NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES,  Plaintiff-Respondent,
B.C., Defendant-Appellant, and J.S. and G.R., Defendants. IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF J.E. and I.C.-P., minors.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted May 20, 2013.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Mercer County, Docket No. FG-11-76-09.
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Jennifer M. Kurtz, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
Jeffrey S. Chiesa, Attorney General, attorney for respondent (Lewis A. Scheindlin, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Stephanie Anatale, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, Law Guardian, attorney for minors J.E. and I.C.-P. (Christopher A. Huling, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
Before Graves, Ashrafi and Espinosa, Judges.
B.C. (Bonnie) appeals from the termination of her parental rights to two of her six children, J.E. (Jesse), born in March 2004, and I.C.-P. (Isabel), born in April 2008. The Law Guardian for the children supports the trial court's decision. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
From 2003 through November 2006, the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS or the Division) received several referrals alleging abuse by Bonnie. None of these were substantiated.
In February 2007, Bonnie lived with her three children, Sam, Jesse, and Michael. On February 6, 2007, Bonnie's aunt, C.C. (Carol), took Bonnie to Helene Fuld Hospital in Trenton, reporting Bonnie had come to her "home crying with her three children . . . stating she thought her home was on fire." Carol investigated and found "a ball of paper on fire under the boiler" at Bonnie's home. Carol was concerned because Bonnie had been "paranoid recently, non[-]compliant with outpatient treatment and medication, . . . under a lot of stress . . . [and] has a history of fire setting and of attempting to poison her father in Puerto Rico." Bonnie was diagnosed with "psychotic disorder not otherwise specified (NOS)."
On the following day, Bonnie was involuntarily committed to Trenton Psychiatric Hospital (TPH). A certification by Mohammad M. Bari, M.D., one of the psychiatrists who examined Bonnie in conjunction with this admission, states she "set fire in basement with kids home. Says she wanted to kill somebody . . . ."
Upon admission to TPH, Bonnie reported moving from Puerto Rico to the United States eight years earlier. She lived in an apartment with her three children, receiving monthly Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. Bonnie stated that, at eighteen or nineteen years old, she was dismissed from the police academy for allegedly attempting to poison her father. Carol also reported that Bonnie had been previously hospitalized four times, three times for depression and once for attempted suicide. According to TPH records, Bonnie admitted to starting the fire in her basement because she was depressed and "tired of putting up with unsanitary conditions." She regretted her actions and "expressed a willingness/desire to comply with treatment/medication when she returns to the community." She also admitted to hearing "voices" three years earlier. In a subsequent team meeting, Bonnie stated she believed "people [were] out to get her" and denied poisoning her father.
Bonnie's treating physician initially prescribed her Abilify, an antipsychotic mood stabilizer. On March 8, 2007, she was prescribed Risperdal, an antipsychotic medication. Abilify was discontinued in mid-March due to her complaints of dizziness. In its place, Lexapro was prescribed "for depression/anxiety."
On March 30, 2007, a psychological assessment of Bonnie was conducted at TPH by Glenn Ryer, Ph.D., who did not testify at trial. Ryer found Bonnie was "experiencing [a] moderate degree of depression, " but was not in a schizophrenic psychotic state. Ryer diagnosed Bonnie with schizoaffective disorder and opined "her future risk of arson can be mitigated by treating her underlying psychosis and contributing toward a constructive support [system]." He recommended therapy and medication.
Bonnie was discharged from TPH in April 2007. Her final diagnosis was "[p]sychotic disorder, not otherwise specified with features of anxiety and depression." She was provided with a thirty-day supply of Lexapro and referred to Greater Trenton Integrated Case Management Services (ICMS), a service designed to support mental health, housing, and employment goals, and Partners in Recovery, a daycare program.
Jesse and Michael were in the custody of F.E. (Frank), Michael's biological father, while Bonnie was hospitalized and remained there until September 2007. However, the Division received a referral from Carol that Frank was reportedly drunk, high on marijuana, and left the children unattended. The allegations were substantiated and the Division effectuated an emergency removal pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.29 and -8.30. The Division filed a verified complaint and order to show cause against Bonnie to obtain protective custody of Michael and Jesse, which was granted.
Both Jesse and Michael were placed with Bonnie's aunt, Nancy, who has legal custody of Sam.
Shortly thereafter, Jesse was placed with a Special Home Service Provider (SHPS) due to his severe autism. He was additionally diagnosed with ADHD and a severe mixed receptive-expressive language disorder.
In late September 2007, DYFS referred Bonnie to a Child Protection Substance Abuse Initiative (CPSAI) counselor. Bonnie stated she never had a full-time job. She also reported that, when admitted to TPH, "she was diagnosed . . . with depression and schizophrenia." She said she stopped taking her prescribed medication when she became pregnant with her fourth child in July 2007. Since her drug screens were negative, CPSAI services were terminated.
In late February 2008, Bonnie was referred to El Centro of Catholic Charities (Catholic Charities), "a program primarily for Spanish speaking individuals" that provided "general case management service[s]." DYFS provided her with a bus pass for transportation to the sessions. Bonnie engaged in Catholic Charities services, including individual counseling with bilingual therapist Mary Lopez and psychotropic medication monitoring with Dr. Robert Davis.
Initially, Bonnie was compliant with her medication regime. She told Lopez in July 2008 she had started taking her medication and it was helpful. Again, in an August 2008 meeting, Bonnie reported the medication "helped her control her emotions." Bonnie was discharged from medication monitoring because Bonnie unilaterally decided to stop taking her medication sometime in January 2009, although she was not pregnant at that time. Bonnie also missed approximately one-third of her scheduled appointments with Lopez over two years. According to Lopez, everything Bonnie disclosed about her life was positive. For example, Bonnie failed to tell Lopez about an incident in June 2010, in which her husband threatened to kill her with a knife during the middle of the night.
Bonnie gave birth to Isabel in April 2008. A DYFS caseworker met with Bonnie in the hospital and advised her that the Division had determined that, based on her psychological and psychiatric evaluations, the Division would have to take custody of Isabel. The caseworker further explained that Bonnie needed to become compliant with her medications. Bonnie replied that she did not have any mental health problems and did not know why the Division had her children. The Division filed an amended complaint, seeking protective custody of Isabel, which was granted. After placement with other maternal relatives failed, Isabel was placed with Carl and Megan, who want to adopt her.
In May 2008, Carol filed a domestic violence complaint against Bonnie. She alleged that Bonnie came to her residence with two men threatening to kill her unless she gave her Isabel, even though Carol did not have custody of the child.
In November 2008, the court held a permanency hearing and approved a plan to terminate Bonnie's parental rights to Michael, Jesse and Isabel; for Michael and Isabel to be adopted by relatives; and for the Division to pursue select home adoption for Jesse.
Between September 2007 and May 2009, Jesse resided in four foster homes. In May 2009, the Division received a letter from the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD), confirming Jesse's eligibility for services. He subsequently moved three more times before being sent to his current foster placement through the New Jersey MENTOR program. In the interim, DYFS pursued relative placements, but they ...