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New Jersey Division of Youth v. X.Z.Z.

February 17, 2011


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Camden County, Docket No. FG-04-95-09.

Per curiam.



Submitted January 19, 2011

Before Judges Wefing, Baxter and Koblitz.

X.Z.Z. is the mother of two children; Laura, now fifteen years old and Ron, now twelve.*fn1 She appeals from a trial court judgment terminating her parental rights with respect to both children. The children's father, M.Z., voluntarily surrendered his parental rights to both children after being sentenced after trial to a fifteen-year prison term for second-degree sexual assault on Laura, N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(b), and endangering the welfare of a child, N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4(a). X.Z.Z. was charged with witness tampering for asking Laura to lie at her father's trial, and entered into a pre-trial intervention program. The trial court found that X.Z.Z. knew of her husband's sexual abuse of Laura for at least three years and participated in physical abuse of both of her children. After reviewing the record in light of the contentions advanced on appeal, we affirm.

X.Z.Z. was born in China and speaks only Mandarin Chinese and her native dialect. Throughout the involvement of the Division of Youth and Family Services (Division) and the court, Mandarin interpreters were made available to X.Z.Z.

Charmaine Bryant, a Division adoption caseworker, testified that the Division initially became involved when a New York hot-line reported to the Division that a woman had called anonymously asking questions with regard to her husband sexually abusing their daughter. The woman reportedly refused to go to the police and said she would handle it herself. The phone call was traced to X.Z.Z. When the Division went to the home at 10 p.m. on August 22, 2007, X.Z.Z. refused to allow the children to be interviewed. Her husband was not home. Ron interpreted for his mother. Investigator Amy Pisano of the Camden County Prosecutor's Office Child Abuse Unit testified that she came to the home at 11 p.m. that night and spoke to Laura in the presence of a Division worker. Pisano was not able to set up a videotape due to the mother's disruptive behavior. Laura told them that her father had sexually assaulted her the night before, that the assaults had been going on for a while and that her mother knew about the abuse.

At 12:55 a.m. on August 23, Pisano took Laura and Ron to the police department. X.Z.Z. was charged with disorderly conduct when she tried to interfere.

Pisano conducted a videotaped interview with Laura at the police department with a Division worker present for much of the interview.*fn2 Laura reported being anally penetrated by her father for the past two years, since she was in fourth grade and was unsure whether her father sexually abused her in second or third grade. She said she had told her mother, who was embarrassed and tried to protect Laura by installing a lock on her bedroom door. With a Division worker present, Pisano also interviewed Ron, who said he knew that his father sexually abused his sister and that Laura had told their mother about the abuse at least three times.

Later that morning Laura underwent a medical examination with Dr. Monica B. Weiner. Laura told Dr. Weiner that her father first touched her when she was in second grade. Laura told the doctor that she was "[a]bout to join third grade" when she first told her mother about her father sexually touching her. She said she did not want her mother to know because she was embarrassed and thought she would get into trouble. Laura said her father had used condoms when abusing her and that her mother had yelled at her father and purchased a lock for Laura's door.

The same doctor also examined Ron, who told the doctor that his mother often whipped him with a branch-like object and his father slapped his hand and pulled his ears. The doctor recommended that Laura and Ron have no contact with their father and supervised visits with their mother.

The two children were placed in a foster home where they remain. Laura received counseling for nineteen weeks until completion. Supervised visitation in the presence of a Mandarin interpreter began in October 2007. X.Z.Z. refused counseling provided by the Division through Chinese-speaking social workers affiliated with a Chinese church and cultural center in Philadelphia.

Two months after her initial interview, Pisano conducted a follow-up videotaped interview of Laura on October 19, 2007. At this interview, Laura said she began telling her mother about her father sexually abusing her when Laura was in third grade. A Division worker was not present at this interview.

On December 13, 2007, a psychologist evaluated Ron, finding he had anxiety and tension, was discouraged but cooperative and desired reunification with his family.

On April 2, 2008, Laura and Ron both reported to the Division that they had been frequently hit with a stick by both parents. Ron also reported that his father would make him kneel with his hands behind him for long periods of time. Their mother reported that both children were hit on their hands when disciplined. Their father reported that if Laura misbehaved she was locked in the dark basement without dinner. He said he disciplined Ron by making him kneel and think. He said he would hit his children on the hands with bamboo and his wife hit them on their knees. X.Z.Z. denied hitting her children with anything other than her hands.

X.Z.Z. was psychologically evaluated on June 24 and July 1, 2008, by a Chinese-speaking psychologist, Ray-ling Hou, coordinator of the Asian Child and Family Program at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital. Dr. Hou diagnosed X.Z.Z. with depression and recommended that she receive individual psychotherapy once a week to address coping and parenting skills, a psychiatric evaluation for a trial of medication to aid with her depression and family psychotherapy with her children "to address and assess the plan for reunification."

X.Z.Z. was scheduled for subsequent sessions with Dr. Douglas Crawford, a licensed psychologist. She only attended three sessions after which Dr. Crawford reported that [X.Z.Z.] seemed severely idiosyncratic, conjectural and personalized when she noted that DYFS, the courts and her attorney were "just involved in the situation for money." By the third session, she openly declared that the children were told by someone to state that her daughter had been abused by her husband. She maintained that her family was a good family and that the children were not abused.

Dr. Crawford recommended that X.Z.Z. receive a psychiatric evaluation to address the trauma that occurred. He found that her personality features were of "an intense, pervasive and clearly idiosyncratic nature."

On September 11 and September 21, 2008, Dr. Xu Chen, M.D., of Brooklyn, New York, completed psychiatric evaluations of X.Z.Z. During these evaluations, X.Z.Z. denied making the phone call to the agency on August 22, 2007, alleging sexual abuse of her daughter. She denied any misconduct by her husband and said that he was a "caring father." X.Z.Z. also said that she blames herself for not being fully aware of the allegations because she does not understand English. Dr. Chen said that she exhibited "shame" when discussing the incidents. X.Z.Z. speculated to Dr. Chen that Laura was abnormal and that she inherited mental illness from her father's side of the family.

Dr. Chen diagnosed X.Z.Z. with Axis I Adjustment Disorder with Anxiety and Depression R/O Depression Disorder. Dr. Chen recommended that she receive pharmacological treatment for anxiety and depression, further psychological tests to assess her cognitive functioning and thought process to rule out any possible intellectual impairment, and a psychiatric evaluation for Laura and treatment if recommended. He "strongly" recommended that X.Z.Z. receive "continuous psychotherapy for social skill[s], coping skill[s] and management of [the] separation issue with her children and husband."

Visitation between X.Z.Z. and Laura was suspended in September 2008 after it was reported that she advised Laura not to cooperate with the prosecutor's office. Laura told Pisano that X.Z.Z. promised Laura that if she lied during her father's trial she ...

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