On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Hudson County, Docket No. FG-09-133-11.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 12, 2012
Before Judges Axelrad, Sapp-Peterson and Haas.
H.R. is the biological mother of S.R. (fictitiously Susan), born January 13, 2009. H.R. appeals the June 29, 2011 order terminating her parental rights to her child. After reviewing the record in light of the contentions advanced on appeal, we affirm.
The Division of Youth and Family Services*fn1 (the Division) has been involved with H.R. since 2001 when, because of her own mother's drug use, H.R. was placed in the Division's care and custody. H.R. suffers from developmental disabilities and her cognitive skills have been scored in the "well below average range." In August 2006, she was placed in the foster home of A.D. H.R. received therapy and assistance from the Division through the Hispanic Information Center (HIC) and, in 2008, she also began to receive services from the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD).
In 2008, H.R. became pregnant and Susan was born on January 13, 2009.*fn2 Two days later, the Division executed an emergency removal of the child and placed her in the same foster home with H.R. under A.D.'s care. The very next month, however, A.D. advised the Division that H.R. was not showing any interest in Susan and that she was going out with her friends, rather than caring for the baby. On June 15, 2009, the Bureau of Guardianship Services (BGS) was appointed as H.R.'s limited guardian to act on her behalf.
However, H.R. refused to cooperate with A.D. and she continued to leave the child alone to go out with her friends. Following a December 22, 2009 hearing, the trial judge directed DDD to assist the Division in placing H.R. in a group home close to her daughter. The Division was also directed to explore the possibility of placing Susan with relatives, but none were found who were interested or able to care for the child.
On May 26, 2010, the Division advised the trial judge that its plan was to seek termination of H.R.'s parental rights, followed by A.D. adopting Susan. In June 2010, H.R., now twenty years old, moved into a DDD group home. She had one-hour weekly supervised visitation with Susan at the local Division office.
H.R. was also permitted to have supervised visitation with the child at A.D.'s home. On those occasions, however, H.R. usually arrived with her boyfriend and only stayed between fifteen and thirty minutes. H.R. ran away from the DDD home several times.
On October 20, 2010, the Division filed its guardianship complaint. In January 2011, the Division referred H.R. to Robert Kanen, Psy.D., for a psychological and bonding evaluation. Dr. Kanen testified at trial and his written report was admitted in evidence.
As a result of his testing and observations, Dr. Kanen found that H.R. was cognitively impaired and mildly retarded. He testified that H.R. had limited capacity to recognize Susan's needs, to deal effectively with doctors and teachers, to function in daily life, and to understand the world around her. He opined that it was unlikely that H.R. would ever be able to support herself, or a child, independently. He also believed that H.R. would not be able to provide Susan with a permanent, safe and secure home and that the child would be exposed to unnecessary risk of harm if returned to H.R.'s care.
Dr. Kanen performed a bonding evaluation of H.R., Susan and A.D. While Susan and her mother were "familiar" with each other, Dr. Kanen testified that Susan did not perceive H.R. as a parental figure and that any attachment between them was "very impaired." On the other hand, Susan had a secure relationship with A.D. and considered her as the parental figure in her life. Because H.R. did not understand the implications of removing Susan from A.D.'s care, Dr. Kanen testified that H.R. would not be able to address the serious and enduring harm Susan would suffer if she were removed from A.D.'s home. In contrast, Dr. Kanen testified that Susan would suffer a separation and grief reaction if removed from H.R.'s care, but there would be no severe and lasting harm because A.D. would be able to mitigate any such harm. Finally, Dr. Kanen opined that, if Susan went to live with H.R. in a supervised DDD apartment, the child would be harmed because strangers would have "to take over the parenting of two people," Susan and H.R.
Mark Friedman, a DDD psychologist, testified for H.R. Based upon his evaluation, he confirmed Dr. Kanen's view that H.R. suffered from significant cognitive deficits. Nevertheless, he opined that, if H.R. was able to live in a setting where she could be supervised, she would be able to care for Susan.
During Friedman's bonding evaluation, he observed that Susan referred to A.D. as "mommy" and he testified that there was a stronger bond between A.D. and Susan than between H.R. and the child. Nevertheless, Freidman did not believe that Susan would suffer any long-term consequences if she was separated from A.D. because the child would ultimately realize that she was with her mother and "that's going to go a long way towards mitigation." Although A.D. had consistently expressed a willingness to continue to permit H.R. to have contact with Susan, Friedman felt that there was no guarantee that would always be the case.
Friedman recommended that DDD place H.R. in a supervised apartment with Susan. However, because H.R. had run away from her current DDD group home on several occasions, and because she had been aggressive with staff and placed on medication for that reason, Friedman conceded that H.R., herself, would need twenty-four-hour supervision.
Gabriela Escobar Garcia, a Division caseworker, testified that H.R. was unable to care for Susan. H.R. did not identify any relatives willing to care for her daughter.
Edward Wallace of the New Jersey Bureau of Guardianship Services, who was H.R.'s guardian for medical, legal, and residential decisions, testified that DDD had worked with the Division to help A.D. become a licensed DDD sponsor, which would enable H.R. to continue to live with Susan. However, A.D. was never able to complete the process. Miaron Goods, a DDD supervisor, testified that most DDD contract providers would not be able to accommodate a parent with a child. In addition, to live in a supervised program, the DDD client must be self-sufficient and require minimal staff supervision. H.R., however, would need twenty-four-hour supervision because of her cognitive deficiencies and behavior issues.
Following the two-day bench trial, the trial judge issued an order on
June 29, 2011 terminating H.R.'s parental rights to Susan.*fn3
However, the judge did not place her findings of fact and
conclusions of law on the record until November ...