On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, Docket No. FG-07-63-11.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted April 16, 2012 Before Judges Parrillo, Grall and Alvarez.
V.N.V. appeals the July 26, 2011 termination of her parental rights to her son E.B.V., who was born December 18, 2002. We affirm.
The following circumstances resulted in the judgment from which appeal is taken, as developed during the trial of the matter. The New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services' (Division) first contact with the family occurred on January 11, 2008, when V.N.V. was taken to Newark Beth Israel Medical Center (NBIMC) for psychiatric evaluation. While there, V.N.V. reported that she was experiencing depression, believed the FBI was following and seeking to harm her, and also believed that "many cats and dogs" were following her. She admitted she had not eaten or slept for several days and was living intermittently in her car with her child. V.N.V. was discharged on January 17, with prescriptions for anti-psychotic medication and instructions to return for follow-up treatment.
V.N.V. and E.B.V. subsequently moved into a new apartment. On February 6, 2008, a Division worker visited with the family and V.N.V. reported that "things were fine." She denied receiving either a diagnosis or a prescription from the hospital. E.V.B. was also interviewed; he indicated he liked the new apartment and that "he was fine."
On June 20, 2008, the Division received a referral that E.B.V. had been infected with ringworm for some time and was apparently not being treated for the condition. The Division contacted the school nurse, who was aware of the ringworm, and said V.N.V. was taking the child to the doctor.
It was not until approximately a month later that the Division learned that V.N.V. was not taking any of her prescribed medication and was keeping herself and her child locked at home during the day. E.B.V.'s ringworm infection had worsened, and he was sleeping on a mattress on the kitchen floor.
A few days later, on July 30, 2008, when a Division worker visited V.N.V.'s home, she refused to produce the ringworm medication, to provide the phone number of his treating physician, or to explain why there was a mattress on the kitchen floor. During the visit, V.N.V. became so agitated that she was transported to the East Orange General Hospital Crisis Center for a mental health screening. E.B.V. was removed on an emergent basis pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.29. Although initially placed in a foster home, within a little over two months E.B.V. moved to the home of his maternal grandparents, where he has remained since.
The Division arranged for V.N.V. to be evaluated on October 28, 2008, by Dr. Diane W. McCabe, a psychologist. V.N.V. informed McCabe that she was no longer taking any prescribed medication, but could not recall when she stopped, the name of the medication, the condition for which it was prescribed, or the prescribing physician's name. McCabe concluded that
V.N.V.'s behavior was consistent with an earlier diagnosis of major depressive disorder with psychotic features, and that
V.N.V.'s failure to comply with her medication regimen posed a risk to E.B.V. In accordance with McCabe's recommendation,
V.N.V. was referred to an outpatient clinic at East Orange General Hospital, where in January 2009, she began to attend individual therapy on a weekly basis.
After the completion of the evaluation, a Title Nine factfinding hearing was conducted. On November 19, 2008, the Family Part judge found that V.N.V. had abused or neglected E.B.V. At this juncture, the Division's permanency plan called for reunification of mother and child.
On June 10, 2009, V.N.V. underwent a psychiatric evaluation by Dr. Vivian C. Shnaidman. Shnaidman recommended an examination to eliminate organicity as the source for V.N.V.'s visual hallucinations, but diagnosed her as suffering from chronic paranoid schizophrenia. In her opinion, continued psychiatric treatment was "non-negotiable" if V.N.V. wanted unlimited access to her child.
V.N.V. told Shnaidman that she had been prescribed medication but was no longer taking it. She also reported that she only started therapy in March 2009 and attended until the day before the interview. V.N.V. explained that the doctor referred her to a therapist, but the therapist did not feel it was necessary for her to take medication. During the course of the interview, V.N.V. admitted to Shnaidman that she often spent several days without changing her clothes, had slept at the Irvington bus station "once or twice[,]" and sometimes approached total strangers on the street to talk to them. As Shnaidman said in her report, "because of [V.N.V.'s] delusions and hallucinations, she feels that what is best for her son is to sleep on the kitchen floor or in the bus terminal." Shnaidman concluded that V.N.V. posed a danger to her child because of her mental health disorder and her delusions. She was not capable of living independently for long periods of time, nor should the child be left with her unsupervised. Shnaidman also said that "permanent placement with the grandparents would probably be the best solution, because even with the best psychiatric treatment in the world, [V.N.V.] may never regain a totally normal mental status."
On August 18, 2009, V.N.V. attempted to attend a parenting skills class offered by Final Stop arranged by the Division. Unfortunately, Final Stop had earlier determined, based on
V.N.V.'s psychological assessment, that she required a higher level of care than they could provide. When V.N.V. arrived at the facility, a representative of Final Stop reported that she appeared "agitated, unfocused and anxious." V.N.V. told the Final Stop employee that she had lost her job and was homeless.
V.N.V. ultimately completed a parenting skills class at a different agency.
On January 21, 2010, V.N.V. was readmitted to NBIMC because her outpatient program reported she was exhibiting "bizarre behavior, agitation, and paranoia." She was discharged eleven days later with instructions to enroll in the NBIMC partial hospital program.
On this occasion, V.N.V. complied with treatment for five months. She exhibited improvements in functionality and expressed interest in securing employment or volunteer work. She "graduated" from the partial hospital program at the end of June, based upon her treatment team's assessment that she was ready to be transferred to outpatient treatment. V.N.V. was scheduled for an outpatient appointment on July 12, 2010, but rescheduled and ultimately never appeared. During ...