On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, Docket No. FN-07-290-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Fisher, Sapp-Peterson and Espinosa.
During the evening of January 26, 2008, defendant H.C. and her three children were involved in a physical altercation with other residents of the Newark YMCA. Police took defendant and her three children into custody. The two younger children --fourteen-year old J.C., Jr., and thirteen-year old M.C. -- were charged but not detained; the oldest child, seventeen-year old C.C., was remanded to the juvenile detention center. Defendant was taken to the county jail and charged with aggravated assault for having allegedly stabbed one of the combatants in the face and torso with a corkscrew.
Unable to locate friends or relatives to care for the children while defendant remained in jail, the Division of Youth and Family Services (the Division) effected a Dodd removal, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.29. On January 29, 2008, the Division commenced this action and, following a hearing, was granted the care, custody and supervision of the children.
Defendant remained incarcerated until February 6, 2008. Upon her release, defendant went to the juvenile detention center to sign out C.C.; due to the hour, she was required to return the next day. Defendant also contacted the Division's caseworker to regain custody of her younger children. She was told the children could not be released to her without court approval.
At a hearing on February 14, 2008, defendant was given an application for the assignment of counsel and the trial judge directed, among other things, that she participate in psychological, psychiatric and substance abuse evaluations. Biweekly visitation was also ordered.
On March 6, 2008, the judge conducted a hearing at which a Division caseworker and defendant testified. The judge weighed the evidence and made a finding that the children had been neglected. At the dispositional phase of the hearing that immediately followed, the judge directed that defendant and the children participate in psychological evaluations and anger management counseling.
At a compliance review hearing on June 19, 2008, it was reported that C.C. was found to have engaged in a simple assault, J.C., Jr. was found to have engaged in an aggravated assault, and M.C. was exonerated. It was also reported that the ordered evaluations had not been completed and other services not fully rendered. The judge refused defendant's request for the return of her children.
At a hearing on July 17, 2008, C.C. was terminated from the action because she had turned eighteen. By that time, all the children had submitted to their psychological evaluations and were receiving weekly therapy. Defendant had not appeared for her psychological evaluation.
At a compliance review hearing on October 2, 2008, the children were returned to defendant's care and custody. The Division continued to provide services and the court conducted additional compliance review hearings. At the conclusion of a hearing on March ...