NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF CHILD PROTECTION AND PERMANENCY, Plaintiff-Respondent,
C.T.J., Defendant-Appellant. IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF K.E.M., K.D.M., JR., C.N.S.M., T.T.J., and Z.M.G., minors.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 17, 2013
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, Docket No. FG-07-136-12.
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Jennifer B. Swift, Designated Counsel, on the briefs).
John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondent (Andrea M. Silkowitz, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Merav Lichtenstein, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, Law Guardian, attorney for minors, T.T.J. and Z.M.G. (Catherine Davila, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, Law Guardian, attorney for minors, K.E.M., K.D.M., Jr., and C.N.S.M. (Nancy P. Fratz, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, on the brief).
Before Judges Lihotz, Maven and Hoffman.
Defendant C.T.J. appeals from the Family Part order terminating her parental rights to five children and granting guardianship to the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (Division). On appeal, defendant argues the evidence was insufficient to satisfy the statutory requirements of N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a). The Law Guardian for the two youngest children supported termination before the trial court and, on appeal, joins the Division in urging us to affirm. The Law Guardian for the three older children objects to the court's determination, urging reversal and reunification with C.T.J.
Based on our review of the record and applicable law, we conclude the Division proved by clear and convincing evidence the requisite statutory factors required to terminate defendant's parental rights. Accordingly, we affirm for substantially the reasons expressed by Judge Ronald D. Wigler in his thorough and well reasoned forty-nine page written opinion of March 19, 2013.
Defendant is the mother of thirteen children. The five youngest children are the subject of this litigation, namely, K.E.M. born in 2002; K.D.M. born in 2004; C.N.S.M. (C.M.) born in 2005; T.T.J. (T.J.) born in 2009; and Z.M.G. (Z.G.) born in 2011.
Defendant has an extensive history with the Division beginning in February 1994. The Division had received numerous referrals involving the health and welfare of the children resulting in findings of substantiated neglect,  and eventually the removal of the eight older children. The Division closed its file on the family in 2008.
On October 13, 2010, the Division received a referral from Newark Beth Israel Hospital indicating that defendant, then fourteen weeks pregnant with Z.G., had arrived at the hospital for pre-natal care and a food referral. Defendant appeared "disheveled, smelled of body odor, and smelled of cigarettes." The referral was coded as "related information" and was further investigated.
On November 9, 2010, the Division received another referral that resulted in the guardianship matter underlying this appeal. An anonymous caller reported that defendant and her four children, K.E.M., K.D.M., C.M., and T.J., were living in the first floor apartment of a two-family home with no heat or electricity. According to the reporter, defendant's maternal great aunt lived on the second floor of the building, but she generally did not allow defendant and her children upstairs at night. The reporter also expressed concern over the fact that none of the children had been attending school at the time. That same day, the Division began its investigation in which it interviewed, among others, defendant, her children, defendant's maternal great aunt, and the family's caseworker. The Division confirmed that the children had been sleeping in the first floor apartment without electricity or heat. Defendant's maternal great aunt stated that she did not want defendant and her children in the upstairs apartment "because she was moving and the space was limited."
None of the children could recall the last time they attended school. The investigator spoke with an attendance counselor at the local school who reported that neither C.M. nor K.D.M. had ever been registered with the Newark Board of Education, nor were they attending an out-of-district school. The counselor further stated that K.E.M. had not attended school since the start of the 2010 school year and was not currently enrolled in the Newark school system.
With respect to defendant, the Division described her as "deceitful, belligerent, and [seemingly] mentally challeng[ed]." Once confronted with her children's statements, defendant "became humble" and stated that she loved her children, but that "she did not have [anywhere] to go." Defendant explained that before moving into the apartment, she and the children had been living with defendant's mother, but had been asked to leave because defendant's mother "did not want any problems with the landlord." Defendant further stated that she planned to enroll the children in school, but she could not provide any additional details as to her plan.
The Division substantiated defendant for educational and environmental neglect and created a safety plan with defendant's great aunt in which defendant and the children would temporarily sleep in her upstairs apartment. The next day, the Division conducted a follow-up visit, in which the Division learned that the great aunt had been heating her apartment with a stove. The caseworker asked defendant if there were other relatives with whom the children could stay, but all of the suggested relatives were excluded because their homes were not large enough to accommodate a family of five. The Division, therefore, rejected the original safety plan in light of the conditions of the great aunt's apartment, and executed an emergency Dodd removal of the children.
On November 15, 2010, a Family Part judge granted the Division custody of all four children. The Division placed K.E.M. and T.J. in a Division-approved resource home with Mrs. S., with whom they live today. K.D.M. and C.M. were placed in a Division-approved resource home with Mrs. M. The two young boys, however, were later transferred to Laurie Haven, a residential facility, because of severe behavioral issues, which included putting glass in Mrs. M.'s food, starting a fire in the home, and defecating and urinating in various rooms of the house.
On April 9, 2011, defendant gave birth to Z.G.; the hospital placed a hold on the infant because defendant was living in a homeless shelter. On April 14, 2011, the judge granted the Division custody of Z.G., who was subsequently placed in Mrs. S.'s care with his siblings, K.E.M. and T.J. Z.G. continues to ...