On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Bergen County, Docket No. FN-02-0171-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 5, 2010
Before Judges Parrillo, Lihotz and Ashrafi.
Defendant F.V. appeals from a Family Part order, entered following trial, finding she abused or neglected her grandsons pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21(c)(2), (4)(a), and (4)(b).*fn1 On appeal, F.V. challenges the trial court's findings and conclusions presenting these issues:
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED BECAUSE THERE IS INSUFFICIENT EVIDENCE IN THE RECORD TO SUPPORT A FINDING OF ABUSE AND/OR NEGLECT AND THE TRIAL COURT FAILED TO ARTICULATE WITH PARTICULARITY THE FACTS UPON WHICH A DETERMINATION OF ABUSE AND/OR NEGLECT WAS MADE.
A. M.V.'S ALLEGED SUBSTANCE ABUSE.
B. MARCH , 2008, IGA SUPERMARKET.
C. MARCH 6, 2008, DIAPER BAG INCIDENT.
D. MARCH 6, 2008, ALLEGED MEDICAL NEGLECT.
E. ALLEGATIONS OF INEFFECTIVE PARENTING.
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN ADMITTING MELISSA CIOTTONE'S INCOMPLETE REPORT INTO EVIDENCE.
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN PERMITTING ALISON STRASSER WINSTON, PH.D., TO TESTIFY.
F.V. is the mother of M.V., a recovering prescription drug addict, and the maternal grandmother of G.V., born in 2002, and J.M., born in 2006. M.V. and the children lived in F.V.'s home.
Prior to G.V.'s second birthday, the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS or Division) removed him from M.V.'s care after she unexpectedly moved out of F.V.'s home and was hospitalized following an attempted suicide. Six months later, G.V. was returned to M.V.'s care and F.V.'s home. At that time, G.V. was diagnosed with "anger management issues" and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.*fn2
During the intervening years, the Division received six referrals regarding the children's safety while they resided with F.V. and M.V. We decline to recite all of the incidents recorded by DYFS. We confine our review to those referrals aired at trial, which led to events recited by the court in support of its findings of abuse and neglect.
On December 6, 2006, an anonymous referent reported F.V. and M.V. were addicted to pain pills. DYFS's special response unit investigators went to the home, but M.V. "refused to allow the workers to enter" because "the Division was responsible for G.V.'s problems." The impasse was broken when F.V. allowed DYFS caseworker Dawn Graber and another worker into the foyer for five minutes to speak to G.V., who "appeared to be well cared for." When requested, F.V. declined to provide a list of her prescription medications, stating she occasionally took Aleve. M.V. advised she used Percocet, prescribed for a bladder infection. When one worker suggested substance abuse evaluations were necessary, F.V. became irate and ordered the workers to leave. The caseworkers returned with police assistance to regain entrance. J.M. was interviewed and, he too, "appeared healthy and well cared for."
The Division arranged for urine drug screens. M.V. tested negative for all substances but F.V. tested positive for benzodiazepines. F.V. declined to submit to a second screen, and informed the Division she no longer would cooperate with its investigation. Coincidently, later that day, Graber observed F.V. driving a car with G.V. sitting in the front seat, between M.V. and F.V., not secured in a car seat. This observation, coupled with F.V.'s decision not to cooperate with the Division's efforts, led to the initiation of litigation on December 20, 2006.
DYFS filed a Verified Complaint and an Order to Show Cause for Investigation seeking an order "directing [M.V.] and [F.V.] to permit the Division to investigate the circumstances of the minors and directing [M.V.] and [F.V.] to assist and cooperate with the Division." The record does not disclose the results of this hearing. The family's file remained open and, over the ensuing months, the Division received additional referrals regarding possible drug abuse by M.V. and F.V. On August 20, 2007, an anonymous female referent reported M.V. had been arrested for breaking into a home and stealing prescription pads. M.V. pled guilty and advised the Division caseworker she was addicted to Percocet and searching for a suitable long-term inpatient treatment program. M.V. also admitted she recently completed detoxification treatment at Meadowlands Hospital.
The referent alleged F.V. also "abused drugs." The caller explained F.V. had asked her to "watch her purse because she had '200 pills in it and I don't want [M.V.] to get them.'" When interviewed by DYFS, F.V. denied the caller's accusations and repudiated the suggestion that M.V. abused drugs. On September 13, 2007, M.V. contacted DYFS to confirm her Percocet addiction and informed the Division of her intention to pursue treatment in Florida. A caseworker called F.V. to discuss the family situation and care of the children pending M.V.'s proposed drug treatment. F.V. again denied knowledge of M.V.'s substance abuse problem and past hospitalization for detoxification treatment. The following day, F.V. arrived alone for an appointment at a Division office. She admitted she left the children with M.V., resurrecting the Division's concerns for the children's safety and F.V.'s parenting ability.
The Division told F.V. that, due to M.V.'s drug addiction, she must not leave the children unsupervised with their mother. DYFS placed a homemaker in the residence. Division supervisors stressed to F.V. the importance of allowing the homemaker to supervise the family and related the Division's concerns regarding F.V.'s parenting ability. Apparently, F.V. ignored the Division's instructions because, on December 15, 2007, M.V.'s mental health provider anonymously contacted the Division to disclose that, although "M.V. was not supposed to have unsupervised contact with the children, . . . she watches [them] one day a week when her mother goes to work."
We do note the Division's records during this time also reflect that M.V. and F.V. were properly caring for the children. Additionally, case notes state M.V. was addressing her drug abuse and her drug screens were negative, and F.V. took only prescription medication. Further, the homemaker suggested she had "no concerns regarding the family." However, DYFS was contacted by the Bergen County Probation Department and learned that, as a condition of M.V.'s probation, granted in September 2007, she had been ordered to engage in a long-term inpatient drug rehabilitation program. M.V. purposely withheld this information from the Division. M.V. was placed at the Integrity House in Secaucus on January 11, 2008.
DYFS filed its complaint and order to show cause seeking care and supervision of G.V. and J.M. on January 17, 2008. At the initial hearing, DYFS consented to the court's order allowing the children to remain in F.V.'s care, so long as she agreed to submit to a hair follicle test, continue random drug testing, and undergo a psychological examination.
Other concerns regarding F.V.'s ability to parent G.V. surfaced when Division worker Noah Murphy arrived to transport F.V. and the children to the Newark LabCorp drug testing site on February 7, 2008. Arriving at approximately 9:30 a.m., Murphy noted the children were "calm . . . [r]egular, very even tempered." The trip did not go smoothly. Murphy became lost and when the party finally arrived at LabCorp, there was an inordinately long wait-time, due to the number of clients ahead of F.V. Murphy took F.V. and the children outside. It was at this point that G.V. had some sort of episode where he [ ] basically just started screaming at the top of his lungs over and over and ...