On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Union County, Docket No. FG-20-19-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted February 1, 2012
Before Judges Axelrad, Sapp-Peterson and Ostrer.
In these consolidated appeals, T.L.B. appeals from an order entered March 3, 2011 terminating her parental rights to her daughter J.L.B., born July 29, 2007, and her son J.K.N., born July 28, 2008; and J.H. appeals from the same order terminating his parental rights to his son, J.K.N. The father of J.L.B. was never identified. T.L.B. argues the Division of Youth and Family Services (Division) failed to adequately explore whether her sister, N.B., would have been willing to care for her children. J.H. argues the Division did not provide him sufficient services tailored to his special needs. We disagree and affirm substantially for the reasons set forth in Judge Kathryn A. Brock's comprehensive ninety-nine page opinion issued February 22, 2011 after a four-day trial in late 2010.
Judge Brock set forth the relevant facts in exhaustive detail in her opinion. We need not review them at length here. We briefly summarize the facts, and highlight those that underlie defendants' arguments on appeal.
The substantial and credible evidence supported a finding that both parents suffer from significant and persistent disabilities that had impaired, and would continue to impair, their ability to parent their children. J.L.B. was removed from her mother's care a month after her birth. About a year later, upon J.K.N.'s discharge from the hospital, he was placed with the same foster parent who cared for his sister. Both children have special needs that make parenting them especially challenging.
T.L.B. was diagnosed as suffering from various mental health conditions, including depression, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, psychotic disorder, and impulse control disorder. She had numerous psychiatric hospitalizations. She also had a history of angry and assaultive behaviors. She was uncooperative with numerous referrals for treatment and generally non-compliant with prescribed psychotropic medication. The mental health experts who evaluated her for trial, including a defense expert, agreed that she was, at the time of trial, incapable of parenting without posing a real risk of harm to her children. Even the defense expert testified that if T.L.B. consistently participated in therapy for a year - something that T.L.B. had failed to accomplish in the past - she still would not be ready to parent her children on her own.
In August 2007, T.L.B. provided the Division with the names of family resources and friends, including her sister, N.B., but T.L.B. stated that she could not reside with her sister because they did not get along. The other names were of friends, including someone she referred to as an "aunt" but who was not actually a relative. T.L.B. reported that her mother was deceased and her father was incarcerated.
Nonetheless, when T.L.B. was forced to leave a friend's residence because of her violations of a safety plan, the Division attempted, albeit unsuccessfully, to elicit N.B.'s involvement. The DYFS worker drove to N.B.'s home to ask her if T.L.B. and J.L.B. could temporarily reside with her, but N.B. was not there. DYFS apparently made no further attempts to seek N.B.'s involvement.
Over two years later, on September 7, 2009, a Division caseworker reported receiving a call from someone identifying herself as N.B., T.L.B.'s sister. The caller stated that she wanted to visit the children and give them gifts. The worker told the caller that she did not know who she was, so she would need to come to the Division's office and show proof of her identity. The record does not reflect any further action by N.B. She did not testify at trial, nor did ...