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New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. V.W.

May 8, 2012


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Hudson County, Docket No. FN-09-0227-11.

Per curiam.



Argued April 25, 2012

Before Judges Lihotz and St. John.

Defendant V.W. is the mother of A.W. who is now nineteen years old. V.W. appeals from a Family Part order dated July 18, 2011, finding that she committed an act of abuse and neglect, when she refused to accept services proffered by the Division of Youth and Family Services (the Division), to allow A.W. to return home, or offer a caretaker for A.W., thereby requiring the Division to arrange for A.W.'s placement. On appeal, V.W. argues the court erred in determining that she abandoned her daughter. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

At approximately 10:30 p.m. on November 11, 2010, when she was seventeen years old, A.W. was transported by ambulance to Jersey City Medical Center because she was on the streets exhibiting violent and aggressive behavior. A.W. was examined by hospital staff, and at 3:00 a.m. the next morning she was found to be intoxicated with a .12 blood alcohol level. Shortly after her admission, a physician's assistant telephoned V.W., informed her that A.W. was in the hospital, and requested that V.W. come to the hospital to pick up her daughter. V.W. refused. The physician's assistant told V.W. the Division would be contacted if she did not come to the hospital. V.W. responded that the hospital could go ahead and contact the Division. This interaction was reported to the Division and Ragenie Suknanan, a representative of the Division, informed the physician's assistant to keep trying to telephone V.W. At 5:23 a.m., the Division was informed that no one answered the telephone at V.W.'s residence. The police went to the residence but no one answered the door.

At 7:20 a.m., Suknanan, accompanied by the police, made contact with V.W. outside her home. V.W. stated she was aware her daughter was drunk at the hospital, but refused to go there and pick her up. She was informed by the police that she is responsible for her daughter and that she could be charged with neglect. V.W. still refused. She stated that A.W.'s behavior is out of control and she was not bringing her home. Suknanan suggested services, but V.W. replied she had already tried services and explained A.W. had been found intoxicated on the streets and brought to the hospital two weeks earlier. At that time, V.W. told A.W. if it happened again she would not bring her home. V.W. also related A.W.'s history of discipline problems, mental illness, and educational deficiencies. Again, services were offered by Suknanan, but V.W. refused to take A.W. home.

V.W. agreed to visit her daughter and was then transported to the hospital by the Division. There, a conversation ensued between V.W. and A.W. V.W. told her daughter that she was not going to allow her to return home. A.W. stated "I don't like you" and "I don't want to go home with you," to which V.W. responded "and I do not want you back home." Suknanan tried to effect a reconciliation which was unacceptable to both V.W. and A.W. V.W. again refused to take A.W. home.

Suknanan explained, read, and served V.W. with a Dodd removal letter.*fn1 V.W. refused to sign it. When asked if she had any relative resources for A.W.'s placement, V.W. stated she did not. V.W. was asked if she would execute the hospital discharge for her daughter and she declined. V.W. then left the hospital. Suknanan signed the discharge papers and left the hospital with A.W.

A.W. was placed with a resource family, but that same night she argued with another foster child and the police were summoned. A.W. was charged with aggravated assault and resisting arrest. V.W. was contacted by the police and assented to A.W.'s return home rather than having her detained at the youth detention center. A.W. spent the following night with a friend and then returned to the foster care facility.

On November 16, 2010, at the hearing on the order to show cause, the trial judge determined "its very clear to this court based upon [V.W.'s] testimony that she is not prepared at this time to take [A.W.] back home given the issues that are presented by this case, namely some of the behavior being exhibited by [A.W.]." Following the fact-finding hearing, the judge rendered a oral decision on July 18, 2011. The judge's findings and conclusions with regard to V.W. included the following:

Not only did [V.W.] refuse to take [A.W.] home, she refused services that were offered by the Division. She refused to offer a caretaker. A person, a family friend, or whoever, someone who could be . . . entrusted with [A.W.'s] care. And she essentially left [A.W.] to the care of the hospital and the State of New Jersey.

In her opinion, the judge determined that the Division proved by a preponderance of the evidence that V.W. ...

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