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New Jersey Division of Child Protection & Permanency v. T.R.R.

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

December 6, 2013

T.R.R., Defendant-Appellant. IN THE MATTER OF GUARDIANSHIP OF J.I.D., a minor.


Submitted November 4, 2013

On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Mercer County, Docket No. FG-11-45-10.

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Kevin G. Byrnes, Designated Counsel, on the brief).

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

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, Law Guardian, attorney for minor (Charles Ouslander, Designated Counsel, on the brief).

Before Judges Ashrafi and St. John.


Defendant-mother, T.R.R., appeals from a judgment terminating her parental rights to her youngest child. The Division of Child Protection and Permanency (the Division) removed the child at birth because of defendant's mental illness and inability to provide an adequate home for her children. Defendant has pursued mental health treatment, but the circumstances that prompted removal of the child have not improved. The child has lived with the same foster mother since birth and views her as his only parent. After a guardianship trial, the Family Part terminated defendant's parental rights so that the child can be adopted by his foster mother.

Defendant argues that the Division's proofs did not meet the statutory criteria for termination of her parental rights. She also argues that her appointed trial attorney did not represent her effectively. We reject these arguments and affirm the judgment.


Defendant and A.D. have four children together. The three older children, born from 1990 to 2000, all live with A.D. and are not part of this appeal. The child who is the subject of this appeal, J.I.D., was born in March 2009. A.D.'s parental rights are not at issue because he completed an identified surrender of the child so that he can be adopted.

The Division has been involved with defendant-mother since she was a child. In 2006, the Division substantiated that defendant neglected her two older sons. Defendant had brought her six-year-old son to the hospital after he had been vomiting for two days. The medical staff found that the child had very high levels of lead, but defendant left the hospital before a doctor could see the child. Staff described defendant as speaking "sporadically" and "not really making sense." The Division investigated and found defendant's home to be in deplorable condition and a safety and health hazard. During the home inspection, defendant acted aggressively toward the Division's caseworkers, requiring police intervention. The Family Part subsequently approved the Division's plan that the older children live with their father, where they continued to reside to the time of the guardianship trial in this case.

In October 2006, defendant demanded the return of her children, and she attempted to run a car off the road in which her two sons and their father were riding. Defendant also went to the children's school and was disruptive.

In November 2008, the Division received a new referral stating that defendant, who was now pregnant, was again living with the children and their father. According to the father, defendant tried to move in a few days earlier, but he asked her to leave because she did not "look right." Defendant later tried to force her way into the home, and the father called the police.

In March 2009, the Division removed the youngest child from defendant's care at the time of his birth because defendant was diagnosed with schizophrenia and she would be involuntarily committed after her discharge from the hospital. At defendant's request, the Division placed the child with defendant's friend, Y.S. The Family Part approved the child's removal because of defendant's hospitalization, her mental health difficulties, and her lack of a plan for the child's care.

A Division caseworker spoke with defendant later in March 2009. Defendant said she was living at a shelter in Philadelphia and asked to visit with the child. The Division scheduled and conducted supervised visitations.

On April 14, 2009, defendant appeared in court for a Child Placement Review Board meeting, but she was removed by the police after she began cursing and yelling. The police arrested her for an outstanding warrant and incarcerated her. While incarcerated, defendant became involved in several physical altercations. She remained incarcerated until June 30, 2009, when she was transferred to a mental health treatment facility. Defendant continued to be combative after being transferred. As a result of these events, the Division withdrew a referral for visitations with the child.

At a fact finding hearing in the Family Part on July 10, 2009, the court found defendant needed mental health services and assistance to obtain housing. The Division provided defendant with bus passes and reminded her she had a psychological evaluation on August 24, 2009, which had been rescheduled after she missed a previous appointment. Defendant missed the August 24, 2009 evaluation, and she also missed her next two evaluation appointments.

In the meantime, defendant visited with the child in his foster home, but only sporadically. On July 30, 2009, defendant cancelled a visit scheduled to occur the next day because she "had things to do." Defendant then showed up the next day and demanded to visit with her child. The foster mother allowed defendant to visit, but defendant later refused to leave the house. She declared she could visit with her child anytime she wanted. As a result, the foster mother refused to supervise any more visits. The Division told defendant it would supervise future visits at a different location and ordered defendant not to contact the foster mother. Defendant did not cooperate with the Division's effort to set up visitation with the child.

Defendant continued to contact the foster mother and her family in a harassing manner. The Division then made a referral for visitation through another service agency. The foster mother later complained that the child would return home irritable after these visitations, perhaps caused by defendant's failure to change the child's diaper regularly and properly.

Meanwhile, on August 18, 2009, defendant began living at a shelter in Trenton to which the Division had referred her, but she was "very disruptive" at the shelter. She would leave after curfew, she would hear voices, and she would accuse others of taking things she simply had misplaced.

In September 2009, defendant began to participate in a recovery program. She saw a psychiatrist and was compliant with her medications. She attended most of the therapy sessions.

In November 2009 the Division provided to defendant a visitation schedule, bus passes, and notification of her upcoming psychological evaluation. On November 20, 2009, defendant attended the psychological evaluation with Dr. Alan J. Lee. She told Dr. Lee she had been living at a shelter in Trenton since July 2009. She acknowledged her recent incarcerations and said she was on probation for engaging in domestic violence towards the father. She said she was on welfare, but she did not know why she was unemployed. Defendant told Dr. Lee she was currently prescribed Abilify but had previously been prescribed a range of other medications. She reported being compliant with her current medication. However, she did not know of any mental health diagnosis. She also did not know why she had been previously hospitalized or when she had attended group therapy.

Defendant told the doctor inaccurately that she visited with the child weekly since his birth and never missed a visit. She also allegedly visited with her other children daily and without supervision. Although her goal was to reunite with her youngest child, she did not have a plan for obtaining housing.

Dr. Lee described defendant as being "somewhat disheveled" and "exud[ing] a strong odor." He also found defendant to drift off periodically, which defendant denied. Defendant also denied problems with her mood or behavior despite being aggressive and paranoid. Dr. Lee concluded that defendant's "prognosis for significant and lasting change" was "poor, " ...

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