On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, Docket No. FG-07-0081-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 1, 2012
Before Judges Parrillo, Fasciale and Maven.
Defendant, T.N.C., appeals from an order of the Family Part terminating her parental rights to all five of her children: T.T.C., born April 26, 1999; S.S.R.B., born March 28, 2003;
S.J.T.B., born November 1, 2004; S.S.L.B., born April 10, 2006; and K.S.L.B., born January 4, 2008.*fn2 We affirm.
By way of background, the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (Division) first became involved with defendant in October 1999, shortly after the birth of her first child, T.T.C. Although the allegation that defendant was unable to care for T.T.C. was deemed unfounded, another referral on February 7, 2000, resulted in T.T.C.'s placement in foster care. In 2002, defendant's sister, Alice, assumed legal and physical custody of T.T.C.
Between October 2005 and April 2008, the Division continued to receive numerous referrals concerning defendant. Although these referrals were ultimately determined to be unfounded, the Division opened the case for supervision "due to [defendant's] having a learning disability [sic]," and commenced the provision of services, including, among other things, homemaker services (from March 6, 2006 through October 27, 2006); a parent aide; a home health aide; and daycare and other assistance for the children. Apparently, the parent aide services the Division provided were discontinued in April 2007 "[d]ue to the lack of cooperation by [defendant] in making herself available" for the aide's visits.
On September 24, 2007, S.S.R.B.'s preschool reported that an unknown male had dropped the child off at the wrong school. Although the neglect allegations were deemed unfounded, Division records indicate that an investigator went to defendant's home to discuss the allegations, and reported that the children lacked beds, that the home was unclean and that there was insufficient food. The report also indicated that defendant was five-months pregnant with K.S.L.B., but had only recently begun receiving prenatal care.
On September 27, 2007, the Division prepared a case plan requiring defendant to provide for the children's basic needs, which defendant signed shortly after K.S.L.B.'s birth on January 4, 2008, agreeing to meet her children's basic needs with the help of her cousin, L.K. Each of the children save S.J.T.B., however, has specialized needs. T.T.C. suffers from multiple delays, behavioral problems and ADHD, and occasionally requires medication. S.S.R.B. has speech delays and hyperactivity issues that require medication. He is also classified as mentally handicapped. S.S.L.B. was "pre-school handicapped," and suffered from speech and developmental delays. K.S.L.B. suffers from Type 1 diabetes and requires insulin before every meal.
The Division received additional referrals on January 10, 2008, and February 11, 2008. Although neglect was not found, the Division again began providing defendant weekly homemaker services, effective January 25, 2008.
There was an incident on April 29, 2008, wherein defendant experienced what was later professionally diagnosed as a "psychotic break." Defendant had taken K.S.L.B., who was then three-months old, to the emergency room of the local hospital because the infant was coughing, vomiting and not eating well. When the doctor told defendant that her child had a small cold, defendant insisted the infant be admitted for observation.
Defendant refused to leave, and allegedly wandered around the hospital speaking incoherently. A Division worker met defendant at the hospital and transported her and K.S.L.B. back home. Although the Division representative recommended that defendant submit to a psychological evaluation and attend parenting classes, the psychological evaluation would not actually occur until July 2008.
Meanwhile, Division involvement with the family escalated in May 2008. During a routine visit, defendant's cousin informed Division caseworker, Nicole Davis, that S.B. was abusing defendant, and that defendant at times used her children as shields. Defendant admitted that S.B. was abusing her, and asked the Division to place her in a shelter.
A series of shelter placements followed, each relatively shortened either because of defendant's request, her inability to control her children, or a previous negative experience. During this time, the Division attempted, but was unable, to provide defendant with parenting assistance.
On May 29, 2008, the Division filed a neglect complaint for the care of all the children except T.T.C., who at the time was still residing with defendant's sister, Alice. The court granted the application and appointed a law guardian to represent the children.
Meanwhile, the Division contacted the Newark Housing Authority (NHA) to arrange an emergency transfer, and provided defendant funds to pay back rent that she owed to the NHA. Unfortunately, suitable housing was not immediately available. Therefore, on June 4, 2008, defendant arranged to stay with her sister Alice. During this time, defendant was not provided a parent aide because Alice did not want strangers coming into her home. However, the Division did provide defendant a bus card, parenting classes and day care for the children.
On July 10, 2008, Dr. Mark Singer performed a psychological evaluation of defendant. Based on tests administered, Dr. Singer concluded that defendant was a "significantly intellectually limited individual" who was "functioning within the below average/lower extreme of IQ, as measured by standardized testing." He recommended that the Division assume custody of the children:
[Defendant] has requested that her children be placed by [the Division] and the data support[s] such a request. The above recommendations, if followed, are anticipated to protect [defendant's] children as she pursues steps which are aimed at increasing her ability to parent. The data, however, suggests that [defendant's] cognitive limitations are likely to continue to limit her ...