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New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services,*Fn1 v. M.H

October 17, 2012


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Monmouth County, FG-13-59-10.

Per curiam.



Submitted September 19, 2012

Before Judges Parrillo and Sabatino.

Defendant, M.H., appeals from an August 17, 2011 order of the Family Part terminating her parental rights to her sons, E.B., born May 3, 2006, and S.H., born March 4, 2008.*fn2 We affirm.

M.H.'s three children were born with varying special medical and developmental needs. T.B. has been diagnosed with dwarfism and learning disabilities. E.B. has been diagnosed with autism. S.H. was born with weight issues but, after being removed from M.H. at just weeks old, is now developmentally on track and carries no diagnoses.

The Division first became involved with the family on September 8, 2007, when it was reported that M.H. was in an abusive relationship with M.B., who was drug involved. On October 1, 2007, the Division learned that M.H. and her children had moved to a shelter for domestic violence victims, where M.H. informed the Division that she was in fear of M.B. because he had physically abused her. She signed a case plan agreeing to undergo a psychological evaluation and accept services from the Division for herself and her children. Despite her representations to the Division, on November 13, 2007, M.H. left the shelter and reunited with M.B., who refused to cooperate with multiple substance abuse evaluations scheduled by the agency.

Four months later, on March 4, 2008, S.H. was born with weight issues. When the Division caseworker inquired about the older children's medical care, M.H. could not remember the last time they were seen by a pediatrician, and was unable to make an appointment without the caseworker's intervention. S.H. was scheduled to be seen by a pediatrician on March 20, 2008 due to concerns that he was not adequately gaining weight. After receiving a report that M.H. and M.B. refused to take S.H. to the scheduled appointment, the Division conducted an emergency removal of all three children that same day. It was thereafter learned that all of S.H.'s feeding bottles supplied by his parents were diluted and he was nutritionally deprived.

It was also ascertained, with respect to the other children, that T.B. required orthopedic appointments to determine whether surgery was needed to ensure proper leg development. And E.B., who was non-verbal and non-interactive, required extensive testing upon his placement in resource care that ultimately resulted in an autism diagnosis.

On March 25, 2008, the Division was granted custody of all three children. Thereafter, while M.B. resisted and eventually abandoned her on the streets of Asbury Park with no money, M.H. engaged in services arranged by the Division, including parenting and domestic violence classes, therapy, and therapeutic supervised visits. Despite her participation in these services, the Division determined that M.H.'s parenting ability did not improve and she remained unable to meet the needs of her children. In fact, in March, 2010, her therapeutic visitation was discontinued after eighteen months because M.H. failed to show any improvement in her parenting abilities and continued to have difficulty in effectively supervising her children.*fn3 For instance, M.H. was unable to comprehend E.B.'s limitations despite attempts to educate her, believing instead there was nothing wrong with E.B. And although she was informed of a variety of classes on parenting techniques for autistic children and offered transportation, she attended only two.

Reunification with her children was made even more difficult because of M.H.'s lack of stable housing. When she did secure housing around March 2010, after a period of homelessness and living with a variety of friends and family members, it was with an individual, G.W., who the Division discovered had a criminal background, was arrested for a domestic violence dispute, and failed to participate in services to address the abuse and neglect litigation involving his biological children. M.H. continued this relationship even after she was advised that he posed a risk to the health and safety of her own children, with whom she could not be reunited if her paramour remained in the home.

M.H. submitted to several evaluations throughout the Division's involvement with this family. As early as December 2007, Dr. Chester Sigafoos found M.H. to be mildly mentally retarded and suffering from a constellation of psychological disorders; moreover, she does not understand the nature of these disorders nor their impact on her ability to be an effective parent. According to Dr. Sigafoos, these disorders would interfere with M.H.'s ability to effectively parent her children:

[M.H.'s] limited intellectual functioning may contribute to an inability to read and comprehend basic printed instructions necessary to insure the health and well being of the child. Such limited intellectual functioning also consists of impaired abstract abilities. These cognitive deficiencies limit [her] ability to understand situations, even those of a simple nature, ...

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