On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, Docket No. FG-07-82-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 11, 2012 -
Before Judges Fuentes, Graves and J. N. Harris.
Defendant T.P.B. appeals from the order of the Family Part terminating her parental rights to her daughters S.P.B., born in May 2007, and T.M.B., born in May 2008. The complaint for guardianship filed by the Division of Youth and Family Services (Division) also named the girls' biological father T.M.S. as a defendant. The court entered default against T.M.S in April 2010. He remained in default status throughout the guardianship trial and up to the date the court delivered its final decision terminating his and defendant's parental rights. T.M.S. did not file his own appeal from the court's decision and is not seeking to join defendant in her appeal.
In this appeal, defendant argues that the Division failed to present sufficient evidence to warrant the termination of her parental rights pursuant to the statutory standards in N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1. Although not raised before the trial court, defendant also argues that the Division failed to adhere to the requirements in N.J.S.A. 30:4C-12.1(b) when it rejected a relative that defendant offered as an alternative placement for the girls. After reviewing the record developed before the trial court and mindful of prevailing legal standards, we reject these arguments and affirm.
The Division's involvement with defendant and her family preceded the birth of the two girls who are the subject of this guardianship action. In 2006, the Division received a referral that defendant, who had been exhibiting mental health problems, had given birth to her first child, a boy identified here as C.B. Although the initial complaints of abuse or neglect proved to be unfounded, the Division decided to assist defendant and her family and arranged to place C.B. in the custody of his maternal grandmother S.B. This arrangement was formally sanctioned by the Family Part when the court awarded S.B. custody of her grandson C.B in an order dated July 18, 2006.
The Division's next involvement in defendant's life was triggered by the birth of S.P.B. in May 2007. A social worker at University Hospital in Newark reported to the Division her concern for the baby because of defendant's history of post-traumatic stress disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and developmental disability. Hospital staff placed the newborn infant "on hold" while the Division sought a formal order of custody from the Family Part. After reviewing the evidence, the court denied the Division's request for custody and dismissed the complaint alleging abuse and neglect.
The next relevant event occurred when defendant was residing in South Carolina. According to certified records from the South Carolina Department of Social Services dated April 3, 2008, the agency received a referral that eight-month-old S.P.B. had a "superficial laceration on [her] index finger," appeared to be missing hair from the back of her head, and was not up to date on her vaccinations. Defendant, who was twenty-one years old at the time, was pregnant with T.M.B. and was not receiving prenatal care. The South Carolina caseworker who responded to defendant's home to investigate these allegations indicated that defendant was "very rude" and "hostile." The South Carolina authorities substantiated the allegations of neglect and placed S.P.B. in a form of "alternate care."
A Division caseworker visited defendant in South Carolina on February 6, 2008, and informed her that her case would be transferred. A few months later, while still residing in South Carolina, defendant gave birth to her third child T.M.B. The South Carolina authorities took custody of T.M.B. and limited defendant's contact with her to supervised visitation.
In late July 2008, defendant's mother S.B. arrived in South Carolina with the express purpose of seeing her grandchildren.
The South Carolina authorities agreed to a safety plan through which defendant's contacts with the girls would be supervised by S.B. A short time thereafter, S.B. arrived at the Division's offices in Bloomfield and told the caseworker that she had just arrived from South Carolina with defendant and the two girls, and needed assistance in the form ...