On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Camden County, Docket No. FN-04-200-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 8, 2008
Before Judges Parrillo and Messano.
Following a fact-finding hearing, N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.44, the trial judge entered an order that determined defendant, N.R.P., had "abused or neglected" her children "in that she used excessive corporal punishment upon [her son N.N.F.] by using a belt on him . . . plac[ing] him at significant risk of harm." Defendant contends the judge's finding in this regard "was not supported by the record." The Division of Youth and Family Services (D.Y.F.S.) and the law guardian representing N.N.F. counter by arguing that the judge's findings and conclusions were based upon sufficient credible evidence and should not be disturbed. We have considered defendant's argument in light of the record and applicable legal standards. We affirm.
On November 8, 2006, D.Y.F.S. filed a verified complaint seeking the care, custody and control of defendant's four children, N.S.H., age ten, W.M.H., age nine, N.N.F., age six, and M.S., III, age four.*fn1 We need not detail the proceedings that occurred prior to, or after, the fact-finding hearing because they are not relevant to the issue presented on appeal. It suffices to say, however, that on December 10, 2007, at D.Y.F.S.' request, the trial judge entered an order terminating the proceedings and returning the children to defendant's custody because "conditions ha[d] been remedied."
D.Y.F.S.' sole witness at the fact-finding hearing was caseworker, Jennifer Sabatino, who testified that on November 3, 2006, she responded to "a referral concerning a six[-]year old boy being physically disciplined at school." In the verified complaint D.Y.F.S. alleged that two days earlier, defendant had been summoned to N.N.F.'s school because he had become violent and had threatened to kill himself. According to the school authorities, defendant arrived at the school and punched N.N.F. very hard in the chest three times to awaken the boy who had calmed down and was sleeping. Defendant allegedly dragged N.N.F. out of the classroom.
Sabatino testified that she interviewed defendant and her children in her home. She asked N.N.F. what happened and the child "said he was beaten with a belt on his back, his neck, his arm,  his knee, and his butt." Sabatino observed marks on N.N.F.'s body that were consistent with having been hit with a belt. N.N.F.'s brother, W.M.H., told Sabatino that he held N.N.F. down at defendant's request while she hit him with the belt because the child, who was naked at the time, was "squirming around trying to get under the covers, trying to get away from the belt while he was being beat." W.M.H. told Sabatino that he had been "punched" by defendant, and his sister, N.S.H., claimed that defendant had "smacked [her] in her face."
Sabatino described the marks on N.N.F.'s body.
They were linear, red . . . the ones on his back were long and linear. Then he had two on his arm -- one on his upper arm, one on his forearm. On the back of his neck he had a half centimeter in diameter s[c]ab on his buttocks that was unexplainable.
Questioned by Sabatino about the marks, defendant denied "that the[y] . . . were from a belt. She said that she hit him on the butt and did not know where the marks on his back came from," claiming some of the marks were from "eczema." Sabatino took pictures of the marks and these were introduced into evidence at the hearing.
Sabatino testified that the children were removed from the home on an emergency basis, N.J.S.A. 9:6-29, and N.N.F. was medically examined that evening. N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.30c. On the medical report from that examination, the doctor noted "several abrasions, superficial to back and upper neck and to [right] upper arm and 1/2 cm healing scab to [left] buttock. No active bleeding." On the back of the report, the doctor failed to indicate on the anatomical ...