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New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. L.C.D.

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

October 1, 2013

L.C.D. and B.M.E., Defendants-Appellants. IN THE MATTER OF GUARDIANSHIP OF Z.E., A.E., M.W., and S.W., Minors.


Submitted September 11, 2013

On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Middlesex County, Docket No. FG-12-96-10.

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant L.C.D. (Anthony J. Vecchio, Designated Counsel, on the brief).

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant B.M.E. (Peter Neely Milligan, Designated Counsel, on the brief).

John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondent (Andrea M. Silkowitz, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Susan Brown-Peitz, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, Law Guardian, attorney for minors (Christopher A. Huling, Designated Counsel, on the brief).

Before Judges Grall and Waugh.


In these consolidated appeals, [2] defendants L.D. (Lila)[3] and B.E. (Ben) appeal judgments entered by the Family Part terminating their respective parental rights to their children: Z.E. (Zoey), born in February 2007; A.E. (Amy), born in August 2008; M.W. (Mikey), born in September 2009; and S.W. (Sally), born in January 2011. We affirm.


We discern the following facts and procedural history from the record on appeal.

Lila is the mother of ten children, [4] the four youngest of whom are involved in these appeals. Those four children were fathered by Ben. The Division's first involvement with Lila, however, began in July 1996 with allegations of neglect involving her two oldest children.

Lila gave birth to Zoey, her seventh child, in February 2007. Both Zoey and Lila tested positive for cocaine when she was born. Lila was interviewed by a Division caseworker in the hospital. She admitted to using cocaine during her pregnancy, attributing her conduct to stress and educational neglect. She has a history of mental illness, and in the seven months prior to Zoey's birth, she refused to accept the Division's services.

After Lila was discharged, Zoey remained at the hospital in neonatal intensive care because of respiratory problems. The Division attempted to identify relative placements for Zoey, but was initially unsuccessful. Consequently, later in February, the Division effectuated an emergency removal of Zoey and Lila's six other children, and filed a Title Nine, N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21 to -8.73, complaint. The Family Part granted the Division custody and supervision of the children. Zoey was initially placed in foster care. In July, she was placed with Ben's cousin, R.G.

In April, Althea D. Lazzara, Psy. D., evaluated Lila and Ben to assess their psychological functioning and make recommendations to the Division for services. Lila told Lazzara that she only used cocaine once during her pregnancy with Zoey. At the time of the interview, she reported that she had been working through a temporary placement agency for less than a month.

Ben reported that he stopped using cocaine and heroin one or two years earlier. He admitted to a history of selling drugs. Ben had been working at a warehouse for less than one week at the time of the interview. Prior to that, he was receiving disability.

Lazzara recommended that Lila engage in a substance-abuse treatment program and individual mental-health counseling, and that she undergo random drug testing. Lazzara characterized Ben as uncooperative, hostile, guarded, and defensive. As a result, she could not accurately assess his functioning. She advised against unsupervised-parental visits with the children.

In fact, the Division had already arranged for substance-abuse treatment for Lila. In March, she was evaluated by a drug-and-alcohol abuse counselor at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ). The counselor reported that Lila's judgment was poor and diagnosed her with episodic-cocaine dependency. She was prescribed an anti-depressant. The counselor recommended two weekly meetings at Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and treatment. After sporadic attendance, UMDNJ suspended Lila from therapy because she required psychiatric hospitalization as a result of continued drug use along with the anti-depressant prescribed at UMDNJ.

Lila returned to UMDNJ in October for aftercare, having completed a three-week program at Bergen Regional Medical Center. Lila's therapist at UMDNJ reported that Lila had a long history of alcohol and cocaine use, having last used the substances one month prior to entering the treatment program at Bergen Regional Medical Center.

Between October 2007 and June 2008, Lila substantially complied with her treatment plan and participated in weekly individual-therapy sessions, women's group, monthly medication-management sessions, random drug screens, and self-help meetings. She completed an intensive-outpatient program on January 31, and another on June 5.

The Division referred Lila to Catholic Charities for classes on parenting skills. Lila began the classes in January 2008, and completed the program in May. Lila also participated in parenting time with Zoey. In April, the judge entered an order permitting unsupervised parenting time.

The Division arranged for a psychological evaluation of Ben at UMDNJ, where he was seen by Charles Kaska, Psy. D., in July. Ben denied past heroin use but admitted to marijuana use as a child. He denied any mental-health problems. Kaska concluded that Ben was not suffering from any mental condition that would preclude him from being an adequate parent and that he possessed the judgment, reasoning capacity, and emotional control to parent young children.

The Division subsequently obtained Ben's medical records. They revealed Ben's long history of substance abuse and mental-health problems, beginning in 1995. In fact, two weeks before his interview with Kaska, Ben had received treatment for paranoia and homicidal thoughts as an inpatient at UMDNJ. He required continuing treatment after his release. According to UMDNJ's records, Ben was unemployed, on welfare, and on probation in 2008. UMDNJ terminated Ben from its program in September, based on his lack of compliance.

Ben completed parenting skills classes at Catholic Charities in June. Ben also took advantage of supervised parenting time with Zoey on a sporadic basis.

Lila gave birth to Amy, her eighth child, in August. Both Lila and Amy tested negative for illegal substances. Lila was cooperative with her treatment program, and Amy was discharged to Lila's care. Zoey was reunified with Lila in September.

The Division referred Lila for in-home support under the Children At Risk: Resources and Interventions Program (CARRI). The CARRI staff observed that the children were achieving age-appropriate milestones but that Lila did not interact with them as needed. Lila told a Division worker that the CARRI program was not needed because she had cared for all of her children in the past.

In March 2009, the judge terminated the Title Nine litigation because the children had been returned to Lila's home. Lila and Ben, who were living together ...

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