On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, Docket No. FG-07-151-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Yannotti, Kennedy and Guadagno.
Defendant T.L.B. appeals from the February 9, 2011 Family Part order that terminated her parental rights to two of her children, S.B. (Sally) and I.B. (Isaac).*fn1 The father of the children, D.H., was also subject to the order terminating parental rights but he does not appeal. T.L.B. argues that the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS or the Division) failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence the four criteria for terminating parental rights set forth in N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a). We agree with the trial judge that DYFS clearly and convincingly established all of the statutory prongs. Accordingly, we affirm.
T.L.B. and D.H. are the parents of nine children. Their parental rights to the seven oldest children, with birth dates ranging from 1996 to 2007, were terminated on September 9, 2008, by a judgment of guardianship after default. The two youngest children of T.L.B. and D.H., Isaac and Sally, are the subject of this appeal. Because the factors which led the trial court to terminate T.L.B.'s parental rights to Isaac and Sally are intertwined with the parent's history of involvement with the Division, we briefly review that history here.
The Division's involvement with T.L.B. and D.H. started in October 2000. At that time, their second child suffered a fractured arm and leg and the Division investigated and substantiated physical abuse by D.H. The court ordered that the children be placed in the legal custody of the Division and directed that the children not be left unsupervised with D.H. The court also ordered T.L.B. and D.H. to undergo psychological evaluations and to take parenting classes. After both parents missed scheduled evaluations, the court ordered the children to be placed with a relative.
The children were returned to T.L.B. in January 2001, after she agreed to begin parenting classes. The Division also assisted by providing daycare and a home health aide.
The Division received six subsequent referrals regarding T.L.B., D.H., and their children in 2004 and 2005. These referrals arose from excessive school absences, signs of physical abuse and lack of proper nutrition. In November 2004, the Division substantiated an allegation of neglect based upon T.L.B.'s failure to pick up one of her children from school despite the child's high fever. The referent also asserted that the children walked to and from school unattended across railroad tracks, arrived late and rarely brought lunch with them.
The Division subsequently filed for and was granted care and supervision of T.L.B.'s children on November 22, 2005. At that time, T.L.B. signed a case plan whereby the Division would assist with daycare and T.L.B. would submit to a psychological evaluation.
In early 2006, T.L.B.'s caseworker noticed the home was unclean, that the children were unkempt, and that defendant had left one of her children, a two-year old, unattended in the bathtub. Further, T.L.B. had admitted she had not taken the children to a pediatrician since 2004. T.L.B. claimed that her home was only dirty "when the Division visited" and that she had no intention of taking the children to a doctor.
On April 15, 2006, T.L.B. placed her youngest three children with relatives but did not promptly inform the Division of that fact. She also missed a psychological evaluation scheduled that month. Consequently, the Division filed a verified complaint on May 16, 2006, seeking custody of all six children born at that time, citing T.L.B.'s long history with the Division and non-compliance with services. The Division at the time also referred T.L.B. to therapy with Asun Star Counseling. However, T.L.B. was discontinued from that program when she failed to schedule appointments.
In June 2007, T.L.B. and D.H. were again advised by DYFS that they must undergo psychological and psychiatric assessments and attend individual therapy sessions before the children could be returned to them. At this point, T.L.B. informed the caseworker that she was pregnant with her seventh child and admitted that she was not receiving prenatal care.
DYFS filed a complaint for guardianship on July 10, 2007, and alleged that T.L.B. and D.H. were unwilling or unable to eliminate harm facing the children and were unable to provide a safe and stable home for them. An order of guardianship was entered and T.L.B.'s and D.H.'s parental rights to the seven children were terminated following a proof hearing after both parents defaulted. The six oldest children were adopted by T.L.B.'s maternal aunt in November 2008, and the seventh child was adopted by a non-relative caretaker, Ms. N.
T.L.B. gave birth to Isaac on January 4, 2009, in Newark. Hospital personnel contacted the Division because T.L.B. presented herself as "homeless." The Division filed for custody of Isaac on January 7, 2009 contending that T.L.B. lacked stable housing and made little progress in mitigating the issues that led to the removal of her older children. The court determined removal was necessary due to potential danger to the child's safety and health, given the Division's history with T.L.B. and D.H. Following Isaac's release from the hospital, he was placed with Ms. N., the adoptive mother of his sister, N.H. Ms. N. also expressed interest in adopting Isaac if reunification was not possible.
T.L.B. submitted to a court-ordered psychological evaluation on April 30, 2009, but missed multiple therapy sessions and failed to enroll in parenting classes. T.L.B. claimed that she did not attend therapy or parenting classes because she was not given "respect" by DYFS. In 2010, T.L.B. attended six therapy sessions at the Family Services Bureau (FSB) of Newark, but FSB later discontinued T.L.B.'s therapy claiming that she had not cooperated.
T.L.B.'s visitation with Isaac was sporadic. She missed three consecutive visits with him in April and May 2010, and then missed all visits in July and August 2010. DYFS attempted to locate T.L.B. during this period but its efforts were unsuccessful.
On September 6, 2010, T.L.B. left a voicemail message with a Division case manager indicating she had given birth to another child and wanted to visit Isaac. The Division thereafter attempted unsuccessfully to contact T.L.B. and applied to the trial court for a bench warrant, which was granted on September 9, 2010. With police assistance, the Division located T.L.B. on September 10, 2010, at the home of D.H.'s mother. Sally, who was born on July 6, 2010, was found at that time and DYFS effected a Dodd removal*fn2 of the child.
The Division subsequently filed for and was granted custody of Isaac on September 14, 2010. The Division then filed an amended complaint for guardianship on September 30, 2010, adding Sally to the complaint for guardianship. Sally was placed in temporary foster care with Ms. N. at this time.
The Division also provided T.L.B. with another therapist so she could continue with therapy despite her dismissal from previous programs. However, T.L.B. claimed she did not want to attend any ...