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New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. Q.H.

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

October 4, 2013

NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, [1] Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
Q.H. and A.H., Defendants-Appellants. IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF K.C.H., a Minor.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted September 24, 2013

On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Mercer County, Docket No. FG-11-24-12.

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant Q.H. (Janet A. Allegro, Designated Counsel, on the brief).

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant A.H. (Celeste Dudley-Smith, Designated Counsel, on the brief).

John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondent (Andrea M. Silkowitz, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Ms. Silkowitz and Julie Bristensen, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, Law Guardian, attorney for minors Q.H. and A.H. (Nancy P. Fratz, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, on the brief).

Before Judges Reisner, Ostrer and Carroll.

PER CURIAM.

Defendants Q.H. and A.H., the biological parents of K.C.H., appeal separately from the July 20, 2012 judgment terminating their respective rights to K.C.H. On these appeals, which we have consolidated, defendants contend that the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (Division) did not prove by clear and convincing evidence the four prongs of the best interests test. N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a). The Law Guardian supports the termination on appeal, as it did before the trial court.

Based on our review of the record and applicable law, we are satisfied the evidence in favor of the guardianship petition adequately supports the termination of defendants' parental rights. See, e.g., N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. M.M., 189 N.J. 261, 279 (2009) (holding that a reviewing court should uphold the factual findings respecting the termination of parental rights if they are supported by substantial and credible evidence in the record as a whole). Accordingly, we affirm.

I.

We discern the following facts from the trial record. The family first came to the attention of the Division on April 30, 2010, approximately seven months prior to the birth of K.C.H. in November 2010. There were four referrals from April 30, 2010 through June 24, 2010, the first three of which proved unfounded. However, with respect to the June 24, 2010 referral, the Division was informed that Q.H. had left her son, Alex, [2] with family members for the past two weeks, had not made any contact with them, and that Q.H. was homeless. During the investigation that followed, a caseworker from the Division explained that Q.H. was unable to be properly interviewed because she "yelled, provided inconsistent information and refused to answer the caseworker's questions." As a result, Alex was temporarily placed in the custody of A.H., who at that time was believed to be Alex's biological father.[3]

In July 2010, Q.H. missed three scheduled appointments for a substance abuse evaluation. On August 2, 2010, Q.H. told the Division that she was unable to find stable housing, and had been staying with various family members. Q.H. disclosed that she was five months pregnant and claimed that she had not smoked any marijuana for a period of two months. On August 2, 2010, the Division contacted Huchet House, a housing program for expectant mothers in need, and was told that Q.H. would not be allowed into the program due to "out of control" behavior that she had exhibited the previous time she had been in the program.

On August 4, 2010, Q.H. contacted the Division expressing concerns that she had for Alex because A.H. had been arrested. The Division sent a caseworker to A.H.'s home on August 6, 2010, and A.H. informed the caseworker that he had been arrested for a traffic warrant but had subsequently been released. During the two days of A.H.'s incarceration, Alex was taken care of by A.H.'s mother, D.H. The caseworker described the home as "cluttered and messy, " stated that D.H. was yelling and cursing in the background during her conversation with A.H. A.H. told the caseworker he did not intend to move out of D.H.'s home in the near future.

On August 9, 2010, the Division conducted a Family Team meeting, with Q.H. and A.H. both present, in order to enable the family to make decisions about Alex's future needs. The meeting established the needs of Q.H. as being housing, employment, a psychological evaluation, and anger management. A.H.'s needs were employment, finishing high school, obtaining a New Jersey identification card, paternity testing, and a psychological evaluation. Defendants signed a family agreement stating that they would take steps to make these changes.

On August 30, 2010, at the Division's request, Q.H. underwent a psychological evaluation performed by Jamie Gordon-Karp, Psy.D. Dr. Karp's report, dated September 15, 2010, contained the following recommendations:

1. [Q.H.] should be evaluated by a [p]sychiatrist in order to determine whether she is in need of medication. [Q.H.] admitted to sadness and anger. Bipolar disorder runs in the family. Medication may help stabilize her mood.
2.[Q.H.] is in need of individual therapy. The initial goal of therapy is to provide her with support and understanding. As a therapeutic relationship develops the therapist could work with [Q.H.] on ways to control her emotions. She must learn how to think before she acts and consider the consequences for her actions.
[Q.H.'s] anger has destroyed her relationships with others and if she does not learn how to control it then it is likely to affect her life once she decides to join the work force. In addition, although [Alex] has been described as a bright and well behaved child, as he ages parenting may become more challenging.
[Q.H.] must understand that if she does not control her anger it is likely to have an impact on her parenting and hence her children.
3.[Q.H.] is in need of housing in order to provide her children with stability.
4.[Q.H.] should continue to participate in parenting classes.
5. Urine screens should be performed to ensure that [Q.H.] is drug free.
6. The Division should continue to monitor [Q.H.] in order to ensure she is attending to her son's needs.

On September 1, 2010, the Division conducted a visit with Q.H. and Alex, during which Q.H. stated she was looking into finding proper housing. At this time, Q.H. signed a case plan agreeing that she and Alex would continue to live with Q.H.'s parents until the birth of K.C.H., and that she would attend the recommended treatment programs. However, on September 14, 2010, the Division was informed that Q.H. had not been attending her counseling sessions, and that neither she nor Alex were residing with Q.H.'s parents, who did not know their whereabouts. On October 12, 2010, Q.H. contacted the Division, but refused to disclose her whereabouts or meet with her caseworker to discuss the situation. The next day, the Division spoke with Q.H.'s father, W.C.M., who told the caseworker that Q.H. would not be permitted to return to his home, because Q.H. had allegedly tried to steal money from his wife's bank account.

On October 14, 2010, Q.H. contacted the Division from her parents' residence requesting "help". The caseworker advised Q.H. that she should consider entering the program that had been recommended for her previously, or possibly arrange for Alex to be placed with a relative. Q.H. refused to enter the program and told the caseworker that she did not have any relatives willing to take Alex. W.C.M. contacted the Division shortly after this call and explained that Q.H. was acting crazy and throwing things around his home, and that the police had arrived on the scene.

Two caseworkers went to the home and attempted to take custody of Alex. Q.H. refused to sign the appropriate forms for emergency removal. Following Alex's emergent removal, on October 18, 2010, the Division was awarded custody of Alex, and Q.H. was ordered to complete a substance abuse ...


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