On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Camden County, Docket No. FN-04-0293-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 18, 2012
Before Judges Carchman and Baxter.
Following a plenary hearing, Judge Melendez, sitting in the Family
Part, concluded that defendant B.Y. abused and neglected her daughter,
E.Y. The judge then placed the child in the custody of F.M.*fn1
and terminated the Title 9 litigation. B.Y. appeals and
contends that the Division of Youth and Family Services' (DYFS)
complaint, and the trial court's subsequent finding of abuse and
neglect, were punitive actions to punish defendant for concealing
E.Y.'s existence from DYFS. Moreover, defendant contends that the
court's findings were based purely on B.Y.'s prior conduct with her
two elder children, who were removed from her custody less than a year
before E.Y. was born. We conclude that the trial court's findings are
supported by substantial credible evidence in the record and affirm.
These are the relevant facts adduced from the record. Defendant B.Y. is the biological mother of three children - J.Y., born December 23, 2007; Z.Y., born October 27, 2008; and E.Y., born March 6, 2010. B.Y. has refused to identify the father of E.Y.
DYFS first became involved with defendant on October 30, 2008, when it learned that she had given premature birth to Z.Y. and tested positive for drugs while in the hospital. In the following two months, DYFS made four unsuccessful attempts to locate and contact B.Y. On December 9, 2008, a DYFS caseworker located the home where B.Y. resided with J.Y. The caseworker described the home as dark and cluttered. In the living room were two dark colored couches. The floor consisted of hardwood planks with bolts protruding from various spots on the floor.
Worker observed the staircase to be hazardous. The staircase had no railing and consisted of wood boards with large spacing without any structure or backing.
Because of safety concerns posed by the condition of the home, the caseworker informed B.Y. that she and J.Y. could not stay at that residence. B.Y. agreed to stay with her aunt; however, she ultimately left her aunt's home with J.Y. and her mother before the caseworker could ascertain where B.Y. and her child would be staying.
B.Y. did not provide any contact information, and DYFS was unable to make contact with B.Y. until February 2009. On February 18, 2009, the caseworker learned that Z.Y. had been hospitalized and was released from the hospital a week earlier, and that the child required a nebulizer and apnea machine. The next day, B.Y. contacted the caseworker and stated that she had been staying at the Riviera Motel in Pennsauken*fn2 but that she was leaving to stay with her aunt in Camden.
On February 26, 2009, J.Y. and Z.Y. were removed from B.Y. pursuant to a DODD*fn3 hearing, and placed with B.Y.'s aunt, K.F., and K.F.'s boyfriend, B.R. B.Y. was ordered to attend parenting skills training and psychological and psychiatric evaluations. DYFS preliminarily established that B.Y. had abused and neglected Z.Y. and J.Y. B.Y. was ordered to attend parenting skills training, counseling, and psychological and psychiatric evaluations.
Although B.Y. successfully completed a course in parenting skills and attended the required evaluations, her overnight visitation time with her children was suspended because K.F. reported that Z.Y. and J.Y. had returned from overnight visits with B.Y. dirty and unkempt, and on two occasions, J.Y. had returned with what appeared to be a bruised eye.
E.Y.'s birth was shrouded in secrecy. From February 2010 until March 5, 2010, B.Y. was questioned multiple times by her caseworker whether she was pregnant, but B.Y. consistently denied the pregnancy. During a May compliance review hearing, B.Y. finally admitted that she had a third child, E.Y., born on March 6, 2010. Thereafter, DYFS filed an amended abuse and neglect ...