On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Union County, Docket No. FN-20-43-10K.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted March 22, 2011 -
Before Judges Carchman, Graves and St. John.
Defendant C.P. is the mother of R.G. (fictitiously Ruth), who is now eighteen years old. C.P. appeals from a Family Part order dated December 7, 2009, finding that she committed an act of abuse and neglect on September 5, 2009, when she refused "to allow [Ruth] to return to her home, thereby requiring DYFS to arrange for [Ruth's] placement." On appeal, C.P. argues the court erred in determining that she abandoned her daughter. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
At approximately 3:30 p.m. on August 22, 2009, when she was sixteen years old, Ruth walked into the Rahway Police Station and reported that her mother, C.P., had locked her "out of the house and [would] not let her return." The "juvenile sergeant" spoke with C.P. on the telephone, and C.P. indicated that "she [wanted] nothing to do with the child." The police referred the matter to the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS or the Division), and a caseworker was assigned to investigate.
At about 8:30 p.m., the caseworker interviewed Ruth at the police station. According to Ruth, after she was terminated from the Outward Bound summer program at Seton Hall University for allegedly texting someone while in class, her mother told her that she would not be allowed to reside at home unless "she gave up the cell phone." When Ruth refused to do so, it was agreed that she would reside with her maternal grandmother, B.W., in Roselle. However, Ruth's mother and grandmother subsequently agreed that it would be better for Ruth "to reside with her mother, and she was sent back" to C.P.'s house in Rahway.
Ruth advised the caseworker that when she returned home, she had a further dispute with her mother concerning her cell phone and that her mother locked her out of the house. Ruth admitted to the caseworker that she had been "rude and disrespectful to her mother."
After interviewing Ruth and speaking with the officer who had talked to C.P., the caseworker telephoned B.W. and asked her why Ruth had been sent home. B.W. advised that Ruth had "been hanging out with a gang in Newark" and that she had "stolen quite a bit of money from her." Accordingly, B.W. was "no longer [willing] to care for the child."
The caseworker also contacted C.P. at work and inquired about her plans for her daughter. C.P. stated that Ruth had burned "all her bridges and no family member [would] allow her into their homes." According to C.P., she told Ruth that she would have to go to a friend's house while she was at work from 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. that day, because Ruth's stepfather was afraid of her. C.P. also stated that Ruth thought she could do whatever she wanted with "no consequences."
At about 9:55 p.m., after consulting with her supervisor, the caseworker called C.P. again and told her that she was responsible for her daughter and "had to come and pick her up." C.P. arrived at the police station at approximately 11:00 p.m. and agreed to transport Ruth to her father's home because "she needed his assistance to supervise" their daughter.
About two weeks later, shortly after midnight on Saturday, September 5, 2009, the Division received another referral from the Rahway Police Department indicating that Ruth had been locked out of her home again. When the caseworkers spoke with Ruth at the police station, she stated that she was unable to enter her mother's house because "her mother locked the outside screen door." For the next several hours, the DYFS caseworkers placed telephone calls to Ruth's mother, father, stepfather, and other relatives and left voicemail messages. In addition, the police returned to C.P.'s home in an unsuccessful effort to see if anyone was there.
At 6:11 a.m., the caseworker received a telephone call from R.G., Ruth's father. R.G. advised that he was a truck driver and was in Boston. He also told the caseworker that Ruth "steals from every house she goes to" and that C.P. did "not want DYFS to disrupt her home." In ...