NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, Plaintiff-Respondent/ Cross-Appellant,
T.T., Defendant-Appellant/ Cross-Respondent.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted June 4, 2013.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Hudson County, Docket Nos. FG-09-107-11.
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant/cross-respondent T.T. (Catherine Reid, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
Jeffrey S. Chiesa, Attorney General, attorney for respondent/cross-appellant New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (Andrea M. Silkowitz, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Ann A. Huber, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, Law Guardian, attorney for the minors J.T., C.D., and G.D. (Todd Wilson, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
Before Judges Reisner, Yannotti and Harris.
Defendant T.T. appeals from the provision of a March 9, 2012 order, terminating her parental rights to her son G.D. (Gary). The Division of Youth and Family Services (Division) cross-appeals from the provision of the order declining to terminate T.T.'s parental rights to two other children, J.T. (Jill) and C.D. (Carrie).
We affirm the judgment of the Family Part, substantially for the reasons stated in Judge Bernadette DeCastro's comprehensive sixty-five page written opinion issued on March 9, 2012, her amended opinion issued April 12, 2012, and her opinion on remand dated August 23, 2012. However, we emphasize that our affirmance is without prejudice to the Division's right to refile the guardianship action with respect to Carrie or Jill, if adoption becomes a realistic prospect for either of them.
The guardianship trial spanned eight days, between November 15, 2011 and January 26, 2012. Judge DeCastro's March 9, 2012 opinion addressed the trial evidence at length. Rather than repeat that discussion in the same level of detail, we summarize the most pertinent facts as follows. The case concerns three of T.T.'s children -- Gary, who was born in May 2006, Carrie, born in June 2005, and Jill, born in October 2003. All of the children have special needs, and they have all been in out-of-home placements since January 16, 2008.
The Division first removed Jill from T.T.'s home in 2003, due to concerns about inadequate housing. Those concerns were quickly resolved and the child was returned to T.T. In 2006, the three children were removed on an emergent basis, when T.T. had a seizure in a Division office. The Division checked on the status of her children and found them living in filthy conditions with a babysitter who was an inappropriate caretaker. The children were returned to T.T. thereafter.
In January 2008, the Division became concerned that T.T. was delusional after she claimed that a baby, for whom she was caring, was her child. The Division again removed the children on an emergency basis, due to concerns about T.T.'s mental health and due to her resistance to the agency's efforts to conduct an investigation.
This pattern of mental health issues and non-cooperation was repeated over the next several years. T.T. repeatedly refused to cooperate with court-ordered drug testing, refused to let the assigned Division case worker inspect her home, and refused to allow psychologists or psychiatrists to evaluate her except on terms that she dictated. She also denied that she was mentally ill, although she periodically experienced mental health crises.
In March 2009, the court approved a permanency plan to reunite T.T. with her children. However, on March 29, 2009, T.T. was admitted to Christ Hospital, reportedly with suicidal ideations based on her ingesting pills and drinking alcohol. On April 3, 2009, T.T. was temporarily committed to a psychiatric facility after she exhibited suicidal behavior and carved her attorney's initials into her arm. During her hospitalization, she admitted that she had a long history of self-mutilating behavior. She was diagnosed with alcohol abuse, depressive disorder and bipolar disorder.
After her release, T.T. completed outpatient counseling provided by C-line, but did not complete additional psychiatric counseling that her C-line therapist recommended. In 2010, she refused to see a psychologist, Dr. Samiris Sostre, whom the Division had offered to provide her with therapy. Instead she demanded, among other things, that the agency pay $44, 000 to send her to a program in California, to treat an alleged eating disorder. Between May and July 2011, T.T. was psychiatrically hospitalized several times.
Meanwhile, the children were living in foster care. From January 2008 to September 2010, Gary lived with a foster parent couple, D.W. and M.S. In September 2010, his foster family moved to Georgia. Although they wanted to take Gary with them to Georgia, the court would not permit them to do so over T.T.'s objections. However, the first foster parents have continued to visit with Gary since the move, including taking him on a Christmas vacation to Georgia in December 2011, with the court's permission. They deal well with Gary's special needs and are willing to adopt him. Toward that end, they came to New Jersey for bonding evaluations prior to the guardianship trial.
After the first foster family moved to Georgia, Gary was placed in a second foster home. The second foster parent, J.T., is also willing to adopt him. However, Gary's preference is to live with the Georgia family, and all of the experts who testified supported that outcome.
Carrie has been in several foster homes since 2008. When the guardianship trial began, she was living with her fifth foster parent, G.C., who had expressed an interest in adopting her. However, during the trial, G.C. changed her mind. Jill has also been in several foster home placements. At the time of the guardianship trial, her most recent foster parent, G.P., had decided that she did not wish to adopt Jill.
According to Dr. Frank Dyer, who testified for the Division, both Jill and Carrie are "adoptable." At the time he evaluated Jill, she told him that she wanted to stay with her current foster mother, G.P., rather than returning to live with T.T. However, she also indicated that she very much missed T.T. Dr. Dyer found that Carrie had a strong attachment to T.T. At the time he evaluated Carrie, she was living with G.C., but G.C. had asked that Carrie be removed from her home due to her severe behavioral problems. Dr. Dyer observed that "it appears [T.T.] is the only constant adult figure in [Carrie's] emotional world."
Dr. Dyer evaluated Gary with his current and former foster parents. He found that Gary had the strongest bond with the former foster parents and that they were best able to deal with his hyperactive behavior. He found that the former foster parents were "so competent and attuned" that they could mitigate whatever negative effects might result from separating him from the current foster parent. He further opined that reuniting Gary with T.T. would place the child "at very high risk for severe and enduring emotional harm, " which T.T. did not have the ability to mitigate.
Dr. Dyer also evaluated T.T. During that evaluation, T.T. admitted that she had posted Division records on the internet as part of a YouTube video on what she characterized as corruption in the agency. Dr. Dyer found significant T.T.'s "lack of a reality orientation with respect to dealing with [the Division] and her fixed belief that every single thing that [the Division] did that in any way had an adverse effect on her was the result of corruption, malice and under-handedness on the part of the agency."
During the interview, T.T. refused to allow Dr. Dyer to perform the Personality Assessment Inventory, which was designed to measure "clinical syndromes" and "personality disorders." She told him that she had no mental illness and no need for mental health services, and she did not believe the test could measure personality. According to Dr. Dyer, other tests which T.T. did take "indicated very clearly that she has problems in terms of her reality testing." Based on his evaluation as well as her history, Dr. Dyer diagnosed T.T. with bipolar disorder, psychotic disorder not otherwise specified (NOS), and personality disorder NOS with borderline paranoid features. He opined that she suffered from "chronic mental illness."
Dr. Dyer opined that untreated bipolar disorder was a major impediment to T.T.'s ability to act as a parent, because it created mood swings, periods of "frantic activity" alternating with "periods of depression." He testified that her refusal to take medication to manage her bipolar condition, and her other mental health problems, was likely a manifestation of her paranoid personality. He also explained:
As long as [T.T.'s] various disorders go untreated, she remains at risk for further episodes of acting out which seem to take the form of her fabricating some kind of crisis scenario, engaging individuals to come to her aid, then turning on them . . . .
All of these episodes involve some degree of risk to a child in the subject's care. Number one because it's completely irrational behavior that models absolutely the wrong type of parenting behavior for a young child.
And also potentially exposes the child to a risk of physical harm because some of [T.T.'s] confrontations have involved the police, some have involved allegations that she has attempted suicide . . . .
Dr. Dyer also opined that T.T. was particularly unsuited to raising her three children, because all of them had special needs. Thus they would require "considerably more skill in terms of behavioral management, more understanding, more vigilant supervision." He testified that her "egregious failure to attend to her own" healthcare needs ...