On appeal from the Superior Court, Chancery Division, Family Part, Gloucester County, Docket No. FG-08-25-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 12, 2011 --
Before Judges A. A. Rodriguez, Sabatino and Fasciale.
L.C., the birth mother of M.J.C., a boy born in January 2008, appeals from the February 24, 2011 judgment terminating L.C.'s parental rights to her son. M.D., the birth father, voluntarily surrendered his parental rights to M.J.C. in favor of the child's foster parents. The judge approved this identified surrender, and M.D. is not a party to this appeal. We affirm.
The incidents that led to the Division of Youth and Family Services' (DYFS) involvement and subsequent filing of a complaint for guardianship of M.J.C. can be summarized as follows. On March 27, 2008, L.C. contacted DYFS for housing assistance. At the time, L.C. was eighteen years old and her son, M.J.C. was seven months old. DYFS referred her to Camden County for assistance. Four months later, she moved into the Eleanor Corbett Shelter with M.J.C.
However, on August 19, 2008, a shelter representative contacted DYFS because another resident heard M.J.C. crying incessantly. The resident entered the room and found M.J.C. with a blanket over his face and sleeping in the same bed as L.C. The shelter staff was concerned that L.C. might suffocate the infant. Moreover, L.C. could not be awakened.
DYFS caseworkers Ja'Net Dingla and Krista Pappas visited the shelter at 11:30 a.m. that day and found that L.C. was still sleeping. M.J.C. was lying next to her in the same bed. A baby bottle filled with curdled milk was near them. The caseworkers questioned L.C. about the milk. L.C. replied that she fed M.J.C. from that bottle, and also fed him Oreo cookies and Hawaiian Punch. According to L.C., she did not hear M.J.C. crying the previous night and no one tried to wake her up. She told the caseworker that M.J.C. had tested positive for marijuana when he was born, but he was allowed to leave the hospital with her. During this conversation, L.C. appeared to be nodding off with M.J.C. in her lap. M.J.C. almost fell off the couch when this happened.
The DYFS worker determined a Dodd*fn1 removal was appropriate and called the Elk Township Police for assistance. M.J.C. was placed in a resource home that day. He remains in that home today and his foster parents wish to adopt him.
DYFS filed a complaint for guardianship. The trial commenced on May 24, 2011. Judge Mary K. White presided. L.C. was not present. Her last appearance in court on this matter had occurred nine months earlier, in August 2010, at a court conference. L.C. missed hearing dates in October and December 2010, and failed to attend mediation a week prior to the trial.
DYFS caseworker Michele Johnson testified at the trial that since she had been assigned to L.C.'s case, L.C. had not requested any visits with M.J.C., called to check up on his status, or attempted to send him something for his birthday in January 2011.
Johnson's testimony highlighted the many services provided to L.C. DYFS arranged for L.C. to attend Turning Point, a residential treatment center. L.C. was diagnosed with cannabis and PCP dependence, as well as possible bipolar disorder. A few weeks later, L.C. was discharged after successfully completing the program; however, counselors at Turning Point indicated to DYFS that L.C.'s "mental health issues caused her to experience difficulty living in community with other clients." In light of L.C.'s aggression and negativity, Turning Point recommended that L.C. continue treatment in a program where her psychiatric issues could be addressed.
L.C. began attending the Family First program through the Center for Family Services. On March 5, 2009, the first day of the program, L.C. tested positive for PCP and alcohol, and admitted to using PCP. A counselor contacted DYFS seven days later to report that L.C. attended only four out of ten required group sessions, and zero out of the three individual counseling sessions. She ...