NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF CHILD PROTECTION AND PERMANENCY, Plaintiff-Respondent,
C.M., Defendant-Appellant IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF A.M. AND I.M., Minors.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 2, 2013
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Hudson County, Docket No. FG-09-146-12.
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Adrienne Kalosieh, Designated Counsel, on the briefs).
John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondent (Andrea M. Silkowitz, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel and on the brief).
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, Law Guardian, attorney for minors A.M. and I.M. (Tracye Wilson Elliot, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
Before Judges Sapp-Peterson, Lihotz and Hoffman.
Defendant C.M. (Carol) appeals from the Family Part order terminating her parental rights to her then twelve-year-old son, A.M. (Adam), and her then nine-year-old daughter, I.M. (Ida).After reviewing the record in light of the contentions advanced on appeal, we affirm, substantially for the reasons stated by Judge Bernadette DeCastro in her cogent written opinion issued on February 19, 2013.
We derive the following facts from the trial record. Between January 2001 and September 2009, the Division of Youth and Family Services received five referrals about Carol and her family, all alleging neglect. These reports concerned the children's poor attendance at school, poor personal and dental hygiene, and inadequate medical care. In February 2008, Carol admitted she had problems with Adam's dental care; he had not seen a dentist in several years because she did not have Medicaid.
On September 15, 2009, Carol's friend, T.J., informed the Division that Carol was giving her custody of Adam and Ida because Carol did not have stable housing or employment. T.J. explained the children had been living with her since August 2009, and she did not know where Carol was living. She further stated that Carol visited the children about once a week. After investigating this referral, and locating Carol, the Division developed a case plan for Carol, including a written list of basic necessities Carol needed to provide for her family. By December 16, 2009, Carol had not yet addressed any items from the list.
On March 17, 2010, the Division received a referral alleging that Carol had been homeless for the last year and appeared to be developmentally disabled. The referral further reported a severe truancy issue with the children.
Because of this report, on March 18, 2010, a Division investigator visited Carol at her cousin's apartment, where she had been residing. Prior to staying with her cousin, Carol and her children resided with her father until he was evicted. Carol informed the investigator that they never had their own apartment; in fact, she and her children frequently moved around to relatives' apartments. She further stated she was unemployed and received welfare in the amount of $322 and food stamps in the amount of $475. Carol also told the investigator she was receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for a learning disability.
The investigator informed Carol that the Division was concerned about Adam and Ida missing school. Carol acknowledged they missed a lot of school and attributed it to her lack of stable housing. The investigator determined that Adam and Ida shared a mattress on the floor of an apartment leased by Carol's cousin. Based upon Carol's candid statements regarding her living situation, the Division became concerned about her ability to get her children to school or otherwise provide their day-to-day needs, including stable housing. Additionally, both children exhibited poor hygiene, needed to see a dentist immediately, and were overdue for immunizations.
Shortly after this visit, Carol's cousin asked her to move out. Carol and her children moved back with her father, who was then living in senior citizen housing. Carol stated she was unable to receive temporary rental assistance because she did not have a recent eviction notice. Carol further noted that she did not have enough cash for a security deposit; consequently, she and her children had no other option but to stay with her father in his senior housing, even though non-residents were not permitted to stay there.
On April 20, 2010, the same reporter from the March 17 referral informed the Division that Adam was still missing school. At this point, the Division substantiated the allegations of educational neglect. The school also informed the Division that both children were in danger of failing because of their substantial absences.
On June 1, 2010, the Division referred Carol to Charles E. Daly, Ph.D. for a psychological evaluation. After interviewing Carol and administering several diagnostic tests, Dr. Daly reported that "[Carol] is extremely deficient in cognitive potential, i.e. her ability to learn and organize data." He stated that Carol is "unable to take care of her children at this point in time and it is quite amazing that nothing serious has happened to them to date." Dr. Daly further indicated his belief that Carol was "depressed, cognitively impaired, " had a thought disorder, and kept so much to herself that "she virtually lives a schizotypal existence." Carol admitted in the evaluation that she "can't take care of [the] kids without any help." Additionally, Carol claimed to hear voices and speak to people she sees "in ghost form". Notably, she could not tell Dr. Daly how much money she made each year, even though it was a fixed amount; she did state that "[e]very time I get it, I want to spend it." Dr. Daly determined she had "no conceptualization of money and how to use it properly for her and her family's well-being." Dr. Daly concluded that "the likelihood of [Carol] reaching a level of independence where she can care for children without a strongly structured support system is little to none."
On June 18, 2010, Larry E. Dumont, M.D. completed a psychiatric evaluation of Carol and noted she had some underlying developmental delays. He also expressed concerns about Carol's ability to provide for her children on a consistent basis, especially considering her unstable living situation and limited funds. Dr. Dumont further opined that the children "need a more structured and consistent custodial situation[.]"
On June 29, 2010, the Division filed a complaint seeking custody of Adam and Ida pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21 and N.J.S.A. 30:4C-12. At a hearing held that same day, the court determined that keeping the children in the custody of Carol would "be contrary to [their] welfare . . . due to [Carol] being developmentally delayed and not being able to [exercise] appropriate judgment to ensure the safety of the children." The court granted the Division legal and physical custody of Adam and Ida, who were then placed in foster care.
On June 30, 2010, Division staff met with Carol and explained why her children were removed. They discussed housing instability, hygiene, emotional neglect, money management, and Carol's developmental disability; they further explained the Division's expectations and services, with the goal of reunification. The Division told Carol they would assist ...