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New Jersey Division of Youth & Family Services v. J.K.V.

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

September 16, 2013

NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
J.K.V., Defendant-Appellant. IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF C.V., a minor.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted September 10, 2013

On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Morris County, Docket No. FG-14-75-11.

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Kisha M. Hebbon, Designated Counsel, on the brief).

John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondent (Andrea M. Silkowitz, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Alina B. Wells, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, Law Guardian, attorney for minor C.V. (Damen J. Thiel, Designated Counsel, on the brief).

Before Judges Sabatino and Hayden.

PER CURIAM

Defendant J.K.V., the biological mother of C.V., appeals the Family Part's termination of her parental rights to that child. The termination followed a two-day guardianship trial in June 2012, at which the court heard testimony from two caseworkers from the Division of Youth and Family Services ("the Division"), [1] the Division's expert psychologist, and C.V.'s foster mother.

C.V., who was born in April 2007, is defendant's fifth child. The four older children are not being raised by defendant, who has had a host of long-standing mental health problems and other functional difficulties. C.V.'s father, who apparently impregnated defendant in a sexual assault, has never been identified. At the time of C.V.'s birth, defendant was unemployed and living in a shelter.

Defendant had a very troubled childhood of her own. She spent a substantial portion of her youth in shelters, foster homes, and group homes. She suffered chronic and severe physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her father from the age of six until she was removed from the household at the age of twelve. Thereafter, defendant was abused in her foster and residential placements.

The Division became involved in the present matter in February 2010, when defendant's then-boyfriend, who is now deceased, reported that defendant was unable to care for C.V., who was almost three years old. When a caseworker came to the home to investigate, defendant admitted that she was having hallucinations on a regular basis. A "Dodd"[2] removal of C.V. was undertaken, and the Division placed her with the same foster family that she remained with as of the time of the 2010 trial. Defendant was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, where she received in-patient treatment for more than a year until her release in March 2011.

Although defendant achieved some improvement from her psychiatric treatment, she never was able to stabilize sufficiently to be reunified with C.V. She continued to have blackout episodes after her discharge, and in one incident caused the police to get involved after erroneously claiming that her children were missing. Nevertheless, the Division arranged for defendant to have periodic supervised visits with C.V., which have continued with court approval while the present appeal has been pending.

At the trial the only expert witness who testified, Elizabeth M. Smith, Psy.D., found that defendant has a number of strengths, including that she wants to be a good mother and is warm and attentive to C.V. However, the expert concluded that defendant is extremely fragile, has a major mental illness, is likely to continue to experience bouts of relapse and recovery, may continue to be in relationships with abusive men, and has self-medicated her mental illness. Dr. Smith opined that defendant is barely able to take care of herself, let alone a young child. Moreover, the bonding evaluations performed by Dr. Smith showed that C.V. is flourishing in her foster home and has a secure attachment with the foster mother. Dr. Smith concluded that severing that ...


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