O., the father, of four children. They challenge the termination of their parental rights. Only three of the children are the subject of this appeal. They are: Z.O. (a boy born in June 2002), V.S. (a girl born in June 2003), and T.O., Jr. (Junior), who was born in September 2006. Initially, the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) sought to terminate both parents' rights to a fourth child (X.S.). However, both parents consented to a kinship legal guardianship (KLG) placement for X.S. with his maternal grandmother. Therefore, the parental rights of the mother and father were not terminated as to this boy. A.S. only appeals from the May 25, 2010 judgment terminating her parental rights to her daughter V.S. On the other hand, T.O. appeals from the same judgment terminating his parental rights to the three children. We affirm.

A.S. and T.O. are not married. The incident that precipitated the involvement of DYFS occurred on December 27, 2006. DYFS received a referral regarding A.S., who was then living at Linkages, a shelter. It was reported that T.O. broke into her room and began beating her in front of the children. He threatened the life of A.S. and raped her in the children's presence at night and again in the morning. The same day, T.O. was arrested. A.S. obtained a temporary restraining order against T.O. immediately after the incident, and subsequently, a final restraining order. Since the incident, the parents have had no contact with each other.

T.O. eventually pleaded guilty to third-degree aggravated assault and was sentenced to a three-year term. He was released in June 2009. He has had no visits with the children since his arrest.

Six months after the incident, DYFS received a referral from Dottie's House, a woman's shelter, where A.S. and her children had been living. The shelter was concerned about the mental health of A.S. DYFS investigated. A.S. signed a case plan agreeing to adhere to the recommendations of DYFS.

On July 11, 2007, DYFS received another referral alleging neglect by A.S. because she was homeless and wandering the streets of Asbury Park with her children. It was alleged that A.S. was not properly holding, feeding, or bathing her children.

DYFS worker Gina DeLorenzo spoke with Carmen Gonzales from the Monmouth County's Board of Social Services (Board), who expressed concern for A.S. and her children. Susan Rea of the Board also communicated with DYFS. She stated that A.S. had previously threatened to commit suicide and had reportedly given her young children adult Nyquil. Moreover, A.S. could pose a threat to herself and others in a shelter due to her history of apparent acceptance of domestic violence. Rea advised DYFS to provide alternate care for the children and evaluate A.S. for developmental and/or psychiatric conditions. Based on these complaints, DYFS decided that a Dodd*fn1 removal of the children was necessary. DYFS placed Z.O and Junior in a resource home placement. V.S. initially was placed with her brothers, but was moved to a different home where she remains today. The resource parents of V.S. want to adopt her. Subsequently, DYFS filed a complaint for guardianship for the four children.

Prior to trial, Robert J. Puglia, Ph.D., a psychologist, conducted an evaluation of A.S. He found A.S. to have mild mental retardation, domestic violence victim syndrome, compulsive personality patterns, and features of a paranoid-delusional disorder and schizoid-histrionic personality traits. Dr. Puglia recommended a psychiatric evaluation, parenting skill classes, domestic violence therapy, and referral to the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD). He was concerned about the parenting capabilities of A.S. due to her "inherent limited abilities as well as her maladaptive behavioral patterns and suspected underlying emotional disabilities."

DeLorenzo testified that on the day of the referral, she went to an Asbury Park apartment where A.S. resided. A.S. appeared to have a flat affect, and did not show much interest in trying to help herself or her children. A.S. stated she had been staying for a period of time with a friend in Asbury Park. She also stayed sporadically with her mother in Neptune.

DeLorenzo next went to the home of the mother of A.S. The maternal grandmother expressed her desire to take all the children into her ...

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