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

November 26, 2012


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Hudson County, Docket No. FG-09-129-10.

Per curiam.



Submitted: October 24, 2012

Before Judges Axelrad, Sapp-Peterson and Nugent.

T.M. (Tracy)*fn1 appeals from an October 26, 2011 judgment of guardianship of the Family Part terminating her parental rights to her then almost sixteen-year-old daughter, C.M. (Christi), and twelve and one-half year-old daughter, N.P. (Nancy).*fn2 She argues the Division of Youth and Family Services*fn3 (Division) did not prove by clear and convincing evidence the four prongs of the termination statute. The Law Guardian supports the termination on appeal as it did before the trial court.

Based on our review of the record and applicable law, we are satisfied the evidence in favor of the guardianship petition overwhelmingly supports the termination of Tracy's parental rights. See, e.g., N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. M.M., 189 N.J. 261, 279 (2009) (holding a reviewing court should uphold the factual findings respecting the termination of parental rights if they are supported by substantial and credible evidence in the record as a whole). Accordingly, we affirm.


Tracy is the mother of two daughters, Christi, born on December 15, 1995, and Nancy, born on February 17, 1999. Tracy has a history of mental illness, and the Division has been involved with her and her family since April 27, 2004.

On May 7, 2008, the Division executed an emergency removal of the children due to Tracy being arrested and incarcerated for a bomb scare. Christi and Nancy were temporarily placed in the care of a family friend. The Division promptly filed a Verified Complaint and an Order to Show Cause for Temporary Custody with Removal and Appointment of a Law Guardian. On that same day, the parties appeared before the court, which granted custody of the girls to the Division based on Tracy's incarceration and the "risk of injury to children in making false public alarms due to possible paranoia and schizophrenia." The girls were placed with their maternal grandmother K.H. (Katherine), and her husband A.H. (collectively the grandparents) in August 2008.

On May 6, 2009, the judge entered a Permanency Order as she found the Division's plan of Kinship Legal Guardianship (KLG) with the grandparents to be acceptable because of Tracy's "unstable mental illness." On October 30, 2009, following numerous compliance reviews, the Division filed a Complaint for Guardianship of the girls.

After several management conferences, on September 20, 2010, Judge Elaine Davis entered a Permanency Order, which approved the termination of Tracy's parental rights followed by the adoption of the children by the grandparents as Tracy had not addressed her mental health issues. On September 19, 2011, the judge entered another Permanency Order approving the identical plan for the exact same reasons. At the conclusion of trial on October 26, 20ll, Judge Davis set forth her findings on the record and entered the guardianship judgment.


At trial, the Division presented the testimony of Dr. Charles E. Daly, a psychologist, and Amy Cottrell, a Division caseworker. Tracy testified on her behalf. The following testimony and evidence was presented in connection with this matter.

The record is replete with interaction by the Division with Tracy and the girls beginning on April 27, 2004, regarding Tracy's mental health concerns and problems supervising her children. The Division referred Tracy for a psychological evaluation in December 2004, during which she indicated bizarre concerns about her daughters with delusional proportions to them. The psychologist diagnosed Tracy with delusion and schizoid personality disorders and recommended she submit to a psychiatric evaluation to determine her need for medication and long-term psychotherapy.

In April 2005, a psychiatrist also diagnosed Tracy with paranoid schizophrenia and a personality disorder and recommended both Tracy and her daughters be referred for counseling, and Tracy take medication. The Division decided against closing its file after investigating an incident in November 2005, involving possible sexual contact by Christi with another minor and lack of supervision by Tracy. On November 10, 2005, the Division and Tracy developed a case plan in which Tracy agreed to supervise Christi at all times and to cooperate with the Division. At that time, the goal was family stabilization. Over the next two years, the Division continued to be involved with the family.

On September 7, 2007, the Division received a referral that Tracy had expressed fear that someone was going to attack her and her children. According to the report, Tracy would not identify "who was going to attack her, why she would be attacked or when she would be attacked," but only that it would be "in retaliation to something (unknown) that occurred a while ago."

The girls were interviewed at school and appeared to be safe and well groomed, and the only concerns they expressed about their mother was that she was attempting to find a job. Tracy told the caseworker the purported pending attack was a miscommunication, and it involved a warrant that had arrived at her house, but was not in her name, so she notified the police. Tracy denied having any problems or worries other than having difficulty finding a job, in part, because she experienced symptoms of anxiety, which made it difficult for her to leave the house.

Tracy also disclosed she had gone to Bayonne Community Mental Health Center (BCMHC) for depression, but no longer had those symptoms. Nevertheless, at her assessment at BCMHC on September 27, 2007, Tracy acknowledged she had previously been diagnosed there with paranoid schizophrenia and was prescribed medication. She was diagnosed with anxiety, fear, depression, specific phobia, situational type, and agreed to attend weekly individualized counseling and undergo a psychological evaluation.

On April 30, 2008, the Division investigated another referral involving Tracy. The reporter indicated that Tracy believed people were out to get her, and people "had been taking her daughter's blood and making the children drink urine." The children denied the accusations and the caseworker did not observe any apparent marks or bruises on the children's arms, so the Division determined the allegations were unfounded.

On May 7, 2008, the Division received a referral from the Bayonne Police Department alleging Tracy wrote the following on a t-shirt: "[h]e sent a car with a bomb/it's in the parking lot/purple [L]esabre." Apparently, Tracy climbed out to the fire escape and tied the shirt to the window of the third floor. A neighbor saw the shirt and called police. When the police arrived at Tracy's apartment, the door was locked and there was no response from inside. The police cleared the building, brought a bomb-sniffing dog to the scene, and placed the fire department on standby. The bomb dog checked both the vehicle and apartment with negative results.

In the interim, Christi and Nancy had walked home from school because Tracy had failed to pick them up as planned. Christi told the police she was unaware of her mother's whereabouts. The girls were released into Nancy's father's care. Eventually Tracy arrived at the apartment. She explained to the police that she hung the t-shirt outside because she was upset that the purple LeSabre had been in the lot and had not been moved for a few months. She had hoped the threat would get the vehicle towed. Tracy was arrested, taken to the hospital where she was cleared psychologically and medically for incarceration, and then charged with risk of causing widespread injuries and raising false public alarm.

While in a holding cell, Tracy told a Division worker she was arrested because she thought someone was trying to kill her and her daughters. She also stated that someone put a bomb in front of her home in order to kill her and her daughters, and she was being threatened and harassed. When asked why Tracy felt this way, Tracy told the caseworker ...

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