On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Burlington County, Docket No. FN-03-18-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 20, 2008
Before Judges Carchman and Sabatino.
J.V. appeals the Family Part's dispositional order dated December 12, 2007, which determined that she had subjected two minor nephews under her care, F.G. and R.B., to abuse and neglect, in violation of N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21(c)(4)(b). We affirm.
The record developed by plaintiff, the Division of Youth and Family Services ("DYFS"), before the Family Part adduced the following circumstances and sequence of events. In August 2000, defendant was asked by her sister, N.B.C., to care for N.B.C.'s two sons, F.G. ("Frank") and R.B. ("Ralph"),*fn1 for a temporary period represented by N.B.C. to be about two weeks. Frank and Ralph are half-siblings with different fathers. Frank, born in August 1994, was six years old at the time and Ralph, born in September 1998, was nearly age two.
N.B.C. has a history of drug abuse. At the time of N.B.C.'s request, the Department of Human Services in Pennsylvania evidently had already substantiated neglect and abuse charges against N.B.C., and had planned on removing the children from N.B.C.'s care.
Defendant agreed to take Frank and Ralph into her home, where she also resided with W.A., her former paramour. The home is jointly owned by defendant and W.A. They are the parents of two minor daughters, D.A. and A.A., who likewise resided with them in the house. At the time that the boys moved in with defendant in August 2000, D.A. was almost the age of nine and A.A. was seven. According to defendant, when her sister left Frank and Ralph with her, they were malnourished and dehydrated.
N.B.C. abandoned her sons, failing to return to defendant's home. Consequently, defendant assumed the responsibility of caring for Frank and Ralph from August 2000 through the events that led to the present litigation. W.A., meanwhile, did not become a guardian of the boys, although he cohabitated with them.
Both Frank and Ralph have had discipline problems, starting at young ages. Defendant testified that Frank had "a lot of difficulty" in school, including temper tantrums and destructive tendencies. She noted that he lacked table manners and other social skills. As Frank grew older, he frequently made references to drugs and alcohol. According to defendant, Frank failed the fifth grade, "because he didn't want to do anything."
Defendant claims that Frank was a bad influence on Ralph, who is four years younger, and that Frank was "always misleading [Ralph], telling him to do things that were wrong . . . ." She detailed an incident from the summer of 2006, in which Frank allegedly convinced Ralph to ride a bicycle down a steep hill. As a result, Ralph sustained a deep cut on his nose and was taken to the hospital.
Defendant stated that the boys, most often Frank, ran away from home "on occasion." In those situations, defendant would not call the police, but instead would await phone calls advising of the respective child's whereabouts.
Defendant's daughters corroborated some of the difficulties posed by the two boys. A.A., particularly, did not get along with Frank while they were living together. According to A.A.'s testimony, she and Frank "argued a lot about dumb stuff." They sometimes would get into physical altercations, in which Frank would strike A.A. in the back and head with a closed fist.
D.A. testified that, although she personally got along with both boys, "they always got in trouble," and that Ralph would "steal . . . [lie] and r[u]n away." D.A. recalled several instances of fighting between the boys, as well as occasions in which they were suspended from school. She stated that the boys would punch each other on the body and in the face, ...