On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Atlantic County, Docket No. FN-01-000049-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges A.A. Rodriguez, Grall and C.L. Miniman.
C.F. and E.F., the parents of eleven-year-old Z.F. and ten-year-old J.F., appeal from April 22, 2010 judgments finding that they abused and neglected these children. We affirm.
The Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) first became involved with the family on September 10, 2009, when it received a referral call at 10:30 p.m., alleging that the family was living out of a car and that the children were not in school and appeared tired and malnourished. DYFS asked local police departments for assistance in locating the family.
After locating the father the following morning, the Hamilton Township Police Department contacted DYFS. Diana Kelly, a Special Response Unit caseworker, responded and interviewed E.F. at the police station.
E.F. told the caseworker that the family had been transient for two weeks. E.F. revealed that his family was in front of a grocery store in Somers Point waiting for him to pick them up, and that they would be spending the night in the car because his direct deposit check had not come through. C.F. also has an eighteen-year-old son named N.F., by a different father, who was living with the rest of his family at the time of the referral. E.F. has been a security guard since May 2009. He was assigned a vehicle in connection with his job. He works from 9:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m., Thursday through Monday, earning $400 per week.
Beginning in May 2009, the family stayed free of charge at Cornerstone Ministries, a shelter run by a religious organization. In late August or early September, the family left Cornerstone over a disagreement with the pastor. After leaving Cornerstone, the family stayed in motels when it could afford to do so. When it could not, C.F., N.F. and the children would sleep in the back of the company car while E.F. did his work rounds using the car.
Kelly had the Somers Point police pick up the rest of the family and take them to the station so they could be interviewed. C.F. confirmed that the family would sleep in the car that evening and that the children were being home schooled because they were Christians who did not believe in evolution. She also said that the family did not seek public assistance because she did not believe in "mooching off the system."
Kelly observed that Z.F. and J.F. were dirty, their hair was greasy, their nails were uncut, their clothes were stained, and they smelled. J.F. said he had no clean clothes and that he was not wearing underwear. He did not respond when he was asked what he had for breakfast, and only had crackers and donuts for lunch. Z.F. said that he had pretzels and the police officers that picked him up purchased food from Applebee's for them.
Z.F. guessed that he "might be in the fourth grade" and could not remember his birthday while J.F. was not able to spell his name. Z.F. stated that he had last seen a doctor "a really long time ago." C.F. confirmed that the children had not seen a doctor since they arrived in New Jersey four months earlier. Except for one record of J.F. being seen by a family doctor in 2002 for an ear infection, DYFS was not able to locate any medical records for the children.
Based on her investigation, Kelly created a "safety plan" for the family that required that they stay in the Atlantic City Rescue Mission. The caseworker took C.F., J.F., and Z.F. to the Rescue Mission, but did not take N.F. because she could not take responsibility for driving an adult. Moreover, the Rescue Mission did not have any room for N.F. Instead, ...