On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Passaic County, Docket No. FG-16-41-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted April 16, 2012 -
Before Judges A. A. Rodriguez, Sabatino, and Fasciale.
D.D.F. (birth mother) appeals from a January 31, 2011 order terminating her parental rights to twin daughters, N.S.F. and M.S.F.*fn1 She argues that the judge erred by: (1) terminating her rights because the Division of Youth and Family Services (the Division) failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence each prong of the best interests of the child standard, N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a); and (2) failing to afford her procedural due process rights. We disagree and affirm.
The twins were born three weeks after the judge terminated the mother's parental rights to five other children.*fn2 The Division conducted a Dodd removal*fn3 two days after the twins were born. The mother failed to appear at the initial Dodd application and on the return date of the Division's order to show cause (OTSC), at which the judge approved the removal and awarded to the Division care, custody, and supervision of the twins. The judge found that the twins were at risk of harm due to the mother's psychiatric distress. The twins were placed in the same home and the foster mother expressed a desire to adopt them.
The judge then relieved the Division from the obligation to provide reasonable efforts to reunify the twins with the mother, N.J.S.A. 30:4C-11.3(c),*fn4 and scheduled a permanency and fact finding hearing for December 2009. The mother did not appear at the proceeding, at which the judge stated:
[The mother] has [a] serious mental illness compounded by some substance abuse problem[.] She's been altogether not compliant for treatment with marijuana abuse problems[,] but most importantly . . . with her mental health problems.
The judge then approved the permanency plan of termination of parental rights followed by adoption.
In February 2010, the Division filed its guardianship complaint. One month later, the mother appeared at a court proceeding at which the judge appointed her counsel, directed her to cooperate with the Division in scheduling psychological and psychiatric evaluations, and granted supervised weekly visitation with the twins. However, following their removal, the mother did not visit the twins until April 2010, and thereafter she cancelled multiple visits and often showed up late. She appeared sporadically for court dates, and the judge then ordered her to attend psychiatric, psychological, and bonding evaluations, and scheduled a trial date.
The judge conducted a guardianship trial on two separate days in November 2010. The Division called a family service specialist caseworker, an adoption worker, a caseworker assigned to investigate referrals of allegations of neglect, and Robert James Miller, Ph.D., the Division's forensic expert psychologist.
The judge found all these witnesses to be credible. The mother attended the first day of trial, failed to return to court in the afternoon of the second day of trial, and did not testify or introduce any evidence on her behalf.
Dr. Miller evaluated the mother in September 2008 and May 2010.*fn5 He learned that the Division had removed her when she was nine years old because her parents had abused her. The mother had been classified for special education, but dropped out of school after the eleventh grade. In 2008, she exhibited symptoms of depression such as crying, isolation, lack of interest, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, suicidal ideations, and self-destructive behaviors. Dr. Miller concluded that the mother demonstrated severe parenting deficits in her capacity to provide safety, continuous care, and emotional nurturance, and he recommended that she undergo psychiatric and substance abuse assessments. When he conducted his evaluation in 2010, Dr. Miller reaffirmed his earlier diagnosis that she suffered from a major depressive disorder with psychotic features. She displayed severe parenting deficits and was resistant to ...