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

June 15, 2012


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Burlington County, Docket No. FG-03-06-11.

Per curiam.



Submitted May 15, 2012

Before Judges Fisher, Baxter and Carchman.

Defendant T.W., the mother of P.W., appeals from a final judgment terminating her parental rights to the child and granting guardianship to plaintiff New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS or the Division). On appeal, defendant asserts that DYFS failed to prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that the termination would not do more harm than good. We conclude that there was sufficient evidence to support that determination. We affirm.

These are the relevant facts adduced at trial. T.W. is the biological mother of P.W., a male child born on December 15, 2007. T.W. has been known to the Division since 1999, and P.W. is her fifth child. T.W. does not have custody of her four older children, all of whom were born addicted to cocaine, as was P.W. Three of T.W's children are in the custody of the maternal great-grandmother, V.M., while the fourth is in the custody of the child's father. P.W. is the only subject of this appeal.

P.W.'s biological father, C.S., is currently incarcerated,*fn1 and he made an identified surrender of parental rights to P.W.'s current foster parents on May 18, 2011.

On December 15, 2007, T.W. gave birth to P.W. at her home, and, thereafter, sought treatment at Lourdes Medical Center in Willingboro.*fn2 On December 17, 2007, diagnostic tests performed at the hospital revealed that T.W. and P.W. both tested positive for crack cocaine.

On that day, a nurse consultant from DYFS met with T.W. at the hospital, and T.W. admitted that she had used crack cocaine on a daily basis during her pregnancy. T.W. also reported that she had last used cocaine on December 14, 2007, the day before P.W. was born, and that she had done so along with her mother, who also has a history of drug use, and with whom T.W. resides. T.W. also stated that she occasionally used heroin and marijuana and had never received prenatal care during her pregnancy.

On December 20, 2007, the Division filed a verified complaint seeking custody of P.W. On that day, T.W. voluntarily transferred custody of P.W. to DYFS and agreed to attend an inpatient drug treatment program. P.W. was placed in foster care. At a fact-finding hearing on April 1, 2008, T.W. stipulated to abuse and neglect of P.W., and admitted that her cocaine use during her pregnancy had placed P.W. at risk of harm.

From March 2008 to February 2009, T.W. received inpatient drug treatment at Seabrook House, a drug rehabilitation center. In July 2008, after T.W. completed five months of treatment, Seabrook recommended that P.W. be permitted to join T.W. and remain with her at Seabrook's "MatriArk" Program, where children reside with their parents while the latter receive residential treatment. With the court's approval, P.W. was permitted to join T.W. at Seabrook on July 11, 2008, in furtherance of the goal of reunification.

After completing twelve months of inpatient treatment, T.W. was discharged from Seabrook with instructions to attend an intensive outpatient drug treatment program. Five days later, T.W. notified DYFS that she would not comply with the intensive drug treatment the Division had arranged for her at Services to Overcome Drug Abuse Among Teenagers of New Jersey, Inc. (SODAT), as she felt that SODAT "was not an appropriate treatment facility[.]"

Between March and April 2009, DYFS was still responsible for P.W.'s care but was unable to reach T.W., who retained custody of P.W. following her discharge from Seabrook House. DYFS executed a second emergency removal of P.W., after T.W. contacted DYFS and admitted that she had recently used illegal drugs, including marijuana and cocaine.

After T.W. declined to seek further drug treatment, DYFS filed an amended verified complaint for custody of P.W. On the same day, T.W. tested positive for marijuana and cocaine, and the court found that T.W.'s relapse placed P.W. at imminent risk of harm and impaired T.W.'s ability to provide him safe care. The court restored custody of P.W. to the Division, and P.W. was returned to his foster parents.

In the ensuing months, T.W. missed a compliance review hearing; advised a caseworker that she had relapsed; refused to comply with a urine screening; and missed two scheduled psychological assessments. In August 2009, T.W. completed a fourteen-day inpatient "detox" program at New Hope Foundation. She then agreed to enter Straight and Narrow, a residential drug treatment center.

From September 2009 to March 2010, T.W. received inpatient treatment at Straight and Narrow. After one month of treatment, Straight and Narrow reported that T.W. was doing well and recommended that P.W. reside with her at the treatment center. At a hearing in October 2009, the court returned custody of P.W. to T.W., and continued DYFS's care and supervision of P.W. P.W. joined T.W. at Straight and Narrow and was permitted to remain in her care, on the condition that T.W. comply with treatment.

After T.W. was discharged from Straight and Narrow in March 2010, she obtained housing through Eva's Hope Residence and attended an aftercare program where she submitted to routine drug screens. T.W. had custody of P.W., although DYFS remained responsible for his care. At Eva's Hope, T.W. was unable to maintain her sobriety, as she tested positive for cocaine and admitted to using Percocet narcotics.

In April 2010, DYFS was notified that T.W. left the aftercare program, and DYFS executed a third emergency removal of P.W. At the hearing, T.W. admitted her recent drug use, and custody of P.W. was transferred to the ...

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