On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Atlantic County, Docket No. FN-01-97-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted November 17, 2010
Before Judges Fuentes, Gilroy and Ashrafi.
Defendant T.S. appeals from the judgment of the Family Part finding that her now two-year-old son J.S. was abused or neglected within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21. We affirm.
J.S. was born approximately six weeks premature. He is T.S.'s first-born child.*fn1 The day after his birth, the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS or Division) received a referral from a staff member at the hospital where J.S. was born indicating that both T.S. and J.S. had tested positive for opiates and benzodiazepines and that the medical staff was monitoring J.S. for possible opiate withdrawal. When the Division caseworker interviewed T.S., she admitted to using Percocet, Roxycodone, and Suboxone during her pregnancy. T.S. purchased these narcotic medications illicitly without a prescription, and presumably for a non-medically valid reason, two weeks before J.S. was born.
In the course of investigating the hospital's referral, the Division discovered that T.S. had tested positive for opiates and/or benzodiazepines on several occasions during her pregnancy. The medical staff attending J.S. advised the Division that the infant had shown signs of opiate withdrawal. T.S. also disclosed to the medical staff that she has had a history of mental health issues, including panic attacks and post-traumatic stress disorder.
DYFS case worker Jaime Maronski was assigned to follow up on the hospital's referral. At a meeting she had with T.S. at the hospital, Maronski confirmed that T.S. had a history of opiate abuse. After being drug-free for approximately eighteen months, T.S. relapsed during the last two weeks of her pregnancy. She had stopped taking Roxycodone (a/k/a Oxycodone) a few days before delivery, and then began taking Suboxone*fn2 to cope with the symptoms of withdrawal. She was also taking Xanax, a medication she alleged had been prescribed to her before she was pregnant. Her history of mental health issues included depression, post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and panic attacks.
Maronski discussed with T.S. the possibility of developing a "Safety Protection Plan" (SPP), under which relatives would supervise her contacts with J.S. at all times, thus eliminating the need for an emergency removal of J.S. These discussions led to an SPP through which the child's maternal grandparents agreed to supervise all contacts between their daughter and grandson. However, given T.S.'s history of substance abuse and mental health issues, the Division still believed J.S. was at risk of abuse or neglect and thus intended to obtain formal custody of the child.
J.S. was discharged from the hospital twelve days after his birth. In accordance with the SPP, he was placed in the home of his maternal grandparents, where T.S. also resided. Also as anticipated, the Division filed a complaint and order to show cause seeking care and supervision of J.S.
Acting through her attorney, defendant consented to placing J.S. under the care and supervision of the Division. The court granted the Division's application and ordered, in accordance with the SPP, that all contact between defendant and J.S. be supervised by the maternal grandparents or another Division-approved supervisor.
The court conducted a fact-finding hearing on July 29, 2009. Although defendant could not attend due to complications with her second pregnancy, her counsel appeared on her behalf and consented to waive her appearance. The Division's case documented defendant's use of narcotic medication during her pregnancy with J.S. and how it affected the child after his birth. Because the child had tested positive for opiates, hospital records ...