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New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. T.L.W

June 8, 2012


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Camden County, Docket No. FG-04-153-11.

Per curiam.



Submitted May 7, 2012 -

Before Judges Sabatino and Ashrafi.

Defendant T.L.W. appeals from a judgment of the Family Part terminating her parental rights to her two sons, now three and two years old. The Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) has had custody of the boys since their birth, and they have been in the care of their foster mother the entire time. The foster mother wishes to provide a permanent home for them by adoption. We affirm the Family Part's judgment.


Defendant T.L.W. is the teenage biological mother of T.S.M.-W. and A.W. Her own childhood has been tragic. When defendant was a young child, DYFS received about two dozen referrals alleging that she was neglected and abused by her mother, who was a "severe" drug addict. The identity of defendant's father is unknown, and her mother died when defendant was twelve years old. She reported physical abuse at the hands of her grandmother and was placed in the care and custody of DYFS. From 2006 to 2011, DYFS placed defendant in more than twenty different foster homes, residential facilities, and shelters, making repeated changes because of her propensity to run away.

Defendant has substantial mental health and behavioral problems. She is emotionally volatile and prone to aggressive outbursts. As a child, she was admitted to Underwood Hospital Children's Behavioral Health Program for psychiatric treatment. Mental health professionals indicate she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, and oppositional defiance disorder. In 2005 and 2006, she received outpatient psychotherapy at Kennedy Health Center in Stratford. At another time, she was admitted to the crisis unit at a hospital in Cherry Hill. In October 2009, she was hospitalized for one night for psychiatric treatment related to "suicidal ideation." A DYFS caseworker also reported an instance of "homicidal ideation." A 2009 DYFS report indicates that defendant was "medically non-compliant."

Defendant has struggled at school. She has an IQ of sixty-six, in the bottom two percent of the population. She has not been able to achieve academically since a young age, and she was shunned by her peers. In addition to cognitive deficits, defendant's education has been fragmented and intermittent because of frequent relocation, three pregnancies, and her running away. Defendant's behavioral problems, especially aggression and fighting, have resulted in many suspensions and expulsion from school. She did not advance beyond ninth grade.

Defendant has a history of sexual promiscuity and sexually transmitted diseases. She states she was sexually abused as a child by a relative. She also states she was raped by the grandson of a foster parent when she was about twelve years old, and she mentioned another incident of sexual molestation by a foster parent in a different home. By the age of fifteen, DYFS was receiving reports from foster parents that defendant was "run[ning] the streets," using illegal drugs, and becoming involved in relationships with much older men. More recently, DYFS received reports that she may be engaged in prostitution. On multiple occasions, she has tested positive for or admitted to use of marijuana and PCP. She is a daily drug user but maintains she does not have a drug problem.

Defendant has had multiple encounters with law enforcement, beginning at about the age of thirteen. In 2007, she was arrested for assault and placed on probation. In May 2009, she was detained by Camden police for breaking the city's curfew. In September 2009, she was arrested for aggravated assault and criminal mischief after kicking out the window of a patrol car. She has also been arrested for shoplifting. In 2010, defendant was placed on house arrest for violating the terms of a prior probationary sentence. In 2011, she was arrested for attempting to purchase alcohol as a minor, and charged with underage possession of alcohol, obstruction of justice, resisting arrest, and criminal mischief. Defendant is an "adjudicated juvenile" for committing "aggressive assault."

After her first pregnancy ended in miscarriage, defendant became pregnant again at the age of fifteen and gave birth to T.S.M.-W. in November 2008. The father was twenty-four years old. After the Family Part granted DYFS custody of the child, DYFS placed the infant with the foster mother who was then caring for defendant so that defendant and the infant could be together. For six months, defendant resided in that foster home and had some limited involvement in the care of T.S.M.-W. After she left the foster home, defendant would not visit the child for months at a time.

Defendant became pregnant again and gave birth to A.W. in May 2010. During the pregnancy, DYFS received reports that defendant was using drugs and had engaged in violent altercations. DYFS referred her for a psychological evaluation, including a parenting assessment. Larry Seidman, a licensed psychologist, administered the Parenting Stress Index-Short Form and concluded:

[Defendant] does not exhibit the psychological development, maturity, accountability, and responsibility to care for [T.S.M.-W.] at this time, given the best of psychological and psychiatric support. . . . It is not recommended that [defendant] be given custody of [A.W.] and further that the possibility of her caring for her child in a Mother and Child Therapeutic Home also appears extremely doubtful.

DYFS obtained custody of A.W. and placed him with the same foster mother who was caring for T.S.M.-W. The foster mother allowed defendant to return to her home, and defendant stayed there for three months. She provided almost no care to her sons during that time but claimed that she was not allowed to do so.

Defendant has not resided with her sons or interacted with them on a daily basis since August 2010. She does, however, attend visitation. Under the foster mother's care, the children are healthy and they are achieving developmental milestones. The foster mother has cared for more than thirty foster children, and she maintains lasting relationships with many of them. The foster mother desires to adopt the two boys. T.S.M.-W.'s father has surrendered his parental rights. The identity of A.W.'s father is unknown. DYFS has ruled out extended family members of defendant as potential caregivers or kinship legal guardians.

From 2006 to 2011, DYFS has undertaken at least forty referrals for defendant to evaluate and treat her deficits, including educational services, psychological evaluations, counseling services, and residential placements. The theme that runs through DYFS reports is that "[i]t was very difficult to provide [defendant] services as she was often in missing status" and when present was "mostly non-compliant with services."

DYFS has provided defendant with specialized education. In October 2006, DYFS placed defendant at Vineland Residential Center, an alternative residential school for students struggling with substance abuse and other behavioral problems. In September 2007, DYFS placed her at the Bankbridge Middle School, a Gloucester County special services school designed to educate students with special needs. In March 2009, DYFS referred her to an individualized educational program. In August 2009, DYFS ...

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