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New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. L.T.

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

October 3, 2013

L.T., Defendant-Appellant IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF T.D.W. and J.S.W., Minors


Submitted September 9, 2013

On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, Docket No. FG-07-0128-10.

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Susan Curtin Gouldin, Designated Counsel, on the brief).

John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondent (Andrea M. Silkowitz, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Kendra Andrews, 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 Ashrafi, St. John and Leone.


Defendant-mother, L.T., appeals from the judgment of the Family Part terminating her parental rights to two daughters, T.D.W. and J.S.W., now ages thirteen and ten. We affirm.

Defendant also has three older daughters, now twenty-one, twenty, and seventeen years old. She and the children have been involved with DYFS virtually all their lives. In the 1980s, defendant and seven of her siblings were removed from her mother's custody because of the mother's abuse of alcohol and drugs and her inability to provide adequate care and nurture for her children. Defendant lived in different foster homes during much of her childhood, periodically running away. She was sexually abused by an older relative, as had been her own mother in her childhood. Defendant was suspended from school while in the tenth grade and never returned.

Defendant's first daughter was born in 1992 when defendant was eighteen years old, and the next two girls were born by 1995. DYFS received a referral in 1996 that defendant was physically abusive toward the girls. Over the next several years, DYFS received five additional referrals of abuse or neglect of the girls, and it substantiated some of the referrals and not others. DYFS provided services to address defendant's difficulties in caring for her children.

The older of the two girls who are the subject of this appeal was born in 1999. In 2002, one of her sisters came to school with a black eye. DYFS investigated and determined that defendant was disciplining the girls with a belt and had punched the eight-year-old child in the face. DYFS removed the child and her three sisters from defendant's care. DYFS then provided further services to defendant and the children. While the four girls were in the custody of DYFS, the youngest of the five daughters was born, in 2003. Defendant tested positive for use of marijuana at the time of the baby's birth.

Defendant took advantage of the services provided by DYFS, and the family was reunited in 2004. For the next two years, all five girls lived with defendant. From time to time, the household included the father of the two youngest girls. DYFS continued to provide services to the family after the reunification, including financial assistance so that defendant could pay arrearages on her utility bills for their home. In October 2006, the father of the two youngest girls died of leukemia. According to defendant, she suffered from severe depression after his death.

In April 2008, DYFS received a referral that defendant was living with her three youngest daughters in an apartment without electricity and that the girls were otherwise neglected. (The two oldest girls were living with their father's family at that time.) DYFS investigated the referral and found defendant's apartment had no electricity for more than a month, defendant being $2, 600 in arrears on paying her electric bill. An extension cord from a neighboring apartment provided the only electric power for defendant's apartment.

Defendant's lack of financial means seemed to be a result of her long-term unemployment and also her chronic use of marijuana. She received Section Eight housing assistance from the federal government, and her personal obligation on rent was only $40 per month. She also received food stamps and a monthly welfare payment. She and her daughters had a home and food, but defendant repeatedly failed to pay her utility bills. When DYFS investigated the April 2008 referral, it determined that defendant had no money although she had just received her ...

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