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New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. S.B

April 16, 2012


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, Docket No. FG-07-210-10.

Per curiam.



Argued March 28, 2012 -

Before Judges Fuentes, Graves and Haas.

S.B. is the biological mother of A.H. (fictitiously Anna), born September 27, 2005, and F.H. (fictitiously Frank), born almost a year later on August 13, 2006.*fn1 S.B. appeals the May 31, 2011 order terminating her parental rights to the children. After reviewing the record in light of the contentions advanced on appeal, we affirm substantially for the reasons stated by Judge Garry Furnari in his oral opinion of May 27, 2011. The findings are "based on clear and convincing evidence supported by the record," and the legal conclusions are sound. N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. P.P., 180 N.J. 494, 511 (2004).

The Division of Youth and Family Services (Division) has been involved with Anna and Frank since November 2006. The Division received referrals on four occasions between 2006 and April 2009. The referrals alleged that Anna and Frank were being left unattended. On each occasion, the Division found that the allegations were unfounded.

On April 22, 2009, however, S.B. called the Division to request housing assistance. She asserted that she was homeless and that she needed assistance in caring for Anna and Frank. A case file was opened. Following an investigation, which disclosed that S.B. and the children's father, F.H., had no housing and that they had left Anna and Frank without care, the Division conducted an emergency removal of the children. On May 8, 2009, the Division was granted custody of Anna and Frank. The children were placed in a Tri-City contract foster home.

Anna and Frank remained in their initial placement until August 2009. Unfortunately, both children have behavior issues and the foster mother was not able to effectively resolve them. In August 2009, the children were placed together in another home, where they remained until April 20, 2011. At the time of the trial in May 2011, Anna and Frank were living in a new foster home, with their half-brother,*fn2 who had previously been removed from S.B.'s care.

After the emergency removal of the children, the Division's goal was to work with S.B. to effectuate a reunification. Almost immediately, however, S.B. was incarcerated on an assault charge. She remained in jail from June 2009 until January 31, 2010. Upon her release, S.B. did not contact the Division. Nevertheless, the Division still arranged for S.B. to have supervised visits with the children through the Tri-City Corporation and she appeared for most of them. However, S.B. continued to avoid working with the Division outside of the supervised visitation setting and the agency was not able to locate her in the community. Accordingly, S.B. was placed in "missing status."

On March 31, 2010, the trial court granted the Division's motion to relieve it of its obligation to provide reasonable efforts to reunify S.B. with the children. In spite of this order, however, the Division continued to voluntarily offer services to S.B., including parenting skills training, G.E.D. courses, anger management classes, psychological evaluations, and therapeutic services. Supervised visitation continued. The Division also offered to provide assistance to S.B. in finding suitable housing.

On June 30, 2010, the Division filed its guardianship complaint. Service of the complaint was accomplished at a supervised visit because S.B. still refused to make her whereabouts known to the Division. S.B. signed a case plan agreeing to secure housing and employment and to complete an anger management course by August 3, 2010. S.B. successfully completed a Tri-City Behavioral Clinic anger management program. In October 2010, the Division referred S.B. to a parenting skills course at the Wise Women's Parenting Center, but she was terminated from the program after missing three consecutive classes. S.B. was not able to verify that she had secured employment or stable housing. She dropped out of a G.E.D. program after attending only a few classes.

S.B. signed a second case plan. She agreed to move into a new apartment by the middle of December and to complete the parenting skills course. She was able to complete the course, but she continued to have difficulty maintaining stable housing. During this period, S.B. tested positive for marijuana after a court-ordered screening. She was referred to a substance abuse evaluation, but she failed to attend the appointment.

In October 2010, the Division referred S.B. to Barry Katz, PhD, for a psychological and bonding evaluation. Dr. Katz testified at trial and his written report was admitted in evidence. During her interview with Dr. Katz, S.B. stated that she and Anna had been the victims of domestic violence by F.H. However, she continued to leave the children alone with him. She later denied that there had been any violence in the home, that ...

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