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New Jersey Division of Youth & Family Services v. J.W.I.

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

June 12, 2013

NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
J.W.I., Defendant-Appellant, and R.P., Defendant. IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF T.R.I., T.K.I., AND S.A.I., Minors.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted May 15, 2013

On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Essex County, Docket No. FG-07-113-11.

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant J.W.I. (Beryl Foster-Andres, Designated Counsel, on the brief).

Jeffrey S. Chiesa, Attorney General, attorney for respondent New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (Andrea M. Silkowitz, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Merav Lichtenstein, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, Law Guardian, attorney for minors T.R.I., T.K.I. and S.A.I. (Todd Wilson, Designated Counsel, on the brief).

Before Judges Parrillo, Sabatino and Maven.

PER CURIAM

Defendant J.W.I. appeals from the final judgment of guardianship terminating her parental rights to three of her seven children: T.R.I. (Trey), T.K.I. (Todd) and S.A.I. (Sarah).[1] She argues that the court erred in finding that the Division of Youth and Family Services (Division)[2] established by clear and convincing evidence each element of the best-interests-of-the-child test under N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a). We affirm.[3]

Defendant is the thirty-eight year old mother of seven children, the four oldest of whom are in the custody of other relatives and are not the subject of this appeal. Trey, born August 22, 2001, and Todd, born May 24, 2007, are also in the custody of a relative, Evelyn, who wishes to adopt them. Sarah, born May 13, 2010, is in the custody of a friend of the family, Suely, who also wishes to adopt her.

While seventeen weeks pregnant with Todd, defendant, who was living at a Newark shelter with then five-year-old Trey, had twice tested positive for phencyclidine (PCP). On May 24, 2007, she gave birth to Todd. The hospital reported to the Division that defendant had tested positive for PCP and ecstasy, and Todd had tested positive for exposure to PCP, but had no withdrawal symptoms. The Division concluded that the allegations of neglect had been substantiated based on defendant's use of illicit drugs during her pregnancy.

Consequently, on May 25, 2007, the Division removed Trey from defendant's care and eventually placed him with Evelyn, his maternal cousin. Todd, who was designated as medically fragile, remained in the hospital on "hospital hold" because he had been born drug exposed, had a cleft palate, had difficulty in feeding, and failed a hearing test. Subsequently, on June 12, 2007, pursuant to a court order of removal, Todd was also placed with Evelyn, who had custody of Trey.

During psychological and substance abuse evaluations, defendant admitted she had been using marijuana for four years, had used PCP for seven years, and in the past thirty days had used PCP every day. She also reported having a criminal history, which included convictions for drug offenses, assault, and a weapons offense, for which she said she had spent a total of six to ten years in prison. Defendant was diagnosed with hallucinogen dependence.

Thereafter, defendant successfully completed the Straight and Narrow inpatient drug program and was discharged on July 25, 2008. She enrolled in the Newark Renaissance House outpatient program in August 2008, and successfully completed that program in January 2009. She obtained housing and employment, and in March 2009, began overnight unsupervised visits with Trey and Todd with the goal of reunification at the end of the school year.

On November 13, 2009, Trey and Todd were reunited with defendant while the Division's case remained open for supervisory services. While in defendant's care, Trey received special education services and Todd received speech therapy. The family initially adjusted well, ...


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