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Division of Youth and Family Services v. N.S

March 1, 2012


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Mercer County, Docket No. FG-11-03-10.

Per curiam.




Submitted January 25, 2012

Before Judges Graves, Harris and Koblitz.

Defendant N.S. is the biological mother of K.V.S. (fictitiously Karen), born October 11, 2007, and K.R.S. (fictitiously Kathy), born a year later on October 27, 2008. N.S. appeals from a Family Part order entered on October 22, 2010, which terminated her parental rights to the children. The order also terminated the parental rights of the unidentified biological father or fathers of the children. Because the trial court's findings and conclusions are supported by clear and convincing evidence, we affirm.

N.S. was born on May 12, 1991. Two years later in May 1993, the Division of Youth and Family Services (the Division or DYFS) became involved with N.S.'s family because her mother was abusing drugs. The Division provided addiction services at that time. However, when N.S.'s mother gave birth to another child in 1996, she tested positive for illegal drugs and agreed to participate in an outpatient substance abuse program.

Between June 1999 and November 2004, the Division received seven referrals "alleging inadequate supervision, physical abuse, and neglect" by N.S.'s mother. During this period, N.S. received counseling and other services through the Children's Home Society of New Jersey and other service providers. For most of this period, N.S. remained in the custody of her mother, but she sometimes stayed with other relatives, including her paternal grandmother, H.N.

In September 2005, the Division received a referral regarding a physical altercation between N.S. and her sister, V.S., which resulted in the police being called to the house. In addition, N.S.'s mother advised a caseworker on June 6, 2006, that N.S. was staying at her paternal grandmother's house and was not attending school on a regular basis.

On February 19, 2007, when N.S. was fifteen years old, the Division received a referral from a Trenton police officer indicating that there had been a physical dispute between N.S.'s mother and N.S.'s sister. The officer also stated that there were "ongoing problems" with the family and that the police had been to the home seventeen times during the past year.

Following an investigation, the Division conducted an emergency removal of N.S., her siblings, and her infant niece on February 21, 2007. N.S. initially refused to leave her mother's house and attempted to flee but was stopped by the police. She was placed with her paternal grandmother. However, she ran away that same day and "placed herself" with her maternal aunt, M.S. Although M.S. was not approved for placement, the Division allowed N.S. to remain there.

On February 22, 2007, the Division was granted custody of N.S., and it attempted to provide her with counseling, educational, and other services. For example, on February 26, 2007, the Division referred N.S. to the Sherman Avenue School, but she was not accepted into the program due to "disrespectful behavior" during her intake appointment.

In May 2007, N.S. participated in an evaluation with Chester Sigafoos, Ph.D., to assess her "psychological and neuropsychological capacities and how they may impact on [her] abilities to function in society." In his report dated June 1, 2007, Dr. Sigafoos noted that N.S.'s "behavior was not appropriate during the evaluation. She was suspicious, belligerent and minimally cooperative."

Tests conducted during the evaluation indicated that N.S. has a "Full Scale IQ of 62," placing her in the mildly mentally retarded range of intellectual functioning. In addition, N.S.'s "Psychopathology score [of] 82.00" suggested "marked impairment in psychological functioning and severe psychological problems." Dr. Sigafoos also administered the Millon Adolescent Clinical Inventory and the results suggested that N.S. has a "disdain for the welfare of others," a "self-centered attitude," a "socially-irritable manner," and a "voiced pride in unsentimentality." Dr. Sigafoos found that N.S. exhibited "little or no compassion for others," and that N.S.'s "lack of empathy may lead her to serve only herself regardless of the consequences for others."

According to Dr. Sigafoos, N.S.'s psychological disorders would be difficult to treat, and he recommended placement in a structured residential setting:

The severity of psychopathological conditions within this client will pose a significant obstacle to her to be able to function in society. As a result, treatment will probably be something that she will need to continuously be involved in to some degree.

This is a very disturbed client. She has already eloped from other placements, resists attending school, is in need of considerable multi-modal treatment, needs to be monitored for any drug abuse, and poses a risk of harm to others.

It is recommended the client be placed in a structured residential setting that can provide her the treatment she needs and also insure the safety of others around her.

On August 8, 2007, N.S. was placed in a thirty-day residential program at Grace Hall in Newark, to address her "behavioral and emotional" issues and her "educational delays." While N.S. was at Grace Hall, a urine test indicated that she was pregnant. A subsequent examination at Mountainside Hospital confirmed that she was approximately eight-and-one-half months pregnant.

N.S. gave birth to a baby girl, Karen, on October 11, 2007. Thereafter, the Division filed a verified complaint and an order to show cause requesting the custody, care, and supervision of Karen, which was granted on October 16, 2007. Karen was placed with B.N., N.S.'s paternal aunt. N.S. was placed in the Anchor House in Trenton, but was discharged on November 7, 2007, "for threatening to hit the director." N.S. then went to live with C.M., her aunt.

After the birth of N.S.'s first child, the Division continued its efforts to place her in various residential programs. However, she was either ...

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