This action involves allegations of child abuse and neglect of eight children by their natural parents, defendants Stephen and Joan Huggins. It was originally brought by the Division of Youth and Family Services (Division) under the Dodd Act, N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21 et seq. On April 15, 1976 this court issued an interim order permitting the Division to petition for guardianship, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15(c), 20. The Division subsequently filed a complaint for guardianship requesting permanent termination of parental rights with regard to five of the children, Anne Marie, age-13, Stephen, age-12, Joe, age-5, Raymond, age-4 and William David, age-2. The Division is also seeking protective custody of the three remaining in the home, Charles, age-10, Joan, age-9 and Bertha, age-8.
The Huggins family has had extended involvement with the court system. In November 1972 they moved from Philadelphia, Pa. to Collingswood, N.J. to avoid the jurisdiction of the Philadelphia Family Court, which was investigating police and welfare department records of severe neglect and abuse of the Huggins children. The Huggins children were left under the care of the grandparents, the Bardusches and a maternal aunt.
While living in the Bardusch household the children were subject to physical abuse and extreme clutter and filth, including both animal and human waste throughout.
Charles and Anne Marie ran away frequently. On January 18, 1973 they spent the night in a garage and were picked up by the police on their way to school. They were hospitalized for frostbite and exposure. Five days later all six Huggins children were removed by court order and placed in foster homes under the care and custody of the Division.
Subsequent examination of the children revealed multiple evidence of child abuse and neglect, including bruises, open sores, decubitus ulcers, emaciation, emotional deprivation and delay in motor development, toilet training and other social skills.
The Division tried to work with the parents. They co-operated briefly, until the return of their children. However, the caseworkers had to continue to prod the parents to properly feed and provide medical care for their children. By August, homemaker services had been terminated due to the Huggins' hostile, resistant attitude.
Despite their efforts to work closely with Mr. and Mrs. Huggins, the Division caseworkers were not able to alter the previous pattern of parental neglect and abuse. By September 1975 the situation was severe. Stephen, Jr. had been charged with incorrigibility and petty larceny by his father, and detained in the children's shelter, from which he was placed in foster care where he remains today. The Division insisted that Mrs. Huggins take Joel, Raymond and William David to a pediatrician, who diagnosed them as malnourished due to improper diet.
On September 16, 1975 the Division filed a child abuse neglect complaint pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21 et seq. , against the parents with regard to Joel, Raymond and William David. On September 20, 1975 Anne Marie ran away, was apprehended by the police, and placed in foster care since Mrs. Huggins wouldn't take her back.
There is substantial evidence that the children had deteriorated both physically and socially while living with their biological parents. Consequently, on February 18, 1976 the Division moved to amend the complaint filed pursuant to
N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21 et seq. , to include Charles, Joan and Bertha. This court issued an order allowing the three children to stay with their parents as long as the Hugginses allowed the Division to strictly supervise their care, which included providing access to the home at any time.
On August 11, 1976, based on uncontested testimony that Division caseworkers were being denied access to the Huggins' household, this court ordered the temporary removal of Charles, Joan and Bertha. On August 19, 1976 these three children were returned to their parents' custody subject to strict supervision by the Division. On October 26, 1976 this court appointed a law guardian for Stephen, Jr. On November 9, 1976 the court heard testimony regarding the Huggins' inability to adequately supervise Stephen, Jr.
From the review of all the testimony, reports, exhibits and other evidence presented in this complex case, certain factual determinations must be made.
The court finds that the natural father, Stephen, Sr., has borderline mental abilities, compounded by a serious speech defect. The natural mother, Joan Bardusch Huggins, is definitely retarded and has suffered from severe emotional disturbances which have resulted in her past hospitalization. Although the Hugginses love their children, their history indicates both an inability and an unwillingness to adequately care for and supervise all eight children at the same time.
All eight Huggins children have suffered from neglect and abuse in various degrees. Each child has shown the effects of malnutrition, caused both by deprivation of food as well as improper diet. Each child has been exposed to unsanitary conditions. Each child has demonstrated the effects of emotional neglect and "failure to thrive" emotionally and socially, as well as physically.
Additional factual determination as to the present status of each child must be made. The three youngest children, Joel, age 5, Raymond, age 4 and William David, age 2, have been in foster care placement with separate families continuously since September 1975. As a result of this continuous
relationship in loving and nurturing families, each child now relates to his foster parents as his "psychological" parents. Raymond, Joel and William David would suffer irreversible damage if removed from their present homes and returned to their biological parents. Each boy has shown substantial gains physically, emotionally and socially, in his present home. Moreover, the present foster parents of Raymond, Joel and ...