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New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency v. S.M.T.

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

December 11, 2013

S.M.T., Defendant-Appellant. IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF S.G., a minor.


Submitted November 12, 2013

On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Gloucester County, Docket No. FG-08-0034-12.

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Howard Danzig, Designated Counsel, on the brief).

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

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, Law Guardian, attorney for minor (Karen A. Lodeserto, Designated Counsel, on the brief).

Before Judges Yannotti, St. John and Leone.


In this appeal, defendant S.M.T. (Sally) appeals from the Family Part's order terminating her parental rights to her daughter, S.G. (Sue), who was born in December 2009.[1] Defendant argues that the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (the Division) failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence all four prongs of N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1. We have considered these arguments in light of the record and applicable legal standards. We affirm.


Sue's biological father A.G. (Art), did not participate at trial and does not appeal the court's order terminating his parental rights. Sally and Art are not married and Sue is Sally's only child. The Division's initial contact occurred on December 22, 2009, when a hospital reporter notified the Division that both Sally and Sue tested positive for marijuana at the time of Sue's birth. Sally was eighteen-years-old at that time. As a child, Sally had been placed by the Division in foster care as a result of her parents' substance abuse.

When the Division's caseworker met with Sally at the hospital, the caseworker learned that she had an apartment to live in after discharge from the hospital, was receiving Temporary Rental Assistance (TRA), food stamps, a monthly cash grant, and services from the Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC). Sally admitted that she had smoked marijuana three or four times after learning she was pregnant. She also tested positive for marijuana on December 1, 2009, prior to Sue's birth.

Before Sally's discharge, the caseworker visited her apartment and found appropriate provisions had been made for Sue. On December 24, Sue was discharged and went home with her mother. The Division arranged for Bayada Nurses Home Visiting Services to go to the home on a regular basis. Bayada attempted to see Sally and Sue but was unable to find them at home on December 27 and December 28. The home was visited on December 29. The Division caseworker spoke with Sally on January 4, 2010 to confirm that a psychological evaluation had been scheduled for Sally on January 11. Sally missed that appointment and it was later rescheduled in April.

During February and March 2010, the caseworker went to Sally's home on four dates and also called her on two other dates but could not contact her. At a home visit on April 1, the caseworker informed Sally that a psychological evaluation had been rescheduled for April 13, but Sally did not appear for the appointment. The appointment was rescheduled for May, but Sally, once again did not appear. At a home visit on June 17, the caseworker spoke to Sally about her failure to attend her scheduled appointments. Sally reported that she had made plans to reschedule the appointment for a substance abuse assessment the next day with her Social Services Case Manager, because otherwise all her benefits would be stopped. She reported that her food stamps benefits had already been reduced.

On six dates in July, the caseworker attempted to visit Sally's home and also attempted to reach her by telephone without success. Finally, on August 25, the caseworker was able to make a home visit after gaining entry from another resident of the building, as Sally did not grant her access. Sally informed the worker that she had been sanctioned by the Board of Social Services for failing to attend the Work First Program. Sally was receiving WIC benefits and rental assistance, but was no longer obtaining cash benefits or food stamps. The caseworker offered to contact the Social Services Case Manager to assist Sally in having her sanctions lifted. She also encouraged Sally to work on her goal of obtaining a general education development certification and job training, explaining that the Work First Program could help her with those goals, and that the Division would assist her in applying for child care. Since Sue was not at home during the visit, the caseworker made an appointment to return on August 27. On that date, Sally did not answer the door, instead sending a text message asking the caseworker to reschedule the visit.

Finally, on August 30, the caseworker saw Sue, after making an unannounced visit. Sally informed the worker that her food stamps had been reinstated, but that she would have to return to Social Services in order to get cash assistance. On September 8, Sally was evicted from her apartment.

Sally was notified of an appointment for a substance abuse evaluation on September 9, but she failed to appear. The appointment was rescheduled for September 21, but again Sally did not appear. On September 28, the caseworker found Sally living at her grandfather's home with Sue. After the caseworker reminded Sally that she needed to keep the Division apprised of her address, Sally informed the worker that all of her financial assistance had been cut off except for WIC due to her non-compliance with Social Services requirements. The caseworker advised Sally that she had to address the sanctions with Social Services.

Yet another substance abuse evaluation was scheduled for October 6, and transportation was provided, but Sally was not home when the transport arrived. On October 13, the caseworker went to Sally's grandfather's home, but learned that Sally and Sue were no longer staying there as the electricity to the home had been shut off. The worker learned that Sally and Sue were moving among relatives' homes. Sally's mother said that she would arrange for Sally to meet the caseworker at her home the next day. When the caseworker returned, she found the home without electricity. The caseworker offered to seek other agencies to assist the family. When told that she and Sue could not stay in a home without electricity, Sally was asked where she planned to stay. Sally was reluctant to give information to the caseworker, but said that they were staying in her aunt's apartment and sleeping on a sofa sleeper.

The caseworker examined the grandfather's home in case electricity was restored, and found that it was in a deplorable state, with trash, clothes, and clutter scattered about. When asked about the status of her applications for Social Services benefits, Sally informed the worker that since she received funds from Camden County, she would not be able to receive funds from Gloucester County until the next month. The worker asked Sally if she had received the letters detailing her appointments for evaluations, and Sally acknowledged that she had. Sally was then told that transportation had been arranged for the substance abuse evaluation for the following Monday.

Sally finally underwent a substance abuse assessment through the Center for Family Services (CFS) on October 18, 2010, and was administered a drug screen. The drug screen showed positive results for benzodiazepines and marijuana. The report indicated that Sally's THC[2] levels had concentrations greater than 2000 ng/mL, which is higher than the cut-off level for the test. The testing laboratory, Redwood Toxicology, reported that this indicated that Sally likely used marijuana every day, several times per day, which was of concern to the CFS evaluator as Sally was also using Xanax (benzodiazepine). Sally was referred to CFS and an appointment was scheduled for November 8.

On October 25, Sally was reminded that she had a psychological evaluation scheduled for the next day and that transportation had been arranged. Sally responded, via a text message, that she did not plan to attend, and that someone asking her questions was not a priority for her.

On October 26, after being advised of Sally's positive drug test, the Division initiated an emergency removal, took custody of Sue and placed her in a resource home. When the Division and the Human Services police went to pick up Sue, they were told Sue had been cared for by relatives the prior two nights, and Sally had not ...

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