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New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. K.P

April 18, 2012


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Monmouth County, Docket No. FG-13-97-08.

Per curiam.



Submitted: March 14, 2012

Before Judges Cuff, Lihotz and Waugh.

K.P., the mother of thirteen-year-old Sa.P. (Steve) and five-year-old Sh.P. (Shea)*fn1 appeals from an order terminating her parental rights to these children.*fn2 K.P. contends that the evidence presented by the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence that she harmed the children, that she could not alleviate harm to the children, and that termination of her parental rights would not do more harm than good.

DYFS responds that it proved by clear and convincing evidence that Steve's and Shea's health, safety and development have been and will continue to be endangered by their mother. DYFS contends that K.P. cannot care for herself and address her personal psychiatric needs let alone address the significant needs of these children. Finally, it argues that termination will not do more harm than good.

The Law Guardian urges that termination of K.P.'s parental rights is in the best interests of the children, and argues that K.P. is not an appropriate caregiver and that a return of these children to her will disrupt the stable environments in which they reside. We affirm.

DYFS has been involved with K.P. and her children since 1991. K.P. is thirty-seven years old. She has been diagnosed with histrionic personality disorder*fn3 and has a history of drug addiction, which included at times daily use of cocaine. Since 1991, K.P. has attempted suicide four times and still acknowledges suicidal ideations. She has had periods of employment as a security guard and counselor for mentally disabled adults but was never able to remain employed on a long-term basis. K.P. has not worked since 2007 and has experienced recurring incidents of homelessness.

Steve is thirteen years old. He has been removed from K.P.'s care or placed by K.P. with friends or relatives at least three times. He has not been in K.P.'s care since August 2007. Physical abuse of Steve by Shea's father and K.P.'s boyfriend was substantiated in March 2007. The August 2007 removal was precipitated by medical neglect by K.P. of both children, failure to comply with Steve's medication regimen and psychiatric treatment, refusal to take Steve for a neurological evaluation, failure to comply with clinical treatment and recommendations for herself, and failure to provide a clean and safe home for the children. Steve has been diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder and pervasive developmental delays, which eventually led to his placement at Devereux, a residential treatment facility. At Devereux, he was also diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. By August 2007, he had experienced four psychiatric hospital admissions. He is currently residing in a therapeutic foster home. Steve's father, who is incarcerated with an expected release date in 2023, sexually abused Steve's older sister B.B. Steve's father surrendered his parental rights in June 2010.

Shea is five years old. She was removed from K.P.'s care when she was nine months old and has resided with her foster parents since that time. Her father committed suicide in January 2008. She currently displays no developmental delays. Steve and Shea visit monthly and enjoy each other's company. Each child regresses emotionally and behaviorally when they visit K.P.

Four psychologists examined K.P. between 2003-2008. Doctors Bernard Loigman, Andrea Lynn Sollitto, Margaret Doherty Delong, and Karen Wells rendered diagnoses of histrionic personality disorder. Her intellectual functioning was considered at the low average level. No substance abuse was noted until 2006 when K.P. was reported to have passed out while B.B. and Steve were visiting. In 2007, she commenced using crack cocaine. During that year, she was charged with various minor criminal offenses and her psychological condition markedly deteriorated. In December 2007, K.P. attempted suicide by taking an overdose of Prozac, one of Steve's medications, with alcohol. This led to a several week psychiatric hospitalization, unemployment, and a period of homelessness. In her March 2008 evaluation of K.P., Dr. Wells continued to render a diagnosis of histrionic personality disorder and dependent personality disorder to which she added borderline personality disorder.

Emblematic of K.P.'s psychological deterioration is the alteration in the prognosis for reunification with her children. In 2003, Dr. Loigman opined that K.P. "appears to possess the ability to parent effectively when she is not distracted or adversely [a]ffected by other problems." However, during Steve's psychiatric hospitalization in July 2007, occasioned by K.P.'s inconsistency with Steve's psychiatric appointments and therapeutic regimen, his care providers opined that K.P.'s "reasoning always focuses on the impact of the drama she surrounds herself with that precludes her from being able to follow through with even basic parental responsibilities." Dr. Wells remarked in March 2008 that K.P.'s "sustained marked pattern of emotional instability and psychological dysfunction" interfered and "markedly hinder[ed] her ability to provide care for herself on an independent basis." (Emphasis added). Accordingly, reunification with Steve and Shea was "clinically contraindicated."

Dr. Wells reiterated her opinion regarding reunification in October 2008, and during her December 2008 trial testimony, Dr. Wells opined that termination would not do more harm than good to ...

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